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How Sochi Won The 2014 Olympic Games

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image Sochi 2014 Gold Medal (GB Photo)

Russian ice hockey superstar and three-time Olympic gold medalist Vladislav Tretiak travelled to North America in November to scout NHL players for the Sochi 2014 Olympic team.  Putting a Russian hockey team on home ice in Sochi at the Olympic Games brings his goal full circle.

It was in 2005 that Tretiak was one of the first to dream about a 2014 Games in Sochi – a first Winter Games in the nation that as the former USSR dominated ice hockey with seven gold medals from 1956 to 1988.

As Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Sports and Youth Issues, Tretiak said in April 2005 “Sochi has real competitive advantages. Firstly, all facilities of the Olympic Village can be situated close to each other. Secondly, a big city capable to accommodate a huge amount of tourists is situated as close to them as never.”

At the time, Tretiak’s remarks were somewhat controversial if you consider that Russia was already in the midst of a Summer Games bid; Moscow had been nominated to battle Paris, Madrid, New York and winner London with a decision still three months away.  Moscow eventually finished dismally last garnering only 15 of 97 cast votes.  However, that disappointment wedged the door open for a 2014 campaign.

But this wasn’t the first time Russian sports officials had aspirations for a Winter Games in Sochi.  In 1993 a bid for the 2002 Games was launched on the heels of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  But the campaign itself fell apart shortly thereafter when the IOC excluded the city from the shortlist.  Salt Lake City eventually won that infamous bid that was later known for the bribery scandal that erupted in 1998.

The 2014 bid election was held July 4th, 2007 at the 119th IOC Session in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  On that day, Sochi secured the Games by defeating PyeongChang in South Korea and Salzburg in Austria on the second ballot.

It was one of the tightest Olympic bid elections in history - and on the heels of an over-exuberant 2012 election where the bids took notes - the cities pulled out every stop and campaigned with high-profile dignitaries and lavish presentations. It was the first election where the national leaders for each bid presented.

Other applicants that didn't make the short list were Almaty Kazakhstan, Borjomi Georgia, Jaca Spain and Sofia Bulgaria.  Almaty narrowly missed the cut after straddling the benchmark they needed to pass to automatically qualify.  The IOC Executive Committee voted to exclude that bid from the list of finalists.

During the “international phase”, campaigning was fierce and millions of dollars were spent.  This limitless spending was an accurate foreshadowing of how Russia would eventually prepare for the Games themselves with the overall budget surpassing $50 billion, breaking all Olympic spending records.

Salzburg was an early leader in the race but faced many obstacles including questionable leadership, an Austrian athletes doping scandal, the IOC questioning bid fundamentals such as accommodations, and most damaging - a low show of public support in an official IOC poll. By the time the election came, Salzburg had been considered an outsider.

PyeongChang remained a strong contender throughout the race by leveraging the goodwill gained by favorable results in the 2010 bid election that was narrowly lost to Vancouver, and by fulfilling many of the promises made during that same campaign in order to gain the trust of IOC members. A spectacular venue concept that was already under construction was the marquee element of the bid.

But while Salzburg and PyeongChang were developing their second consecutive bid, relative newcomer Sochi was mounting its first campaign and pulled out all stops by proposing a spectacularly compact venue concept in a subtropical Black Sea setting. The only problem - it was only a plan, very little of it actually existed.  Sochi bidders tackled this hurdle by putting together one of the most aggressive international public relations campaigns ever seen for an Olympic bid.  Using some of the same PR teams that won the 2012 Games for London - the bid did some serious marketing.

At the helm was an advertising and sport marketing professional, Dmitry Chernyshenko, a native of Sochi who had a personal stake in the outcome.

Sochi’s team recruited prominent Olympic athletes, including Sochi native tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, who spread their message during events internationally.  In Guatemala at the final vote - they transported a full-size skating rink in the world's largest airplane - to put on a skating show.  To seal the victory, Russian President Vladamir Putin delivered a final presentation speech to the delegates, speaking in English publicly for the first time.

Salzburg officials balked at the over-spending and extravagance and instead stuck to the fundamentals. They portrayed a modern but traditional Games concept but it seemed the IOC members didn't buy it, instead getting swept-up in the PR blitzes of the other two bids.

Just like in their 2010 bid election, PyeongChang won the first ballot earning 36 votes to Sochi’s 34 and Salzburg’s 25.  On the second ballot, the Russian bid managed to pull ahead by a small margin – 51 to PyeongChang’s 47 votes  - but enough to secure victory and the Games in 2014.

PyeongChang bid again, and won the right to host the Games in 2018.

Tretiak's ice hockey team will take home ice and compete for Olympic Gold next week.

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