Story Summary

Sochi Olympics 2014

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games are being held in Sochi, a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia.

The games begin Thursday, February 6.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 10 updates
By Chuck Schilken
Los Angeles Times

Bob Costas had told Olympics viewers that the “minor infection” in his left eye should be cleared up by the weekend.

Anyone watching NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Games on Monday night knows that didn’t happen. In fact, the ailment seems to have gotten much worse and spread to the other eye.

 So NBC is going to the bullpen, to use the baseball-crazy Costas’ term, and having “Today” anchor Matt Lauer fill in as the anchor of Tuesday night’s Olympics coverage.It will be the first time since 1998, when CBS broadcast the Games, that anyone but Costas has anchored the prime-time Olympics broadcast in either the winter or summer.“I was trying to throw a complete game here, but I think we’re going to have to go to the bullpen, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but you’re Mariano Rivera, at least tonight,” Costas told Lauer over the phone Tuesday morning on “Today.” “Let’s hope it’s only tonight. I’m walking around, I might as well be playing ‘Marco Polo.’ I have no idea where I am.”During the late-night broadcast following Monday’s coverage, Costas shared some vodka with NBC correspondent Mary Carillo, saying, “I’m looking at it this way … my eyes can’t get any redder no matter what I do.”

plane(CNN) –

A Pegasus Airlines plane landed at an Istanbul airport on Friday after a passenger “said that there was a bomb on board” and wanted the plane to land in Sochi, Russia, officials with Turkey’s Transportation Ministry said.

“While the plane was in the air, one of the passengers said that there was a bomb on board and asked the plane to not land in Sabiha Gokcen (in Turkey) but rather to land in Sochi,” Transportation Ministry official Habip Soluk said Friday on CNNTurk.

The Winter Olympic Games began Thursday in Sochi amid intense security against potential terror attacks. Official opening ceremonies were being held Friday.

The plane sent a hijacking signal, and after landing it was being held in a safe zone at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, Turkish state media outlet TRT reported.

The plane had been flying a route between Kharkhov, Ukraine and Istanbul, the Transportation Ministry representative said. It wasn’t clear in which city the flight started.

TM & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Chicago Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair talks to WGN Morning News on the poor hotel conditions in Sochi, Russia for the Olympics

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

After all the consternation over security, the controversy over gay rights and the ridicule over poor preparations, the Sochi Games are here.

The last of the athletes are arriving Thursday, including the bulk of Team USA. Some qualification events have begun.

And Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Games, is promising Sochi will be “the safest place on earth during the Olympics.”

Here are the latest developments:

SECURITY

There’s no doubt it’s the issue at the forefront of people’s minds.

Russia has drafted some 37,000 police and security officers to handle security in Sochi. But that’s not been enough to assuage everyone’s fears.

Toothpaste terror: The United States on Wednesday warned airlines with direct flights serving Russia to be aware of the possibility that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism and Intelligence, told CNN that Americans, the airlines and those at the Olympics should take the threat “very seriously.”

King, a New York Republican, said he believes the athletes and American spectators are “reasonably safe” but noted that he would not go himself.

Private protection: The U.S. ski and snowboarding team has hired a private security firm, Global Rescue, to provide protection.

Ships for safety: Meanwhile, two U.S. Navy ships have steamed into the Black Sea, where they will be ready to help if any mass evacuation of U.S. citizens is needed. U.S. security officials have also been working with their Russian counterparts on how to keep the Games safe.

Targets of threats: Americans are not the only ones who are jittery. Austria said this week that two of its female athletes had been the target of specific threats. Austrian media reported a letter was sent warning Alpine skier Bernadette Schild and skeleton racer Janine Flock they could be kidnapped.

PREPARATIONS

When Russia bid to host its first Winter Olympics in 2007, a document quoted an expected cost of around $12 billion. That figure has ballooned to around $50 billion. That’s more than four times over budget and surpasses Beijing’s 2008 Summer Games — making it the most expensive Olympics ever, summer or winter.

Russia had seven years to transform what was a fairly low-key seaside resort town into a Winter Olympics venue. And yet questions over Sochi’s readiness have dogged the final run-up to the Games.

