Olympics: Putin says Russia's Sochi 'risk' paid off
SOCHI (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Monday that Russia had taken a risk in hosting the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi but said that the country had succeeded in showing off a different face to the world.
After a build-up dogged by concerns over Russia's human rights record and an alarming race against the clock to finish construction on time, the Games themselves won gushing praise from the International Olympic Committee.
The event wound up on Sunday with a beautifully-pitched closing ceremony and Russia sitting pretty on top of the medals table with 13 golds.
"We all took a risk, not just the Russian side but also our friends from the IOC," said Mr Putin.
"They also took a risk, they believed in us and took certain risks on to themselves."
The IOC granted Russia the right to host the Games at a session in 2007 where he made an emotional plea for the Olympics, in a speech in heavily-accented English.
He said there was no certainty to what extent the huge preparatory work that had been done for the Olympics would succeed.
"But nonetheless, people believed in us and took the risk," Mr Putin told a meeting attended by IOC president Thomas Bach and committee members.
"We have (in Russian) a great expression 'if you don't take a risk then you don't drink the champagne'. So today we can raise a glass to our joint result."
Mr Putin said one of the main aims of the Games was to show off to the world a new face of post-Soviet Russia, a country he has run since 2000.
"It was important to show that we are a country with goodwill which knows how to meet guests and create a celebration not just for itself but all sports fans in the world."
He said the Games had marked a huge turnaround for Russia's sporting fortunes after the debacle of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, where it picked up just three gold medals.
"The results show that the difficult period in the history of Russia sport is over. Everything that was done and invested in our sport has not been in vain."
At the closing ceremony Sunday, Bach congratulated Russia for delivering "all what it had promised" in hosting the Sochi Games and thanked Mr Putin for his role ensuring their "extraordinary success".