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Sochi exceeding all expectations, IPC chief says

By Alexei Anishchuk

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The world Paralympics chief praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday for staging a "fantastic" Winter Paralympic Games and said the competition in Sochi was on track to become the most successful ever.

"The Games are exceeding all expectations in every single area," International Paralympic Committee President Phil Craven said in a statement on the March 7-16 extravaganza in the Russian Black Sea resort.

In a meeting at Putin's residence in Sochi, Craven said the Games have been well-organized and "attended by amazing crowds, Russian crowds."

"With ... the organizing committee and with your incredible support, we are having fantastic Games here," the Briton told Putin and other Russian officials.

More than 300,000 tickets have been sold for the event, eclipsing the previous Winter Paralympic record of 230,000 sold in Vancouver four years ago, the IPC said.

"To break the 300,000 barrier is sensational and I know the Organizing Committee is working hard to try to create extra capacity to cater for the huge demand for tickets," Craven said in the statement.

"The Russian crowds also deserve huge credit for making these Games a huge success. Their vocal support has inspired the athletes and, what has pleased me the most, is that their support has not just been for Russian athletes but for athletes from all 45 countries.

"It's the Paralympic effect in action. No matter where the Games go, they have an ability to transform sports fans into sports fans for all, supporting all sides and all athletes."

Putin echoed those sentiments.

"I was at some competitions and I must say that after a couple of minutes watching these competitions, one totally forgets that these are people with certain limited physical abilities. And this, of course, produces a very strong emotional impression," he said.

"And of course we cannot but be pleased with our team's progress at the competitions: 34 medals including 11 golds. We are very proud of our athletes."

Organizers said they had raised $95 million from their marketing program, a new record for a Paralympic Winter Games.

"Companies are realizing the full value of a Paralympic partnership, whilst broadcasters are delighted at the sensational pictures provided by OBS (Olympic Broadcast Service)and the inspirational stories from athletes that they can provide their viewers with around the world.

"The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games are on course to be the best and most successful ever."

The Paralympics follow the February 7-23 Sochi Winter Olympic Games for which Russia spent more than $50 billion on hosting and related infrastructure in the Black Sea resort.

Neither Putin nor Craven publicly mentioned the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine, where Western governments say Russian forces have seized the Crimea region and Putin has reserved the right to send in the armed forces.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. It organizes Summer and Winter Paralympic Games and serves as the International Federation for nine sports.

(Additional reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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