Not quite there: While the sports facilities were completed in good time, journalists and others arrived in Sochi this week to find that some of the 40,000 new hotel rooms were far from ready and that construction workers were still hard at work on parts of the Olympic Park.

Thanks to pictures of chaotic scenes posted on Twitter, Russia’s embarrassment has not been spared.

It’ll be A-OK: The Games are President Vladimir Putin’s pet project — so the pressure is on for the Russian organizers to deliver and foster the country’s reputation as a wealthy, modern state.

Chernyshenko told CNN he was confident all was in hand ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.

“We are pretty sure that the minor issues are fixed,” he said. “And everybody will concentrate on sport and excellence.”

PROTESTS

Every Olympics has protests. But thanks to social media, Russia is facing a global backlash.

What got many people riled was Russian lawmakers’ passage last summer of legislation known as the anti-gay propaganda bill. The law makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality.

Open letter: More than 200 writers from around the world signed an open letter published Thursday in the UK newspaper The Guardian, calling for a repeal of laws that have placed a “chokehold” on the right to free expression in Russia.

“As writers and artists, we cannot stand quietly by as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts,” the letter said. Authors Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen and Nobel laureates Gunter Grass and Orhan Pamuk are among the signatories.

Coordinated protests: To keep the issue in the public eye, gay rights group All Out coordinated protests in cities around the world Wednesday — New York, London, Rio de Janeiro and Paris among them. It’s also set up the Principle 6 campaign, named for the article in the Olympic Charter that promises no discrimination.

Designated site: There is a designated protest site in Sochi. But there’s been criticism of organizers’ decision to tuck it away in a hard-to-reach village seven miles from the main Olympic Park.

More protests may be yet to come — perhaps even by athletes despite an Olympic Charter rule that states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Express yourself: Chernyshenko says visitors to Sochi have nothing to fear. “You have to understand that any discrimination by gender, by sexual orientation, or religious is prohibited in my country by constitution and also by Olympic Charter.

“Athletes are free to express themselves, and for those who want to demonstrate something we organized what we call Sochi ‘speakers’ corner.’ “

EVENTS

Athletes are strapping on their skis, snowboards and ice skates Thursday as the sporting spectacle gets under way.

All together now: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged warring leaders to take a leaf from the competitors’ book. “The athletes send a unified message that people and nations can put aside their differences. If they can do that in Sochi’s sporting arenas, leaders of fighters should do the same in the world’s combat areas,” he said Thursday.

Making the cut: As well as qualification rounds for the ladies’ moguls, figure skaters will be taking to the ice for the team men short program and the team pairs short program.

There are also qualification rounds, semifinals and finals in the men’s and ladies’ slopestyle competition — where athletes whiz down a daunting course littered with bumps, rails and jumps.

Thanks, I’ll pass: This event — making its debut at the Sochi Games — is the one ditched by champion U.S. snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White.

The king of cool, who’s been nursing a wrist injury, withdrew Wednesday, a day after admitting the slopestyle course presented an “intimidating” challenge. He’s going to focus instead on winning his third gold medal in the halfpipe, another snowboarding event.

Record numbers, record tally?: Team USA, with 230 members, will be the largest athlete delegation for any nation in Winter Olympics history. Made up of 125 men and 105 women, the team has high hopes of bringing back a record tally of medals.

CNN’s Amanda Davies and Carol Jordan contributed to this report.

SOCHI, Russia (CNN) — In the months leading up to the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics the story of Sochi, the stage for one of the world’s biggest sporting extravaganzas, has evolved into a distinctly negative narrative: security threats, gay-rights protests and corruption allegations.

sochitweet

Water in Sochi photo tweeted from Tribune reporter @stacystclair

Security because areas such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Georgia — all nations close to Sochi’s location on the north coast of the Black Sea — have ongoing issues with Russia that have a history of violence. Two recent bombings in Volgograd, and reports of suicide bombers dubbed “black widows” in operation, prompted the U.S. government to say it viewed the Games as an “attractive target for terrorists.”

