IOC inspectors examine Sochi as Russia's bid for Winter Games 2014

IOC inspectors got a look Thursday at the least-developed but most distinctive part of Russia's bid for the 2014 Winter Games - the ice venues and main athletes' village proposed for the Black Sea coastline.

For now, the area is nothing but a muddy field. But plans call for the zone to be developed into a complex of sports and accommodations facilities of about 2 square kilometers (0.75 square miles).

Organizers say it would be the compact complex ever for the winter Olympics, allowing athletes to walk or bicycle from their rooms to their competition venues within 10 minutes.

The complex would be built next to the palm-fringed seacoast with a view in the other direction of the soaring Caucasus Mountains where the snow sports would be held.

Sochi is competing against Salzburg, Austria, and Pyeongchang, South Korea. The International Olympic Committee will select the host city on July 4. Russia has never hosted the Winter Games.

The mountain venues, including a smaller athletes' village, are about 45 kilometers (27 miles) from the coastal cluster. The two would be connected by a light-rail system and improved highways that the bid committee says would put all the sports areas less than an hour from each other.

That's convenient not only for the spectators but for athletes who enjoy watching other competitions.

"Ninety percent of the athletes who come to the Olympics don't win medals. They just like to have a good time in the Olympic family," said Svetlana Zhurova, who won the 500-meter speedskating gold at last year's Turin Games.

Zhurova also praised plans for locating the village a short walk from the sea "where we can refresh ourselves" and for having a 1-kilometer jogging track.

The coastal cluster, which also would include the main media center and hotels for national federations, would be connected by rail with the nearby international airport, where a new terminal opened last week, and to Sochi city, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) to the north, where most spectator hotels would be located.

Sochi for decades has been a popular Russian summer resort and already claims some 29,000 hotel rooms - a number that the bid committee proposes doubling if it wins the games.

That could put some strains on Sochi's traffic. Even in the current low season, jams frequently form on the narrow roads that traverse the city that is wedged between the coast and steep hills.

The bid proposal calls for building a ring road that would allow much traffic to bypass the central city - which is a picturesque hodgepodge of Stalinist Gothic and Mediterranean architecture.

The two other bid finalists have more-developed infrastructure. Sochi promoters are pushing Russia's long tradition of winter sports excellence.

"I think our country does deserve it," said Alexander Gorshkov, the 1976 ice dancing gold medalist, who noted that Russia has won 23 golds in figure skating alone, the AP reports.

Russia is also portraying the plan as a way to revitalize the sports-training system that deteriorated in the economic chaos that followed the Soviet collapse. After the games, many of the facilities would be turned over to the Federal Agency for Physical Training and Sports; others would be retained as convention and exposition venues.

"We can promise the IOC that there will be no white elephants," Sochi Mayor Viktor Kolodyazhny said this week.

The Russian government has announced a US$12 billion program to develop sports and tourism in the Sochi region, including the cost of the games, and promises much of the spending will take place whether or not the bid succeeds.

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