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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Olympic Elation as Sochi Bid Prevails

MTPlushenko and friends retired to the Russia House party Thursday to celebrate Sochi's victory with shots of tequila.
GUATEMALA CITY -- Raw emotions spilled onto the central streets of Guatemala City on Wednesday after the International Olympic Committee handed the 2014 Winter Olympics to Sochi.

"We did it! We did it! Sochi! Sochi!" chanted the delirious Sochi delegation in chaotic scenes seconds after Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, made the announcement at the city's Intercontinental hotel.

Flowers, television screens and reporters went flying as eager photographers swooped on ecstatic bid committee members to snap pictures.

Perhaps wisely, Rogge left the stage without trying to calm anybody down.

"I don't know what to say," a beaming Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of Sochi's bid committee, managed to say before being overwhelmed by several colleagues in a series of embraces.

But Vyacheslav Fetisov, chief of the Federal Sports Agency, did know what to say. "We did it! God was with us, our people were with us, and we made it," Fetisov said.

Sochi beat Pyeongchang, South Korea, by just four votes, 51-47. Salzburg, the early favorite, was eliminated in the first round with 25 votes. Pyeongchang won the first round, getting 36 votes compared with Sochi's 34.

Chernyshenko hugged and kissed everybody in sight as German Gref, the economic development and trade minister, immediately went in search of South Korean colleagues to console.

Many of the Pyeongchang delegation were in tears at the decision, which may well have come as a shock: The city was the clear favorite going into the voting, but that was before the intervention of Sochi's so-called "captain," President Vladimir Putin.

A persuasive speech delivered expertly in English and French by Putin to IOC members earlier in the day swung the vote Sochi's way.

"Winter sports are very popular in Russia and have proved that in the sporting arena, but we have never had the honor to host the Winter Games," said Putin, who had arranged meetings with every IOC member prior to the vote.

Putin's speech opened Sochi's final presentation. He spoke with an urgency and passion that rarely surfaces in his speeches at home, where he has fewer hearts and minds to win over.

Putin, who left Guatemala City immediately after his speech, learned of Sochi's win while flying back to Moscow, said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman. "What can I say, he was very glad," said Peskov, who was rushing to a hastily called news conference moments after the announcement.

Ed Hula, founder of the influential AroundtheRings.com web site, said before the announcement that Sochi's presidential-backed bid was too strong for IOC members to resist.

"The presentation was smooth, nicely timed and with good videos. ... And Putin just has more gravitas that anybody else," Hula said.

The Sochi, Salzburg and Pyeongchang bid committees were required to field questions from IOC members after making their presentations.

The only IOC member to ask any questions was Prince Albert of Monaco, who wanted to know how the cities would cope in the event of a shortfall of snow.

Chernyshenko referred the question to Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, who was beaten to an answer by Putin.

"I skied there over six weeks ago and there was real snow, I kid you not!" Putin said.

Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachyov later Wednesday signed a contract that committed Sochi to organizing the Games, and the organizing committee was finally able to relax.

All the Russian officials eventually made it to the Russia House, the unofficial headquarters of the Sochi bid in Guatemala.

There, Evgeni Plushenko, who won a figure skating gold in the last Games in Turin, Italy, sat around a table with a handful of friends on a balcony, tossing back shots of local tequila barely 30 minutes after the announcement.

"Well? Here's to Sochi!" he said in a toast, and everyone knocked the liquor back right on cue.

Plushenko has been one of the most visible ambassadors for Sochi's bid and made a confident contribution in fluent English at the final presentation.

Many in the Russian delegation struggled to reach the entrance to the Russia House because of the hundreds of locals who had swarmed around the building. They had learned Sochi had won from live broadcasts on local television and had come to show their support.

The Russia House party carried on into the early morning hours, with the strains of "Katyusha" and "Swan Lake" echoing through the city center.

Hula, of AroundtheRings.com, said there were two key reasons why Salzburg had failed: Low public support and a doping scandal at last year's Turin Olympics involving Austrian athletes.

Sochi was initially considered a risky candidate: No Olympic facilities are yet in place and it is close to Georgia's lawless region of Abkhazia. That left Pyeongchang, the city that was given a glowing report by the IOC last month, as the clear favorite.

The South Koreans tried to make the best of the loss. On a street outside the Holiday Inn hotel, which served as their base, traditional Korean dancers performed to a mesmerizing percussion in the afternoon.

The hotel stands near the Russia House and made for a profound juxtaposition. Indeed, it was all too much for several members of Pyeongchang's bid committee staff, who burst into tears. Friends offered hugs to calm them down but ended up crying themselves.

Zhukov called the victory confirmation that Russia was a fully recognized democratic nation.

Human rights activists have called on the IOC to block Russia's bid, saying that awarding it the Games would legitimize a form of government that they saw as repressive.

The Kremlin flatly denies stifling democracy.

Moments after Putin stepped off his plane on his return to Moscow on Thursday, he hailed the win as an international endorsement of Russia's economic resurgence. "This is, without doubt, not just a recognition of Russia's sporting achievements but it is, beyond any doubt, a judgment of our country," he said. "It is a recognition of our growing capability, first of all economically and socially."