Gay rights because Russia’s government banned what it defined as “gay propaganda” in 2013, a move that has seen widespread criticism from competing athletes and areas of the international media, and has led to some high-profile politicians refusing to attend. Detractors argue such laws fly in the face of the Olympics charter, which states the Games, like sport itself, should be available to all, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation and free of discrimination.

And corruption because the Games have cost more than $50 billion according to some sources, more than any other in history, and have been funded against a backdrop of criticism from opposition groups. Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov has complained of “embezzlement and kick backs” and questioned where $20-30 billion has been spent.

But there is another narrative that is worthy of reflection: Russia’s attempts to forge a new identity on the international landscape through sport, and from this point of view first impressions count.

Security

Without wanting to pretend to be authoritative on an area with next-to-zero expertise, anecdotally the security seems impressive. As with London 2012, all entry to Olympic venues require an airport-style security check and X-ray as well as a barcode scan of your ticket before gaining access.

Police are at all major sites in good numbers, along all major roads traveled thus far, and are supported by military personnel as well. Vehicle searches are thorough and mandatory for entry into International Olympic Commission (IOC) managed territories, even freeways have security atop embankments and escarpments monitoring the traffic drive past.

The much touted “Ring of Steel,” on the face of it at least, is in place and high profile.

Venues

My visit to Sochi’s coastal cluster awaits, but the mountain facilities witnessed so far proved awesome in the true sense of the word.

A ski jump whose start point seems to scratch the sky such is the way that it’s perched on, and protrudes from, the mountainside; cable cars that criss-cross spectators across the epic crevasses below; huge seating galleries and bleachers, erected on the angled ground with a complex mesh of scaffolding and ingenuity; slopes and slideways of the Alpine Center and Sanki Center (race locations for the downhill skiing-type events and bobsleigh-type events respectively) that carve smooth pathways down the otherwise unpredictable surfaces; they are fantastic stages for sporting competition.

Accommodation

First impressions of the accommodation has broadly not been good, an assessment which, in large part, has been formed by the unpreparedness of hotels set aside for media.

Journalists are known to be a vainglorious lot but there is a serious point here that rooms booked for large expense, months in advance, are not ready and their state was not communicated well to those affected.

At worst this could test the claim of IOC president Thomas Bach that all bar 3% of rooms are ready. It raises fears of spectators who are traveling from far and wide that they could be left out in the cold.

At best it’s something of a PR disaster. Frustrating those with the loudest mouths is an early own-goal to concede and one that London, which contended with its own doom-mongers ahead of the 2012 opening ceremony, avoided with aplomb.

Transport

The “World’s Most Expensive Road” has had its detractors — the joke doing the rounds is that it would have been cheaper to lay caviar as a surface than the Tarmac used. But the estimated $8.6 billion cost for less than 30 miles aside, the road — as well as the railway that runs parallel to it — is nothing short of an engineering marvel.

The dual carriageway cuts a path from the pleasant climes of the coastal Olympic Park through the vertiginous slopes of the Caucasus mountains, boring through the hard rock of any peak that had the temerity to stand in its path and traversing rock-strewn, river-chiseled chasms with a nonchalance only construction ambition on a grand scale can pull off.

The tunnels are many, the steel bridges are myriad and concrete supports and structures, which hold the transport arteries in the air, creep up the snow-capped slopes like a giant, monolithic ivy. The buses, across the IOC zone, are plentiful and regular too.

Cost

The investment from the Russian government to make the Games a reality is reputed to have risen above $50 billion and by anyone’s standards, bar maybe a politician called Putin, that’s a number beyond imagination or moral reckoning.

Could such an expenditure ever be justified? Well, before any judgment, it should at least be considered that Sochi is very different to the Vancouver, Turin or even London scenario.

The coastal cluster — actually situated in the town of Adler, a few miles south of Sochi — now boasts world-class, design-led arenas, a spectacular media center, new hotels as well as new train links and stations.

But it’s in the mountains where the true scope of the project is revealed. It’s fair to say that many Olympic locations in the Krasnaya Polyana region, such as the athletes’ village, the Gorki media center and the resort of Rosa Khutor, more closely resemble new towns than alpine sporting facilities.

