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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sochi's 2014 Bid Gathers Steam

MTRussian metal tycoon Vladimir Potanin is a major player behind Sochi's bid.
SOCHI, Southern Russia -- At first glance, the subtropical Black Sea resort of Sochi does not seem an ideal place to stage cross-country skiing, biathlon or bobsled.

Yet, less than three weeks after Moscow failed in its bid to stage the 2012 Summer Games, Russia decided to enter Sochi for the race to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Sochi, a haven for Russian beach-goers, already has two failed Winter Games bids behind it. However, Officials from the Russian Olympic Committee think that with proper planning, solid preparation and sufficient funding, the city would be the perfect choice for 2014.

"Unique natural resources, fresh mountain air and a mild climate are Sochi's great advantages," ROC president Leonid Tyagachyov said after ROC chiefs voted unanimously to submit their bid to the International Olympic Committee.

"If we add the necessary infrastructure, then you could hardly find a better place to host the Winter Games."

Sochi mayor Viktor Kolodyazhny echoed those comments: "Here, you can ski down the mountain and 20 minutes later you could sunbathe on the beach."

Nestled behind the picturesque Caucasus mountains, Sochi's charm comes from its unique location, creating a sub-tropical climate for much of the year. It is the warmest city in Russia, with year-round temperatures averaging over 14 degrees Celsius.

The plan calls for having all ice events, such as hockey, figure skating, speed skating and curling, in Sochi, with Alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and biathlon to be held in Krasnaya Polyana, a mountain resort an hour's drive from the city center.

ROC officials say that staging the 2014 Games would cost Sochi almost $6 billion, with most of the money coming from the private sector.

Russian metal tycoon Vladimir Potanin is a major player behind Sochi's bid.

The 44-year-old Potanin, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $4.4 billion, making him the 117th-richest man in the world, has pledged to invest $140 million in the project.

Potanin, an avid Alpine skier who has already helped to develop Krasnaya Polyana into a winter sports resort, plans to build a major ski center, equipped with lifts, hotels and nightclubs.

However, inadequate infrastructure, a crumbling airport, a lack of suitable hotels, bad roads and traffic jams could derail Sochi's ambitious plans.

Kolodyazhny identified several main problems that needed to be solved quickly for his city to have any chance of winning the IOC vote in July 2007 that will decide the 2014 hosts.

"First of all, we must finish the 2.5-kilometer-long tunnel connecting Sochi with Krasnaya Polyana and other areas. Then build the motorway around the city, thus alleviating traffic along Sochi's main roads," the mayor said. "We must also build more four- and five-star hotels, and we need a modern airport."

He said the federal government had set aside 14 billion rubles ($489.8 million) to improve Sochi's infrastructure.

"In five years, we can solve most of our problems," he added.

Potanin, however, was less optimistic: "The mayor was talking about the tunnel, but he forgot to mention that the work has been going on for five years now -- money is being spent but no result. And talk about the airport -- they started working on it in the mid-1990s and still can't finish it."

President Vladimir Putin, a great fan of downhill skiing, has visited Krasnaya Polyana several times in the past few years, and ROC officials hope his support will help.

"Just look what [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair did to help London win the right to stage the 2012 Summer Games," said Tyagachyov. "I feel the president's high profile, his well-known enthusiasm for sports would definitely help our cause."

Blair was widely credited with helping London to edge out Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow in July's IOC vote to host the 2012 Games.

Sochi should face stiff competition this time round as well, mainly from South Korea's Pyeongchang and Austria's Salzburg.

Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty; the Bulgarian capital Sofia; Georgia's Borjomi; and Spain's Jaca are also in the running. Russia's long-serving IOC member Vitaly Smirnov feels that Sochi has a big advantage over its Asian rivals.

"Europe is the major continent when it comes to winter sports; most of the spectators are also Europeans," Smirnov said. "Sochi is only 2 1/2 hours away by air from most of Europe, unlike Pyeongchang or Almaty."