Sochi, Russia • Russian President Vladimir Putin made a series of unannounced visits to the Olympic houses of at least two Western nations on Friday, and from the pictures posted by athletes to Twitter, the visits were something of a surprise for most.
"It was an unexpected visit," said Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "We talked about mostly our impression of the games. He was very interested in knowing what we thought of the level of infrastructure. He was genuinely interested on whether we were having a quality experience at the games."
Putin visited both USA House and Canada House, dropping in with his healthy security detail at the gathering spots for athletes and their families in Olympic Park. Word of Putin’s tour quickly spread on Twitter, as the visits elicited some fun "selfie" photos of Olympians and the Russian leader.
"Just hanging out at the USA house in #Sochi with Putin! No big deal! #sochiselfie," tweeted U.S. luger Preston Griffall.
In a photo, Putin is on a couch behind Griffall’s left shoulder, chatting with Blackmun and USOC President Larry Probst.
USA House was first on Putin’s itinerary, and he was caught minutes later by Associated Press photographer David Phillip as he emerged from Canada House. Inside, he posed for photos with faced-painted Canada fans.
Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics last weekend and stuck around to see Russia win a gold medal in team figure skating. He then returned to Moscow for a few days, but not before visiting Holland House on the night speedskater Ireen Wust won gold in the 3,000-meters.
"I got a cuddle from him," Wust told Dutch national broadcaster NOS. "He congratulated me and asked if everything was OK in Russia and I congratulated him on [Russian speedskater] Olga Graf, of course, for her third place [in the 3,000-meters]. He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again. But I cuddled him."
There was no sign of any of the lingering tensions between Putin and the West during any of his visits. As he made his way out of Holland House earlier in the week, he told a reporter his visit was "fantastic."
"Very good," Putin said in English. "Good people and good results ... good party."
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