The Olympic Games have long been used as a catalyst for urban planning and regeneration. You need look no further than London’s 2012 games for evidence of that. This particular event has given planners an unparalleled opportunity to revitalise Stratford in the city’s East End – effectively waving a magic wand over great swathes of parts of London that have underachieved for the last century.
Of course, with the Winter Olympics it’s a slightly different kettle of fish…
Running tracks and state of the art stadiums can be conjured once the budget is in place, but snow is a little more difficult to produce… All the more reason then that eyebrows should be raised when the Russian seaside city of Sochi was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
This Black Sea resort – a favourite of Dictator Josef Stalin – beat South Korea's Pyeongchang and the Alpine city of Salzburg in Austria to receive the honour.
Sochi’s average winter temperature is just 6°C – practically a heat wave for most Muscovites.
Russia’s former President turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was credited with helping Sochi's bid, after he personally addressed delegates at the presentation in Guatemala. Putin, a keen skier, qualified the decision by saying "winter sports are popular in Russia and our sportsmen have won many competitions and have made a big contribution to the Olympic movement.”
Sochi – Russia’s most ritzy beach resort – has a humid subtropical climate with winter temperatures rarely falling much below freezing. In fact, the average winter temperature is just 6°C – practically a heat wave for most Muscovites. However, the Western Caucasus that provide Sochi’s scenic backdrop are known for their high amount of snowfall. And President Putin insists that the nearby Krasnaya Polyana mountains will guarantee snow.
President Putin insists that the nearby Krasnaya Polyana mountains will guarantee snow.
“We have never won the honour to celebrate the Winter Olympic Games,” he said. “You know we can turn sports competitions into a really spectacular show and we are good at it.”
Jean-Claude Killy, the former French champion skier headed the International Olympic Committee that visited Sochi. He admitted that hosting the games in what is essentially a beach resort might present something of an uphill struggle, but was upbeat about the task ahead: “It’s probably the most challenging Olympics ever, as far as what has to be built to deliver these Olympic Games. We have a lot of work to do together.”
Early estimates put the cost at 8 billion euro, more than double the preparation costs of the three previous Winter Games combined. The Russian government are set to provide 5 billion euro, with the rest coming from private sources backing and the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom.
The Games will be held in two locations. In Sochi, authorities plan to build a 480-acre Olympic park that will include a village to house the athletes and six stadiums for indoor events and the opening and closing ceremonies. In the mountains, 27 miles away, another Olympic village is planned as well as facilities for skiing, luge and other winter sports events.
Getting people to and from the pistes will require 60 miles of new roads and rail as well as 37 miles of tunnels, according to Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin. But that’s not all. There’s also the 440 miles of fiber-optic cable, a light-rail system, an expanded airport, two new power stations, 30,000 new hotel rooms, a new seaport and new sewage treatment plants.
Sochi, a city of 400,000 residents, is well known as a getaway to Russian elite and real estate has soared in advance of the expected construction boom.
Apartments are already selling for 1,800 euro per square metre, and even Stalin’s former dacha – where the tyrannical former leader would visit each summer – is now a hotel where visitors can stay for up to €300 a night. Stalin still keeps a watchful eye over the paying guests from a portrait hanging in the dining room.
The organisers are hoping Dmitry Medvedev will keep similar tabs on the construction budget in Sochi.