Russian officials claim the sporting cost of the Games is $6.4 billion, and the vast outlay on transport links, power supplies and sewerage should be seen as regional development and not included in the headline budget. The viability of its legacy will be a story for another day.

The intangible vibe

One of the most striking memories of the London 2012 experience was the feelgood factor created by an army of volunteers who turned out in their droves to help the Olympic effort prove a success.

Sochi looks well-placed to continue this momentum. Many of the temporary workforce, clad in rainbow-colored 2014 Games-themed mountain apparel, stand outside for much of the day — braving freezing temperatures — so they can show the way to those who are lost, give advice to those confused and to make the travel-weary feel welcome.

Their English skills and enthusiasm has already left an impression, from the night-shift volunteer who helped with bag check-in at Moscow airport to the man who helped explain the bus timetable and pickup points to this befuddled writer.

From the students keen to take part in an event that could shape their future to those who have taken the opportunity to work in the new jobs created, there is a sense of excitement and pride. Russia, a country notorious for its autocratic government and stone-faced expressions, has historically driven fear and paranoia in many Western nations.

Hosting the Winter Games is a grand welcome to the world to learn more about its culture and people, or to witness its grandstanding depending on your stance, a move that in itself is fascinating.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Chicago Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair talks about problems she’s had with her hotel since she arrived in Sochi, Russian to cover the Olympics.

That red, white, and blue cardigan in your sweater may be fitting for an Olympian.

Designer Ralph Lauren revealed what Team USA will be wearing during the opening ceremony at the Sochi Olympics on February 7.

They include a patriotic looking cardigan sweater.

Underneath is a cream colored turtleneck.

Below that are white fleece pants and black boots.

The patchwork on the cardigan is supposed to symbolize that every athlete has a story to tell.

Every piece of the uniforms is made in America.

Ralph Lauren was criticized for outsourcing the ones worn at the London games in 2012.

And if that old sweater in the closet isn’t good enough, you can buy the Olympic sweater online for $595.

From Joseph Netto. Barbara Starr and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

New details fueled debate Monday over security at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi: Wanted posters of a terrorism suspect on the loose, warships at the ready and a video threat from beyond the grave.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that his country has stepped up security and is prepared to handle any threats.

blackwidowolympicsBut some U.S. lawmakers — and at least one Olympic athlete — have said they’re worried about the situation.

Hotels warned about terror suspect

Police in Sochi have handed out fliers at area hotels warning of a woman they believe could be a terrorist and who may currently be in the city.

One flier, obtained by CNN, asks workers to be on the lookout for Ruzanna “Salima” Ibragimova, described as the widow of a member of a militant group from the Caucasus region.

The woman, according to the flier, may be involved in organizing “a terrorist act within the 2014 Olympic region.”

CNN obtained a copy of the flier, which is dated January 15, from security staff at a hotel in Sochi. The flier claims authorities have received information about Ibragimova’s possible arrival in the region last week.

Photos of Ibragimova have flooded television and social media reports from Sochi. Some describe her as a “black widow” — a notorious type of terrorist that’s emerged in Russia’s clashes with Chechen separatists.

Many of them are wives of insurgents killed by government forces, and they’ve been blamed for high-profile suicide bombings.

Security experts stressed Monday that the woman is likely one of many suspects authorities are trying to find.

“I guarantee they’re talking about this one black widow,” former CIA officer Mike Baker said, “but there are others that they’re also worried about.”

Video threat emerges amid security concerns

Official: U.S. military at the ready as contingency plan

The U.S. military will have up to two warships and several transport aircraft on standby under a contingency plan to help evacuate American officials and athletes from the Winter Olympics, if ordered, a U.S. official said Monday.

The State Department would take the lead in organizing and evacuating Americans, if necessary, the official with direct knowledge of the plan told CNN.

Moscow would have to ask for such assistance before the United States would act, the official said.

But planes and ships are clearly there “if something happens like a major terrorist attack and we need to get Americans out,” the official said.

U.S. contingency planning calls for warships to launch helicopters to Sochi from the Black Sea. C-17 transport aircraft would be on standby in Germany and could be on the scene in about two hours.

Other aircraft contracted to the State Department would also play a role in any emergency.

