Dec 12 So Far, Sochi Is So Good

By Doug Williams | Dec. 12, 2012, 7 p.m. (ET)
Sochi Russia 2012A view of building work in front of the Bolshoi Ice Palace (R), the 2014 Olympic ice hockey venue and Coastal Cluster at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia.

Dmitry Feld has been to Sochi three times, and on each trip he’s been amazed by what he’s seen.

Feld, the marketing manager for USA Luge, made his most recent trip to Sochi in November and said nearly all the venues for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games are complete. Yet the construction crews still are working nonstop to improve the roads, complete a high-speed rail line to the mountain venues and finish hotels and remaining sports facilities.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Feld told TeamUSA.org. “Last time I was there in March, I was taking pictures and everything was just … there were 45 cranes moving around and it looked like Mars or the moon. And now I came, it was like, holy guacamole! They’re working 24/7. They don’t stop.

“They were working right next to our hotel, moving earth, and every day I looked at it, it was like they moved another half of the earth.”

With the one-year out date approaching — the Opening Ceremony is set for Feb. 7, 2014, with events running through the 23rd — Sochi appears on track to be ready for the world to arrive for the first Olympic Winter Games in Russia. It also will play host to the Paralympic Winter Games from March 7-16.

Many visitors to the area describe the layout for the 2014 Winter Games much like the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Vancouver — a city at sea level with a mild-climate — served as the hub and the home of Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the media centers and indoor venues for sports such as skating, hockey and curling. Meanwhile, skiing, snowboarding and Nordic events were held at the higher-elevation venues in and around the Whistler resort about 70 miles distant.

The 2014 Winter Games will also feature a relatively warm main host area (the cities of Sochi and Adler) and the snow-rich mountain venues of Krasnaya Polyana about 30 miles inland.

At sea level, a cluster of six venues is located in a very compact Sochi Olympic Park next to the Black Sea. The Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena (both for hockey), Adler Arena Skating Center (speedskating), Iceberg Skating Palace (figure skating, short track speedskating), Ice Cube Curling Center (curling) and Fisht Olympic Stadium (Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony) are built around a central medals plaza and are close to the Olympic Village and media centers.

Luge track in Sochi
 The uphill curve 13-14 section of the Krasnaya Polyana luge track
Lugers swimming in the Black Sea
 The team jumps in the Black Sea

In the mountains will be the Rosa Khutor Plateau Olympic Village and five nearby venues for biathlon, cross country skiing and Nordic events, alpine skiing and snowboarding and bobsled, luge and skeleton.

The mountain venues can be reached via highway or a high-speed train that was reported as “85 percent complete” this past weekend when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Sochi. Putin attended a test event for figure skating at the Iceberg Skating Palace, the ISU Grand Prix Final, which was held earlier this month.

When Feld was there a month ago, he said construction to improve the highway and finish the rail line was proceeding at a rapid pace. It took about an hour and 20 minutes to drive from Sochi to Krasnaya Polyana; the trip by train is expected to be 25 to 30 minutes in 2014. The quick rail trip will come in handy for medal winners in the mountains, who will be presented their awards at Olympic Park.

Mark Jones, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of communications, also recently returned from Sochi and describes the longtime Russian summer resort as a pretty place, with the adjacent Black Sea and the snow-topped peaks in the distance.

“It’s warmer down on the sea, but you drive just 30 miles up the road into the mountains, and it’s very obvious where those alpine events and snow sports are going to take place,” Jones said.

Both Feld and Jones noted it’s strange to be in an Olympic Winter Games host city that has palm trees. Sochi shares a latitude that extends through the south of France.

“When you arrive to Sochi, even in February, when you start coming down from the airport and you see palm trees, you are saying, ‘Wow, what’s that?’” said Feld, who was born in what was then the Soviet Union (on the Kamchatka Peninsula, on the Pacific) and moved to the United States in 1979. In fact, when he was with the U.S. luge team in Sochi in November, the athletes were able to swim in the Black Sea. The water temperature wasn’t warm — 40 to 50 degrees, he said — but the Americans could get in.

Up in the mountains, with venues at anywhere from 5,000 to about 7,600 feet, Feld said he saw “beautiful snow” and areas that remind him of Park City, Utah.

“You go from sub-tropical to winter resorts, so it’s very interesting,” Feld said.

More than 20 test events have been scheduled at the various venues to make certain everything is working properly and to allow the athletes some exposure to the area.

The ISU Grand Prix Final was one of them. Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who hope to move up one spot on the medal podium in Sochi having finished second in Vancouver, won the ice dancing competition, and Ashley Wagner took second in the women’s figure skating. Wagner just missed a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2010 and hopes to be a part of it in Sochi in 2014.

“I live in California and there are palm trees and then mountains right there, so it’s a little bit like home,” Wagner told U.S. Figure Skating. “The arena is gorgeous. I’m so excited to be here and hope I will be back here (for the Games). It definitely gives the competitors here an advantage because they can get used to the surroundings and the settings before the craziness of the Olympics comes in.”

Feld said the luge athletes, too, were happy with the track at the Sliding Center in Sanki.

“From every athlete that I spoke with, they said the sliding portion of that facility is very good,” he said. “They thought it was a fast, competitive track and safe — which is very important (in light of the death of an athlete in 2010). We will have a final World Cup event in February, and I think it will shape up even more. But in terms of architectural design and look, it’s unbelievable. It’s one of the best-looking facilities that I saw.”

The Sochi region is used to visitors. The area has a long, rich tradition as a resort. Jones said on his trip, there was a dinner held at the dacha of former Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and he noted Putin also has a vacation home in the area.

But there’s a difference between hosting summer tourists and the thousands of athletes from around the world, media, officials and fans that will descend upon the region in a little more than a year. Feld believes Sochi will be ready.

When he’s been in Sochi, Feld has been able to talk to local residents, Olympic officials and athletes, and he said there’s an energy and pride about hosting the Games that is almost palpable.

Plus, an estimated $6 billion pumped into the region for building venues and infrastructure will leave a lasting impact.

“It’s brought a lot of prosperity to those areas because the construction boom brought a lot of people to work, and it changed the whole look of the city,” Feld said.

A look that will change even more in 2014.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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