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Putin's Games end under a Crimean cloud

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 16, 2014 at 1:26 pm •  Published: March 16, 2014
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"Putin is extremely strong, has a clear approach and a clear strategy — you might agree with it, you might disagree with it — but he has considerable resources of all types," said Sorrell. "We in the West don't quite get how influential Russia is or how influential we are prepared to accept them being, politically and economically. But they are a force to be reckoned with."

The scale of the Sochi venture — it was the most expensive Olympic Games ever, winter or summer — was matched by the record-breaking achievement of the Russian athletes who topped the Paralympic medals table.

"Russia always wants to try to be the best," biathlete Alena Kaufman, who won three golds for Russia, said through a translator. "We have definitely done that."

Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of Sochi's organizing committee, is convinced that attitudes have already shifted in this vast nation during the 10-day Paralympics, breaking down a "mental barrier" in Russian society.

"We have broken the stereotypes about people with impairments," Chernyshenko said. "We are really different as a country."

Visiting Sochi from Moscow, 30-year-old Yulia Simonova found moving around the resort to be far easier in a wheelchair than in the Russian capital. She said attitudes in Russia toward the disabled have steadily improved in the years since she was not allowed to attend a regular school.

"I felt very comfortable in Sochi and I could go around very easily," Simonova said. "Maybe it's not perfect, but it's much better."

Throughout the games, International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven has steered clear of the political tensions hanging over the games. At closing ceremony Sunday, Craven instead focused on Russia's progress on inclusivity for the disabled.

The challenge for Sochi is now ensuring the new resorts carved into the mountains and on the coast have a legacy and don't become empty, crumbling memories of Russia's 2014 winter of sports.

The stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi could remain largely empty until 2018, when soccer's World Cup comes to Russia. But the first Formula One race will be staged this year around Sochi's Olympic Park and officials are anticipating an influx of tourists to the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana, which has been transformed into a Swiss-style ski resort.

But the next major event planned here — the Group of Eight summit in June — is already in turmoil. The U.S. and six other nations have suspended planning for the summit after Russian-backed forces seized control of Ukraine's Crimea two weeks ago.

By then, the memories of Olympic and Paralympic glory — witnessed by record TV audiences globally — could have faded.

Chernyshenko, who led Sochi's Olympic bid and staging, hopes not.

"We have created a fantastic cumulative effect that united the nation and turned dramatically the attitude from abroad to Russia," he said. "Everyone recognizes that we are modern, efficient, transparent and very hospitable. We delivered what we have promised."

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Rob Harris can be reached at www.twitter.com/RobHarris