Olympics: Cost-conscious Putin inspects Sochi venues

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday inspected venues for the Olympic Games that will kick off in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in a year's time, cautioning officials against cost overruns.

The sports-mad Kremlin chief -- pivotal in bringing the Games to the palm-lined summer resort in 2007 against strong odds -- toured the Russkiye Gorki (Russian Hills) ski jump facility and enquired whether the project was running within the budget and on time.

Accompanying Deputy Prime Dmitry Kozak told Putin the mountain venues were two years behind schedule and had cost eight billion rubles ($265 million) as opposed to the project 1.2 billion rubles ($40 million) to complete.

Putin told the official to keep stricter oversight of the showcase project, according to Russian news agency reports.

"The most important think is making sure that no one steal anything -- so that there is no groundless rise in cost," news agencies quoted Putin as saying.

The 60-year-old Russian leader was shown sporting dark glasses as he inspected the site of the Sochi bobsleigh facility -- itself the subject of a graft probe begun by the authorities last year.

Kozak had earlier this month estimated that some $50 billion of state and private funds will be spent on the Games -- a price tag that would make them more expensive than the 2008 summer event in Beijing.

"We are currently continuing to finish off the surrounding infrastructure," Sochi 2014 organising committee president Dmitry Chernyshenko was quoted as telling Putin by Interfax.

The cost overruns have proved a big embarrassment to organisers who are under insistent pressure to present Russia in a positive light at a time of deteriorating relations with the West.

The Sochi Games offer the Kremlin a chance to showcase Russia as a booming country with top-flight facilities and ambitions to reestablish its Soviet-era domination in sport.

The Sochi extravaganza will mark the Games' first return to Russia since the Soviet era.

A 1980 Summer Olympic even in Moscow was boycotted by the United States and most of its allies at the height of the Cold War because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.