A video threat from beyond the grave

In a video that surfaced Sunday, two young men believed to have been suicide bombers in last month’s back-to-back bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd made an ominous promise.

“We’ve prepared a present for you and all tourists who’ll come over,” the video says. “If you will hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.”

The video was posted on a well-known jihadi forum website Sunday and apparently was recorded before the Volgograd attacks, which targeted a train station and a trolley bus and claimed the lives of more than 30 people.

Putin pledges stepped up security

Putin has pledged that visitors to Sochi for the Winter Olympics will be kept safe.

Russia has plenty of experience in keeping international events secure, Putin said, pointing to the G8 and G20 summits as examples.

Access to Sochi is under heavy restriction ahead of the games, and Putin said Sunday in an interview with half a dozen Russian and international broadcasters that about 40,000 members of Russia’s police and security forces would be guarding events.

Security analysts have warned that terrorists targeting the Games may try to strike elsewhere in Russia during the Olympics.

U.S. lawmakers: Games won’t be safe

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wouldn’t go to the Games himself, “and I don’t think I would send my family.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also called on the Russian government to be more cooperative with the United States on intelligence sharing ahead of the Games.

“Their level of concern is great, but we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon,” Rogers said.

In recent weeks, U.S. law enforcement agents have been conducting interviews with people in the United States with ties in the Caucasus region, CNN has learned.

The region, which includes Dagestan and Chechnya, has been the scene of unrest and is in southern Russia, hundreds of miles from the venue of the Games.

The interviews are informational and do not mean there are any particular threats being investigated, a U.S. official said.

Law enforcement officials do “knock and talk” visits to meet people and to identify any potential issues. FBI agents conducted similar visits after last year’s attack at the Boston Marathon.

When asked whether he thought Americans would be safe at the Games, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said he trusts Russia’s ability to provide security.

“I think Americans will be quite safe,” he said.

Will security concerns impact athletes?

Over the weekend, at least one Olympic athlete said he was worried.

“My concerns with Sochi is safety in a way, because it’s in a crazy war zone in a way,” French snowboarder Xavier de la Rue said. “It’s in the middle of all these countries that want to kill Russia, so it’s just scary ’cause I know that we’re going to be a target in a way, although they do very well their job at keeping it safe but yeah, that’s something that scares me a bit.”

Tara Lipinski, who won a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics and will be attending this year’s games, said she feels safe — and hopes competitors will, too.

“There have been so many threats at the Olympics,” she told CNN Monday. “I think athletes are used to that, and they know that, OK, we’re going to hear about this. But when we go, we have people that are surrounding us and telling us where we should be and where we shouldn’t be. And hopefully they do feel safe.”

CNN National Security Analyst Frances Fragos Townsend described the security climate in Sochi as “the most dangerous threatened environment that we’ve seen for the Olympics.”

But she said competitors shouldn’t have to worry.

“They’ll go to real extremes to protect the athletes and the venues. … There’s a big falloff, though, when you talk about the families and the tourists,” Townsend said. “There really is, I think, a far greater vulnerability.”

CNN’s Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva, Alla Eshchenko, Evan Perez, Olivia Yasukawa and Brooke Baldwin contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

A standout track and field star from the southern suburbs is headed Sochi to represent the United States at the Winter Olympic Games.

But not for anything running related — Aja Evans is now an official member of the U.S. bobsled team.

Tom Negovan has more on this story.

By Laura Smith-Spark and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

A video surfaces threatening the Winter Olympics. Russia’s President vows the Games will be safe. Some U.S. lawmakers warn that they won’t be.

One thing was clear as debate over the situation surged on Sunday: security is a top concern, less than three weeks away from the competition.

olympicthreat“It’s a very serious fear,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the Games, like any high-profile event, could be a target for terrorists.

But, he said, Russia has a “perfect understanding” of the threat and how to stop it.

As a transcript of his interview with half a dozen national and international broadcasters was posted on the Kremlin website Sunday, a video that surfaced online again highlighted the security situation.

In the video, posted on a well-known Jihadi forum website, two young men believed to have been suicide bombers in last month’s back-to-back bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd speak of those attacks and make an ominous promise.

