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'Excellent' Sochi Games proved critics wrong, says IOC's Bach

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (C) pose with newly elected members of the IOC, Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser (L)
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (C) pose with newly elected members of the IOC, Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser (L)

By Karolos Grohmann

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The Sochi Winter Games set records in competitor numbers, medals awarded and quality of venues, keeping athletes happy and proving critics wrong, said International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters hours before the Games closing ceremony, Bach, who presided over his first Olympics after taking over as IOC chief last September, said Russian government support and President Vladimir Putin's personal involvement had contributed to the success.

"We saw excellent Games and what counts most is the opinions of the athletes and they were enormously satisfied," he added.

The Games had more than 2,800 athletes from 88 countries -- both records -- and featured 12 new events to attract younger fans and more broadcasters than ever before.

However, the Games also saw six doping cases, five more than at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, though Bach it was proof the system worked.

"The number of cases for me is not really relevant. What is important is that we see that the system works."

"It shows that the IOC is serious with zero tolerance because the athletes have been disqualified from the Games."

He also said critics who had doubted Russia could pull off hosting such an event would now be convinced.

"You have to ask all those who criticized whether they change their opinions now," Bach said when asked what he would tell critics following the end of the Olympics.

Sochi had undergone an "amazing transformation" from somewhere that looked more like a "Stalinist-style sanatorium city" in the mid-1990s to an Olympic host city with state-of-the-art venues.

"It was terrible then. Seeing it 20 years after this transformation is amazing."

Sochi had launched an unsuccessful bid in the mid-90s for the 2002 Winter Games.

PUTIN'S ROLE

Before the Games Russia came in for criticism over the country's human rights record and an anti-gay propaganda law passed by Putin's government last year.

There were also claims of corruption after the cost of getting Sochi ready to host the Games spiraled to some $50 billion, while security topped the agenda with Islamist militant from the North Caucasus threatening to attack Russia's first Winter Olympics.

Bach said the involvement of Putin, who had staked a lot of political currency on the successful hosting of the Olympics, had been crucial to push preparations forward. Sochi had none of the venues in place when it was awarded the Olympics in 2007.

Putin watched several competitions, dropped in on the U.S. Olympic team, took photos with volunteers and seemed to relish the spotlight as his nation topped the medals table.

"In all big events, a country, also the political leadership, hopefully benefits from the success of the event," said Bach. "This is a legitimate interest.

"Mr. Putin had been playing an important role in the preparation of these Games. If that would not have been the case we would have been sitting here in a very different mood."

He said fears that Putin would use the Games to push his personal or political agenda had been unfounded.

"Mr. Putin always respected the (Olympic) charter during these Games and I do 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."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann)

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