Emily Goddard
David-suit-tie_19-09-11When visitors flying to Sochi in 2014 come to see the Winter Olympic Games, they will be greeted with a spectacular sight as they approach the airport, flying over the Black Sea and the coastal cluster which contains the main Olympic Stadium.

Though the coastal cluster (pictured below) is still very much a work in progress, one can imagine how spectacular it will look when it is completed. The figure skating venue already looks stunning, with its curved design reflecting that of the shapes figure skaters will be making in 2014 during competition, and the varying shades of blue tiles are perfect for the setting, just off the seafront. Not just that, the centre will be moved elsewhere in Russia after the Games, providing as the organisers pledge, a legacy for the whole country.

Speed skating will take place in the Olympic Oval, and along with the curling centre work is well on schedule and set for completion by the end of next year. And then there is the Bolshoi Ice Palace, where ice hockey will be taking place. It is designed so that the roof will look like a frozen ice drop, and the neighbouring Maly Ice Palace will give the appearance of a snow whirl. Oh, and there's the Olympic Stadium, which should look quite nice too.

Up in the mountain region, practically a new village, full of shops, hotels, houses and other amenities, is being built. This is where luge, bobsleigh and skeleton will take place, at the Russian National Sliding Centre, which will have a backdrop and scenery bound to impress any visitor. The Snowboard Park, Alpine Centre, and the biathlon and cross country skiing facility are also up in the mountains.

Already the ski centre is open, and all venues will be ready and commissioned by 2013, and the achievements to date received glowing praise from Jean-Claude Killy, the International Olympic Committee's Coordination Commission chairman, last week following the conclusion of their visit to Sochi. With such heady progress, not much can go wrong. Right? Wrong.

As I discovered on my way into Sochi on Friday morning, your journey into the centre can be dependent on the whims of the most powerful man in Russia, Vladimir Putin (sorry Mr Medvedev), whose visit to the International Business Forum meant that the road had to be partially closed, forcing the taxi on a lengthy detour. Which would not be a problem, were it not that this was the main, and most importantly, the only road connecting the whole of the city. This is an issue exacerbated by the fact that Sochi is very long (the second longest city in the world, the locals claim, behind Los Angeles), with a glorious seafront, but not particularly wide, making this main street even more crucial.

As you reach the road closure, a man with a whistle, waves you on a route elsewhere, causing the cab driver to launch into an anti-Putin polemic. I know this, as he was the one cab driver in Sochi, seemingly, to speak English, another issue which will come into the city's preparations for 2014 (though they have signed a deal with English First in order to train a workforce able to communicate in the language during the Games). Though even if the taxi drivers can't speak English in 2014, they are remarkably friendly given the language barrier. One pointed at me, said "Cameron" and then performed the sign language for "crazy" before firing an imaginary pistol. Either a joke, or a heavily disguised Vince Cable. Another taxi driver tried even teaching me Russian by pointing at things and saying words, though all I learned was his name (which has been since forgotten).

So infrastructure, as it so often is, will be the main concern, but there are plans and works in place to relieve the city of inevitable traffic jams. Two new roads are being built to connect the main parts of Sochi and enable drivers to avoid the current main route. And a third road will act as a bypass to further ease congestion. Will it be enough? Only time will tell. With dozens of new cars registered every day in Sochi, it will have to cope with thousands more motorists in the months and years ahead.

And then there is the new train line, which will take visitors from the coastal cluster to the mountains in 27 minutes. Along with the expanded capacity of the airport in nearby Adler, these developments will contribute to Sochi's battle against the perils of crowded streets.

And organisers this week demonstrated that they are keen not just to put on a superb Games in a city easy to pass through for visitors, but to make it sustainable. At Russia's International Business Forum on Friday, which was held in Sochi once more this year, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the Sochi 2014 President and chief executive, repeated several times during a panel discussion the importance of sustainable development, and earlier this week Sochi awarded a number of groups awards for their efforts to make the 2014 Games as green as possible. Legacy, for Sochi, is not just sporting, or even infrastructural, but environmental too.

All this, combined with its tropical climate and beach not far from its picturesque mountain region, means you start to understand why the Russian government brought the Winter Olympic Games to the black sea resort. And the International Business Forum. Oh, and a Formula One race which will begin in 2014 and initially run until 2019. The people of Sochi will be spoilt, that is if they aren't held up too long in traffic. It was the Soviet Union's most famous and autocratic dictator, Joseph Stalin, who tried to make the most of Sochi's potential as a tourist venue during his time in power, but now it falls to the Russian government to make the most of its natural delights.

Yet the question you are forced to ask as you travel around Sochi with its cab drivers grunting in anger, is whether this is a bit too much, too soon? For all the enthusiasm of the hosts and the superb execution of the construction of what exists of the venues so far, this appears to the foreign visitor a small, cramped city, which has little understanding of English (and even less of French or Spanish). And as Chernyshenko points out himself, only 20 per cent of the workforce required for the Games can be found in the city, meaning a huge recruitment drive from outside of Sochi is needed. With so much potential and ambition, comes a lengthy list of challenges, and as Chernyshenko told me as the International Business Forum came to its conclusion, this is something he is only too aware of.

"The Olympic Park is getting into shape, but we are not relaxing, we understand the challenges," he said.

"We need to bring in more than 150,000 employees, more than a quarter of the population of the city, so you can imagine the scale of the challenges. Our infrastructure needs to be operational with the highest standards, but we are optimistic and want to satisfy the level of expectation of our visitors because we want to organise the most innovative games.

"We are on the way to delivering, but we have to be patient, it is the biggest construction site in the world, so there is high pressure on the events now."

Yes, the pressure is well and truly on for Sochi, a city which gave Maria Sharapova and Yevgeny Kafelnikov the opportunity to make the most of their tennis skills, and that will be stretched at every turn as it prepares for its biggest party in 2014. Putin knows it, Chernyshenko knows it, and of course, the taxi drivers do too.

David Gold is a reporter for insidethegames