“We’ve prepared a present for you and all tourists who’ll come over,” the video says. “If you will hold the Olympics, you’ll get a present from us for the Muslim blood that’s been spilled.”

Attack on transit hub fuels concerns

In the video, the men are dressed in black and standing in front of a black banner with religious verse that is typically associated with al Qaeda-linked extremists.

Last month’s attacks in Volgograd, a major transit hub about 650 kilometers (400 miles) away from Sochi, sparked concerns over security as the Olympics approach.

The explosions targeted a train station and a trolley bus and claimed the lives of more than 30 people.

In addition to the Volgograd attacks, there has also been violence in recent days in the southern republic of Dagestan — the latest unrest linked to a long-running Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus region.

Putin pledges stepped up security

Putin has pledged that visitors to Sochi for the Winter Olympics will be kept safe.

“We will try to make certain that the security measures are not intrusive or too conspicuous, so they are not too noticeable for the athletes, the Olympics’ guests or journalists,” Putin said, according to the interview transcript.

“But at the same time, we will do our utmost to ensure that they are effective.”

Russia has plenty of experience in keeping international events secure, Putin said, pointing to the G8 and G20 summits as examples.

“Security is to be ensured by some 40,000 law enforcement and special services officers,” he said. “Of course, we will draw on the experience acquired during similar events held in other regions of the world and in other countries. It means that we will protect our air and sea space, as well as the mountain cluster.”

U.S. lawmakers: Games aren’t safe

But several U.S. lawmakers offered a different take Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wouldn’t go to the games himself, “and I don’t think I would send my family.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also called on the Russian government to be more cooperative with the United States on intelligence sharing ahead of the games.

“Their level of concern is great, but we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon,” Rogers said.

When asked whether he thought Americans would be safe at the Games, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said he trusts Russia’s ability to provide security.

“I think Americans will be quite safe,” he said.

Putin: ‘No danger’ for gay visitors

Russia’s stance on gay rights has been another area of concern for many visitors.

Russia has come under international pressure since its parliament passed a law last summer outlawing “gay propaganda.” The legislation makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality and has been widely criticized by Western leaders, who have called it archaic and discriminatory.

But Putin defended it before journalists Friday, saying that the law was about protecting children.

“We have just recently passed a law prohibiting propaganda, and not of homosexuality, but of homosexuality and child abuse, child sexual abuse. But this has nothing to do with persecuting individuals for their sexual orientation,” he said.

“So there is no danger for people of such nontraditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the Games as guests or participants.”

Russia has also been criticized over the limitations placed on freedom of speech at Sochi. The official protest site is about a 30-minute drive from the Olympic village and is difficult to find.

But Putin said no visitors should fear problems if they protest, for example, over gay rights.

Putin: No corruption

The Russian leader also dismissed claims that corruption has pushed up the cost of the games, saying there was no proof that had occurred.

When it won the bid in 2007, Russia said the Winter Games would cost $12 billion, but the government’s website now cites the total cost as 1.5 trillion rubles ($45 billion.)

“I do not see serious corruption instances for the moment, but there is a problem with overestimation of construction volumes,” Putin said.

He suggested the problem was a universal one, where companies underestimate costs in the tendering process in order to win the project, and then push the price back up.

But, he said, there was no evidence of anything that could be considered corruption, or “theft of public funds with the help of state officials in whose hands these funds fall,” in Sochi.

“If anyone has such information, give it to us, please. I repeat once again, we will be grateful. But so far there was nothing but talks,” he said.

Putin put the cost of preparations for the Winter Olympics at only 214 billion rubles ($6.4 billion) but acknowledged that the total sum, including the cost of major infrastructure projects, was much higher.

The total price tag of $45 billion outstrips the $40 billion China is thought to have spent on the Beijing Summer Games and is more than three times the cost of the London Games in 2012.

Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister of Russia and a vocal critic of Putin, published a report last year describing the Sochi games as one of the most “outrageous swindles” in recent Russian history. He claimed that up to 60% of the final cost — or $30 billion — has been embezzled.

CNN’s Nic Robertson in Sochi, Virginia Harrison in London and Greg Clary in Washington contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Advertisement