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Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2007, 21:33 GMT
Resurgent Russia's Olympic task
With International Olympic Committee inspectors visiting Sochi, Russia's candidate for the 2014 Winter Olympics, James Rodgers reports on how one of the country's warmest cities encapsulates President Putin's hopes for modern Russia.

Plans for Sochi's Olympic bid
Is the gap between plans and reality too far to bridge?

"They'll be giving it a good clean before it lands in the Olympic city," said the passenger sitting across the aisle. He was looking through the window at a mechanical arm spraying the wing of the aircraft.

Actually, the plane's wings were being de-iced before take-off.

It was -15C at Moscow airport. It was +8C when we landed in Sochi.

The remark - joke or misunderstanding - reflected the sense of importance which Russia attaches to its bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

You wouldn't think that a country known for the severity of its winters would choose its warmest town to go for the games - but that's what is happening.

There is certainly novelty value to the bid. While most of Russia shivers, Sochi enjoys the warm weather of the Black Sea coast. There are even palm trees along the seafront.

Its climate has always been Sochi's selling point as a resort. The 20th Century dictator Joseph Stalin liked it here. His era left the city a legacy of elegant neo-classical villas where the Communist elite could come to relax.

Now Sochi wants to expand its appeal.

'Compact plan'

You only have to travel about 50 km inland to find yourself among skiers and snowboarders on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains.

That's the basis of Sochi's Olympic bid: a "coastal cluster" for the ice events, and a "mountain cluster" in the ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana.

Officials from the International Olympic Committee have been here in Sochi this week to look at the plans.

Six years ago they were $2,000 per 100 sq m - now it's going up, you can't find a decent plot of land for under $30,000
Tom Rawlins, British businessman

Sochi faces competition from Pyeongchang in South Korea, and Salzburg in Austria.

I met Andrei Braginsky , the spokesman for Sochi's bid, at the town's newly spruced-up railway station. The IOC delegation had just left to look at one of the potential sites.

"It's a very compact plan, and we really hope we'll succeed," he told me. "We have a beautiful place, and we have very strong popular support - 86% of the population here support us."

It's not just popular support that counts. Sochi has been studying the methods of previous successful bids, including London's for 2012. They know that high-level endorsement counts.

So on Tuesday President Vladimir Putin turned up in person to praise the preparations. To reinforce the point, he tried out the ski slopes for himself.

Mr Putin has an official residence here. That's made it fashionable. The presidential factor and Russia's oil wealth are driving a property boom.

Resurgent Russia?

Tom Rawlins is a British businessman who lived in Moscow for 15 years. Now he's come to the Caucasus in the hope of cashing in.

President Putin
Sochi's popularity with President Putin has been instrumental

"It's a boom at the moment," he told me as we chatted at the foot of a ski slope. "The prices for land are doubling every year. Six years ago they were $2,000 per 100 sq m. Now it's going up - you can't find a decent plot of land for under $30,000."

Not everyone's getting a share. Sochi makes no secret of the fact that it hopes a successful bid will bring in plenty of money. Sixty-year-old Yury was among the onlookers at the ice rink the bid committee have set up in the city.

"The Olympics will be very good for us," he told me. "There'll be new jobs; there'll be sport facilities for the young," he said hopefully.

The decision will come in July. There's still a way to go. The organisers of Sochi's bid have had to defend themselves against accusations of not doing enough to protect the environment.

Leaked city council documents suggest that officials have been trying to divert attention from other possible shortcomings.

This isn't just a local affair. President Putin's involvement suggests that the international pride of a resurgent Russia is also at stake.

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