Stroking a Persian leopard sprawled on his lap, tough-guy president Vladimir Putin showed his softer side Thursday as he prepared to welcome the world to his budget-busting Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Basking in the glow of support from International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach, Putin began his stay at the Sochi Games by promoting a cuddly image, visiting a group of endangered Persian leopard cubs in the mountains above the Black Sea resort.
Putin entered the cage and petted the leopard on the head. ‘‘We liked each other,’’ he said.
Some journalists accompanying him apparently upset the big cat, which scratched one of them on the hand and bit another on the knee, Russian news agencies reported.
In Putin’s presence later, Bach used an IOC gathering to criticize politicians for attacking the Sochi Olympics ‘‘on the backs of the athletes’’ and to slam world leaders who snubbed the Games.
Bach’s comments appeared directed at President Barack Obama and European politicians who stand against Russia’s law banning gay ‘‘propaganda’’ among minors.
AT&T Tuesday became the first major advertiser to come out against that law, as well as the first to urge “others involved with the Games” to do the same, according to a New York Times report. AT&T’s decision was made known through a post on a company blog.
With security at the Games another big issue, top US security officials in Washington told Obama Tuesday that all appropriate steps are being taken to keep Americans safe.
The Austrian Olympic Committee has received an anonymous letter containing a kidnap threat against Alpine skier Bernadette Schild and skeleton pilot Janine Flock during the Sochi Games.
The letter, written in German, was delivered Monday to the mailbox of its Vienna office, AOC general secretary Peter Mennel said Tuesday.
The AOC said it was ‘‘not regarding it as an acute threat at the moment.’’
White hurts wrist
The US’ Shaun White saw the super-steep takeoff ramp and knew something bad was coming. He fell and jammed his left wrist — another athlete falling victim to a treacherous Olympic slopestyle course at Krasnaya Polyana. ‘‘A little intimidating,’’ he called the course after Tuesday’s training. Through two days of practice runs in the Russian mountains above Sochi, the course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park already has taken out Torstein Horgmo of Norway, who broke a collarbone Monday . . . Austrian freestyle skier Daniela Bauer lost her legal bid for selection to the Sochi Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport said it dismissed Bauer’s appeal against a refusal by the Austrian Olympic committee and ski federation to nominate her for the halfpipe event. The CAS panel said the Austrian sports bodies had ‘‘legitimate sports performance’’ reasons for not selecting Bauer. Still, it cited a ‘‘lack of published qualification criteria which has misled the athlete.’’ . . . Martin Erat of the Capitals will replace the Blues’ injured Vladimir Sobotka on the Czech hockey team for the Olympics . . . The first flight from Georgia to Sochi in more than 10 years carried four Georgian Olympic officials to the Games. Regular flights between Georgia and Russia were canceled when a brief war between the nations broke out in August 2008 and there were no flights to Sochi dating to before the fighting.