Not even the sky is the limit for Sochi 2014
Friday, 09 November 2012
In the inky blackness of the Krasnaya Polyana mountains at night there is discernibly what looks at first glance like the constellation of the Plough. On second look, it is no such thing – merely a similar pattern of twinkling lights on a dormant crane.
When daybreak arrives, the crane swings back into action as the remorseless business of transforming the landscape into one capable of hosting the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games continues. The organisers are not so much reaching for the stars – although, uniquely, their Torch Relay will reach outer space at one stage in its journey – as constructing them – setting about the task of building a Games, and in effect a small city, from scratch.
The scale of the ambition is awesome, almost brutal. And in addressing the World Press Briefing for the Olympics and Paralympics this week – an event held deep within that mountain range wherein the Alpine events will take place in just over a year's time – it has been articulated both by the Mayor of Sochi, Anatoly Pakhomov, and the President of Sochi 2014, Dmitry Chernyshenko.
"Sochi is a unique city, and the Winter Games of 2014 will be the most unforgettable Winter Games in history," Pakhomov said.
"But the key achievement for us will be that Sochi showcases itself all around the world not just as the host of the 2014 Games, but also as a resort where people can visit all year round.
"We are building more than 800 venues, and we have very thoroughly considered the question of transport. We are building a new railway, three new highways, eight new road junctions. The main route between the coast and the Alpine cluster is 47 kilometres long, with 30km of them underground.
"The Games are solving many issues that have been there in this region for many, many years. Preparing for the Olympic Games is a very positive boost to the construction and housing sector. We are also making big steps forward in terms of the ecology, putting in place new "green" practices in our waste disposal and construction.
"The developments have led to the building of four new schools and seven new kindergartens, and the renovation of another 36 schools. Two new hospitals with Trauma Surgery facilities have been built.
"Sochi is also becoming the most accessible city in Russia for people with disabilities. The 800 new venues and buildings we are constructing will be totally accessible to those in wheelchairs. That includes hospitals, hotels and public transport.
"Sochi is becoming an international sports city. Test events for the Games are about to start in the coastal and mountain cluster venues.
"Russian athletes have very often demonstrated impressive results in the Winter Games, but unfortunately we have never had good enough training facilities for them. Now that is changing.
"But the key achievement of the Sochi Olympics will be that Sochi is no longer regarded simply as a summer resort, but as a place where people can visit all year round. Sochi has 300 days of sunshine a year. It has a unique sub-tropical climate, so in March and April you can come skiing here and still find people sunbathing on the coast. It can be 10 or 15 degrees below freezing in Krasnaya Polyana and 15 degrees on the coastline.
"This is really a unique place. Sochi has always had the capacity to be an all-round resort, not just the most popular Russian summer resort. We never had the infrastructure or the conditions to make it happen before – but the Olympics have prompted us to take that opportunity.
"It is the task of Olympic Games to go further than other Olympic Games. We hope that together we can ensure that our Olympics are the best ever."
Chernyshenko is hardly less ambitious in his overview of the Sochi Games. Speaking the day after he had attended a meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the Sochi 2014 President told the conference:
"Russia for the last several years has been among the most active nations in terms of bidding for the big international level sport and social events. We have won the right to host the majority of the world's sporting competitions, like the Universiade, the track and field World Championships, the world championships in swimming and ice hockey, and the FIFA World Cup finals.
"This is a deliberate strategy from our national leaders, and it is an approach which looks at how to concentrate on focusing our resources to start the process of development in our country."
On the subject of the impending Games in his home city, Chernyshenko added: "My biggest motivation is seeing how this project will influence millions of Russians, not just in this area but in the country. We want to change Sochi from being a national summer resort to being an all-year round resort.
"Through the Olympics, the life and infrastructure of my city will be completely modernised. You can't postpone the Games. They are the greatest catalyst for change. And the construction of sporting venues is just a small part of that change. We are building 74 new social infrastructures. So this is the greatest ever catalyst when we put it in the proper environment. Right now, Sochi is probably the biggest building site in the world.
"But we have a new standard of construction. We are going "green" – another legacy of the Olympic project. We have new levels of environmentally friendly construction. This is a culture that didn't exist before in my country – an intangible legacy of the Games.
"The work on our project has generated 560,000 new jobs since economic downturn, and unemployment in the region is less than one per cent. Also since the start of our Olympic project, the birth rate in Sochi has gone up 40 per cent. This is good for my city, of course – and this is just the power of the Olympics!
"It is incredible for me to see my beloved city voted as one of the top 25 ultimate sports cities in the world, alongside others such as New York and Paris. And Forbes Magazine has rated my city as the best city for doing business in Russia.
"Sochi is also becoming a model city which the rest of the country is following. We are building national standards for the rest of the country to follow.
"When the Games start, for the first time ever the Alpine event medal winners will have their ceremonies in the main park. So spectators can come in the morning, be able to stay all day through and finish the day with the medal ceremony and a concert.
"Every Games should surpass the previous edition – should be better, more efficient. Our Fisht Olympic Stadium, which is named after one of the highest mountains in the region, will be like a theatre, it will have a roof. We've got an ambitious job to create the most outstanding Opening Ceremony ever – it will be a unique opportunity for us to communicate the message and show the face of the new, modern Russia through this great event."
For Sochi and those behind the organisation of their impending Games, it seems the sky is not even the limit.
Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.