Last-Minute Advice for 2018 Olympic Bids

(ATR) The man behind the Sochi bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics advises candidates for 2018 to focus on their IOC supporters in these final hours before the July 6 vote in Durban. And bring Vladimir Putin. ATR Editor Ed Hula reports.

(ATR) The man behind the Sochi bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics advises candidates for 2018 to focus on their IOC supporters in these final hours before the July 6 vote in Durban. And bring Vladimir Putin.

"We determined the opinion-makers, the group leaders and potential supporters of the Sochi Games. We concentrated on those who might support the Sochi Games, rather than those who might be against," Chernyshenko tells Around the Rings.

He says the strategy was needed to make the best use of the limited time available to communicate with IOC members at the Session in Guatemala.

"Every single moment can change the balance so you have to fight to the very end to win the honor to host the Games," said Chernyshenko.

In Durban, the time will be even scarcer, as many members will arrive closer to the July 6 vote because they attended the July 2 wedding of their colleague Prince Albert in Monaco.

Counting IOC Votes is Tricky

While Chernyshenko says it’s important to focus on supporters, knowing who that is can be tricky. He believes up to one-third of the IOC members arrive at the Session undecided as to which city to choose.

"Every team is counting votes, they have some guesses. You can only guess, because we are playing by the rules," says Chernyshenko.

"It’s evident the IOC members are the most independent. They have their personal opinion but not necessarily sharing their opinion publicly, their real intention to push the button for one candidate or another," he says.

In the IOC vote July 4, 2007, Sochi was second to PyeongChang in the first round, 34 to 36. Salzburg was eliminated with 25 votes. In the decisive second ballot, Sochi edged PyeongChang 51 to 47.

"I miscalculated my guess dramatically," admits Chernyshenko, who says even after the vote, it was impossible to tell who actually voted for Sochi.

"If you counted the number [of IOC members] who congratulated us, it was twice the number who voted for Sochi in the final," he says.

Putin Factor

The Putin factor cannot be overlooked as a major factor in that narrow margin of victory.

"We called him our captain," says Chernyshenko about Vladimir Putin, then president of Russia, who jetted into Guatemala two days before the vote, missing the rehearsals for the final presentations.

"To the end, we had several drafts and guesses as to what he will say. We didn’t know until the last minute what he will say. It was a surprise and news to us, when we were sitting around the stage [during the final presentation], to hear him say phrases like ‘real snow is guaranteed’."

Chernyshenko says Putin’s speech, delivered in English and French, as well as his meetings with IOC members the day before the vote in Guatemala, are believed to have swayed members to vote for Sochi.

"He met and talked with many IOC members. Everybody was impressed with his personality," says Chernyshenko.

Indeed, IOC members lined-up to talk to Putin at a reception the night before the vote, while government leaders from South Korea and Austria found themselves far less popular at the soiree.

"I remember in an interview after the vote Jean Claude Killy said Putin’s charisma can explain the difference in the vote," said Chernyshenko, adding "his final touch made the difference."

For the 2018 vote in Durban, Korean President Myung Bak Lee will be matched by German President Christian Wulff. Nicolas Sarkozy of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel won’t make the trip to Durban.

Arrive Early to Set Up the Ice Rink

Chernyshenko credits the early arrival in Guatemala of the team from Russia – two weeks before the IOC vote – as another key to the Sochi victory.

"We created an office that replicated the conditions in the hall where we would make our presentation to the IOC.

We spent several days with coaches and experts to prepare our presentation," says Chernyshenko.

Beyond this thorough behind the scenes preparation, Sochi also mounted an over-the-top hospitality venue nearby the IOC hotel in Guatemala City. Taking over a restaurant to serve food and drink (caviar and vodka among the favorites) the Sochi team installed an ice rink with figure skating exhibitions.

The ice rink, said to be the first time one had been erected in Guatemala, was hauled to Central America aboard a giant Russian AN-124 cargo aircraft. The plane, one of the world’s biggest, became a magnet for crowds at the Guatemala airport.

Enjoy the Moment

Chernyshenko says he was so exhausted from the final weeks of the campaign that he might not have fully appreciated the moment IOC President Jacques Rogge declared Sochi the winner.

"Frankly, we were very tired because it was two years of uninterrupted flights and meetings. So it dulled a little bit the sharpness and light of the moment," said Chernyshenko.

"I was just praying – and when it happened I thanked God and my colleagues. And then I started to think, what should I do next?"

Chernyshenko says win or lose, the three cities in the 2018 race should make the most of the moment.

"It’s a very exciting moment. You should not give up and fight to the very last moment. You should be determined to deliver the most impactful and memorable presentation and you should be proud of what you are saying. You should be confident that you are the best," he says.

"Without any fear you have to convince to the IOC members that you are really the best, that we understand your needs, we will follow your rules and we will not let you down if you give us these Games," says the Sochi 2014 CEO.

Written by Ed Hula.