Tom Degun: Not quite a “Winter Wonderland” but Sochi 2014 is looking good

Friday, 02 November 2012
Tom Degun_ITG2Even with the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games now less than 500 days away, Sochi is not an easy city to get to.

Most routes will take you via the Russian capital and Moscow Domodedovo Airport, the busiest airport in the vast country.

Despite being a bit claustrophobic, it is best staying inside because the sub-zero temperatures outside are truly painful.

But this is what I expected from Russia, and paying close attention to the stereotype I wrapped up warm for my visit.

My clothing proved most suitable for Moscow, but following a two and a half hour flight, I arrived in Sochi rather perplexed.

Rather than a snow covered city you would associate with a Winter Games host city, Sochi was simply glistening in the sun as I climbed off the plane.

I was fully aware that it wasn't the coldest city in the world, but I admit I was a little taken aback to find a humid subtropical climate with palm trees out in force.

sochi sunSochi often has a humid subtropical climate

Located on the shores of the Black Sea, Sochi presents something a little different to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when it comes to a Winter Games.

It was back in July 2007 that Sochi was announced as the host city of the 2014 Winter Games, edging out Pyeongchang in South Korea and Salzburg in Austria with a little help from a certain Vladimir Putin at the IOC Session in Guatemala City where it claimed victory.

Work began under Organising Committee President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko; with the Russian Government quick to support him with around $12 billion (£7 billion/€9 billion) of funding they are likely to see a return on.

Vladamir PutinVladimir Putin played a key role in helping Sochi secure the 2014 Winter Games at the 119th IOC Session in Guatemala City

The venues were first, and they are already an impressive site, but it is the Sochi Light Metro that is perhaps most impressive.

On my hour car drive from the airport to Sochi city centre, I travelled almost parallel with the train track that is still under construction and crucial to the success of the Games.

With the cost of the rail estimated at $760 million (£474 million/€589 million), it is certainly not cheap but it will connect the whole of the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games while dramatically decreasing travel time from the airport.

Upon arriving at my hotel for the 2012 Peace and Sport International Forum, I found myself surrounded by stunning, rolling hills, but still no snow.

It wasn't as if it needed snow to look picturesque, but as a non-winter sport expert, I assumed it was a prerequisite.

Sochi-AirportThe Sochi Light Metro is almost complete ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympics

It didn't take an age for me to be informed that in February and March, when the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics will take place, snow falls in abundance.

And it was not long before I ran into Swiss IOC Executive Board member René Fasel, the International Ice-Hockey Federation (IIHF) President and Sochi 2014 Coordination Commission member.

He wasn't a bad person to explain the situation in a little more depth.

"I'm really amazed what the Russian people have done with this place," he told me.

"I was here in 2005 when they decided to launch a bid.

"They asked me if it was possible back then and I said it was with a lot of hard work.

"Now, seven years later, when you see what they have done, it is unbelievable.

"They are really putting so much investment and effort into making this a winter sport city and having seen many Winter Games, I know this one will be special.

"They are doing all the right things that need to be done to ensure the best possible conditions for athletes."

Rene FaselIOC Executive Board member René Fasel is impressed with the Sochi 2014 preparations

A short while later, it was the IOC's vice-president Thomas Bach who was ready to give Sochi 2014 the seal of approval.

"These are excellent preparations and I think we can really look forward to a great a Winter Games in Sochi," he told me.

"I was here for the first time in 1995 and to see how the city developed is a miracle.

"But to see it again now, 12 months after my last visit, it is like another miracle.

"So I'm really, really confident in these Winter Games."

It is high profile endorsement from two senior figures and it felt a little bit in contrast with what Vitaly Mutko, the Minister of Sport for Russia, said in his opening press conference.

"We do have concerns and we do have challenges," he said, highlighting the fact that construction isn't yet finished.

"So we cannot yet be confident and only through the joint effort of all the Games partners can we fill all the gaps we have."

Vitaly MutkoMinister of Sport for Russia Vitaly Mutko (C) is keen to play down Sochi 2014 expectations in the media

Shortly after that press conference, Mutko was in the hotel lobby laughing with IOC members and not looking all that concerned.

Perhaps it was all a clever tactic – don't build expectation in the media and then stun the world with a magnificent event.

It may very work because while Sochi 2014 is not exactly a "Winter Wonderland" right now, it is looking like a very good host city for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames
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