SOCHI, Russia (AP) - IOC President Thomas Bach hailed the Sochi Olympics on Sunday for showcasing the “amazing” transformation of a fading resort town where he once feared being hit in the head by a falling roof.
In a news conference on the final day of the Olympics, Bach said Sochi had staged a Winter Games that proved the IOC made a sound decision seven years ago to award the event to the little-known city on the Black Sea coast.
Sochi built everything from scratch as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mission to turn the decaying region into a winter sports center and year-round tourist destination.
“It’s amazing what has happened here,” he said.
Sochi was awarded Russia’s first Winter Games in 2007 after two previous unsuccessful bids. Bach was chairman of an International Olympic Committee evaluation panel that assessed Sochi’s second failed attempt.
“I came here and said, ‘Impossible,’” he said. “We were here and you saw (an) old, Stalinist-style sanatorium city where you entered the room and you were looking at the roof so you would not be hit by something falling down. It was terrible.
“And then seeing now … it was really amazing. And now it will be important to secure the legacy of this games.”
Bach said the games have generated a “really overwhelmingly positive” response from athletes, national Olympic committees, international sports federations, sponsors and broadcasters. He singled out the volunteers for showing “the best of Russian hospitality,” delivered with a smile.
“You didn’t only get a smile, you got the right information,” he said.
Bach was asked whether the Olympics had been tainted by the common description of these as “Putin’s games” and whether the Russian president had used the event to burnish his own image.
Bach, a German, noted that German political leaders benefited from the success of the 2006 World Cup in his country and said it was normal for Russians and Putin to do the same.
“Mr. Putin has been playing an important role in the preparation of these games, as well as the whole Russian government,” he said. “If that would not have been the case we would be sitting here in a very different mood. Only with this effort by the Russian government and Russian people was such a big success possible.”
Bach also said Putin respected the Olympic Charter, which prohibits political demonstrations during the games.
“I would not remember any kind of action by him where he would step over the border making gestures or undertaking steps which would not be legitimate,” the IOC leader said.
On other issues, Bach: