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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gref Hits the Ice to Back Sochi Bid

MTGerman Gref and Evgeni Plushenko trying their hand at hockey at the Russia House in Guatemala City on Monday.
GUATEMALA CITY -- Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref ditched his glasses and took to the ice at the Russia House, in a luxurious eleventh-hour attempt to boost Sochi's bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"I'm not a hockey player," Gref said, dripping with sweat after a hockey game Monday. "We are very keen to show Guatemalans and the world great Russian culture."

Evgeni Plushenko, who won a figure skating gold medal in the last Games in Turin, Italy, was a little more adept on the ice.

"I just wish we were playing against the Koreans. We would thrash them," Plushenko said.

Sochi is up against Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Salzburg, Austria, in its bid. The International Olympic Committee will decide on the host country in a vote early Thursday morning, Moscow time.

Sochi's bid is six votes behind the South Korean bid, while Salzburg is trailing in third place, said Russian tennis chief and IOC member Shamil Tarpishchev, the Ves Sport news agency reported Tuesday.

However, about 20 members of the IOC are still undecided, Tarpishchev said, adding that Russia still had time to win them over.

As part of that attempt, President Vladimir Putin arrived Monday and met with IOC head Jacques Rogge to make Sochi's case for the Games. Putin, who flew in from the United States directly after talks with U.S. President George W. Bush, has been described as the "honorary captain" of the bid.

Rogge praised Putin for his "deep understanding of the bid," Kremlin spokesman Alexei Gromov said, Interfax reported.

Salzburg and Pyeongchang representatives have been far more low-key in the city.

Russia has splashed out tens of millions of dollars to promote its bid. The Russia House, the cultural center for the Sochi 2014 delegation, testifies to Sochi's "win at any cost" approach. It is an around-the-clock grandiose celebration of Russian culture, including an ice rink, Russian dancers and musicians and all the caviar-filled blini you can eat.

That has drawn criticism from representatives of Sochi's rivals, Pyeongchang and Salzburg. They say Sochi may set a dangerous precedent whereby smaller countries may put off future bids in the knowledge that they simply cannot afford the necessary promotion.

Also, rumors are swirling of a dirty tricks campaign. Newspapers lambasting Russian actions in Chechnya and its quashing of opposition rallies have been slipped under the hotel room doors of IOC members.

That angered Sochi officials, who demanded that hotel security find the perpetrators, but declined to file a complaint with the IOC.

Guatemala City's so-called Zone 10 is the hotel and entertainment hub. Thousands of police officers are standing on street corners to keep security tight at a time when Putin and Austrian and South Korean leaders are in town. No homeless people were visible Monday and Tuesday, and it was obvious the city had been cleaned up before the weeklong IOC conference. The scene is in stark contrast to the hundreds of impoverished slums that airplanes almost graze the top of when coming into land at the airport.