Olympics: Vladimir Putin

Putin makes stop at USA House in Sochi

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14

SOCHI, Russia -- In a powerful symbol of international sports detente, Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped in on U.S. Olympic headquarters Friday to chat about the Winter Games and the upcoming Russia-U.S. hockey showdown.

He even wore a red Team USA pin on his lapel.

Putin spent about half an hour at USA House in Sochi's Olympic Park, sitting on a couch talking with U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun. From there, he made a stop at Canada House next door.

"Putin was very gracious," Blackmun told The Associated Press. "What I would remember is it sends a strong message about the importance of sport to Russia."

The Russian leader looked relaxed, wearing a dark jacket with an open-collar light blue shirt. He had a glass of red wine as he asked the Americans about their experience in Sochi so far.

"We talked about mostly our impression of the games," Blackmun said. "He was very interested in knowing what we thought about the level of infrastructure, the level of services. ... We complimented him on the great operations so far."

Putin's visit offered a sharp contrast with the chilly state of political relations between Washington and Moscow over issues that include Ukraine, Syria, Edward Snowden, gay rights and human rights.

President Barack Obama is not the attending the games. In what is seen as a snub, the U.S. delegation to the Olympics does not include a president, former president, vice president or first lady for the first time since 2000.

But global politics took a back seat Friday as Putin turned up the charm during a visit that appeared calculated to defuse tensions and soften his image, but remind everyone he is the central force behind Russia's games.

He sat with the U.S. team officials on cream-colored sofas in an open-air terrace in the center of the USA House, as American athletes, families, sponsors and fans looked on.

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