Mention Sochi to a Russian native and you’ll be sure to hear all about its attractions as a summer seaside holiday resort. Strange then, that in four years time, it will play host to the Winter Olympic Games.
The opening ceremony may be 1,437 days away, but event organisers in Russia have it all to do in order to ensure the city is ready for the Games. To put it simply, never has a host city been so unprepared.
Total investment for the 2014 Games tops $17 billion, which includes over $10.5 billion from the Russian Federation to oversee the complete development of Olympic facilities and transport systems in the town. The figure is a record for any country hosting the Winter Games.
The ambitious plans, which Russian authorities report to be a year ahead of schedule, include the construction of a brand new metro system and a 3.5km runway extension at Sochi Airport, as well as numerous hotels and the full redevelopment of roads and railways.
Sochi’s bid for the Games, which overcame its rivals from Austria and South Korea, was centred around having two separate ‘clusters’ for the Olympic events, one near the Black Sea coast and Sochi’s resort town centre; the other based in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains.
In the past, the lack of a proper transport infrastructure had prevented the full development of a ski resort in the area, as Maria Vassilieva from the BBC’s Russian Service outlines. “The ambitious goal is to turn Sochi into a modern ski resort,” she said in a report for BBC News.
“The beautiful untouched mountains were attractive for investors long before the Olympic bid, but with no roads and infrastructure it was too expensive to develop. Now the authorities are ready to pay.”
The new Sochi Olympic park will be built by the Black Sea coast, but every one of the eight venues, including a 12,000-seater Ice Hockey stadium and 40,000-seater Olympic arena, are to be built completely from scratch. The sheer ambition and outright scale of the project looks set to ensure that Sochi will be a completely new town come 2014.
And the preparation goes beyond simply the building of infrastructure and Olympic venues. Amid claims from activists that the Olympic developments will harm the region’s environment, Russian authorities and conservationists are implementing a project to restore a population of rare Persian Leopards that once roamed the region. Only a mere 10-12 wild leopards are believed to exist today and the plans include increasing the number of prey for the leopards and distributing salt licks.
Looking ahead to the long term, the Sochi Games have been hailed as the christening of a completely new skiing region by Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee.
“What I love about Sochi is that it is a city with great potential for winter sports,” said Rogge. “The Games are opening a new winter sports region Ã¢â‚¬â€ there are traditional centers, such as the Alps, Scandinavian countries, the Tatra Mountains, but now a new region is appearing.”
Meanwhile the Russian government are hoping the Games will help promote the Russian culture and create a thriving tourist spot. “We are preparing a major international event and celebration for the whole Russian nation,” said Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister. “The Sochi 2014 project is not only the preparation and delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is also about developing one of the most important regions in the Russian Federation.”
Time will, of course, tell. But if all goes to plan, on schedule and within budget, Sochi looks set to capture the world’s imagination as a truly extraordinary venue, and will reap the benefits long after the closing ceremony on February 23 in four years time.
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BIOGRAPHY: Danny Rose
BIOGRAPHY: Antoine Griezmann