SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Palm trees and sunbathing holidaymakers surrounded International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge on his first visit to the city that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

It was hard, perhaps, to picture biathlon and cross-country skiing taking place here but Rogge, by his own admission, was taken aback by the natural beauty of the area and the warm hospitality of the people.

“I am not used to having this kind of weather at a Winter Olympic city,” Rogge told Reuters in an interview at a seaside restaurant during his one-day trip to this Black Sea resort last week at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Still, this is a lovely place and I must say that holding the Winter Games in Sochi is a good idea.”

IOC executive director Gilbert Felli and Alpine skiing great Jean-Claude Killy, who accompanied Rogge on his visit, were equally impressed.

“The mountains are majestic, with a proper set-up you can make a great downhill course, very demanding,” said Killy, who won all three men’s Alpine skiing gold medals on offer at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics.

Regarded by some Olympic experts as rank outsiders, Sochi beat South Korea’s Pyeongchang and Austria’s Salzburg at the IOC session in Guatemala in July for the right to stage sport’s major winter festival.

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