The Sochi Olympics: A Win for Putin

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Maxim Marmur / AFP / Getty

General view of Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held.

Winning the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games was so important to Russia, and to Vladimir Putin personally, that the Russian president himself led the country's final, formal presentation before the International Olympic Committee in Guatemala City on July 4. Rare for him, he even made his address in English, with finishing remarks in French.

That involvement clearly paid off, as the Black Sea resort of Sochi beat out Pyeongchang, South Korea, in a second round of secret balloting after Salzburg, Austria was eliminated in the first.

For Russia, which has never hosted a winter Olympics, the 2014 games are powerful issue, both domestically and in terms of international relations. The successful bid has helped the nation enhance its image as a re-emerging force on the global stage, as a major player capable of carrying out high-quality, world-class events. Domestically, where political uncertainty looms as Putin approaches the end of his term in 2008 and society struggles with increasing wealth disparities, threats to civil liberties and other social problems, hosting the games is seen almost universally as a good idea, and the win has provided a quick boost to national morale. In public opinion polls, some 80% of Russians supported Sochi's candidacy.

Despite Putin's increasingly confrontational stance with other world powers on energy and defense policies, these games will likely be a far cry from the 1980 Moscow Olympics, when an American-led boycott in protest of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 resulted in a greatly diminished field of competing countries.

Located on the southeastern side of the Black Sea, right at the foot of the snow-peaked Caucasus mountains, the area has long been a popular vacation spot and recreation center, but many of the games' venues will have to be built from scratch. As part of the bid, Russia pledged $12 billion in development money.

The competition was not without its controversy or hard feelings. According to the Agence France-Presse news wire, Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer had sharp words about the level of financial firepower Russia had focused on their efforts. "Salzburg didn't stand a chance," he said. "It was an economic and political powerplay...which indicates the way they want to go from now on, and this is wrong for the sport and for the IOC and Olympic Movement."