Russian officials and sports fans started the official Moscow countdown clock for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Thursday, one year ahead of the Games start.

Children waving Moscow flags cheered on Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and a representative for Russian President Vladimir Putin as they pressed a big red button to start the countdown in the nation’s capital.

While officials have set up countdown clocks in other cities — in Olympic host city Sochi, St. Petersburg, and Khabarovsk — Sobyanin said Moscow would be the natural heart of Russian Olympic fervour.

“Moscow is a city with big sports traditions,” Sobyanin said. “Moscow loves to practice sports, and Moscow has a habit of winning. There are 600 Olympic champions and medalists today in Moscow.”

Putin’s representative Alexander Beglov said the anticipation of the Games was palpable.

“We have one year left before the opening of the Winter Olympics,” Beglov said. “One year. On one hand, that’s a lot of time. But on the other hand, one year is so short. For fans, one year is a long time, and for athletes, who have to prepare for competition, it’s too short. Our country has been waiting for this event for 33 years.”

The Sochi Games are a prestige project for Putin that will allow him to showcase Russia’s ability to organize major events and boost its international image.

Russia will spend more than 1.5 trillion rubles (US$50 billion) of public and private funds to stage the Winter Games in February 2014, including extensive upgrades to roads and other infrastructure, a senior official said last week.