It has been 10 long and hectic days since Raj Koria’s arrival in Sochi – below is his review of all things Olympics.
Most of my time was spent on preparations for the opening ceremony and through the crucial opening weekend.
Having read the media coverage of Sochi with interest, I have been comparing it to my own experiences.
It is true some people have arrived to find incomplete hotels and I have heard of some rooms in the mountain cluster without hot water and heating. However the majority, including me, have had no problems. Having said that the latest Olympic fad is to get yourself trapped in Sochi buildings as many times as possible. Leading the way is US bobsleigher, Johnny Quinn, who has gotten stuck in both his hotel bathroom and a lift within 48 hours. I am not far behind having got stuck in the lift in my hotel. There was a moment of panic as I contemplated having to spend the night there but, to my relief, it started working again. So far I have not seen any protests, whether overt or symbolic, against the Russian government’s stance on homosexuality. The issue seems to have been forgotten somewhat by the press now that the Games are underway but I am sure that will change if there is a protest, particularly by an athlete.
Apparently it snowed quite a lot in the mountains until the day I arrived in Sochi. The entire time I have been here it has been gloriously sunny. Brilliant for me and my winter tan, not so good for the snow conditions. The negative affect this is having on the snow sports athletes’ performances is a big topic of discussion here with there being lots of falls, especially in the slopestyle and half pipe. You may have read about the giant deep freezers in which the Russian authorities have apparently stored back-up snow from the last few years. The organising committee might well be raiding them very soon.
Security was a big concern before the Games and I was not the only one a little spooked by all the talk of possible terror attacks – someone told me they prepared a will before coming here. Overall I have been reassured by the security measures the authorities have taken. My hotel is in a gated compound with the army manning checkpoints at each entrance. They inspect all incoming vehicles, even using mirrors to check underneath. At the Olympic Park security checks, the authorities have struck the right balance between being thorough and friendly with the result that visitors feel secure and welcome but not unnerved. Although if you are of a nervous disposition I advise not looking out of the windows of the train up to the mountain cluster as there are snipers posted along the route.
The Olympic Park itself is impressive. For a start these are the first Winter Games to have an Olympic Park. The venues are laid out in a circle that means the park is quick and easy to get around. Many of the venues have winter themed names such as the Iceberg Skating Palace, the Bolshoi Ice Dome and the Ice Cube Curling Centre. One exception is the Olympic stadium, which is called Fisht after a mountain in the western Caucasus, or so Wikipedia tells me. This caused a slight lost in translation moment when I asked a volunteer if he had gone to the opening ceremony. He replied he “went to Fisht” so I thought perhaps he had decided to go night fishing in the Black Sea instead.
The Olympic stadium of a Summer Games is the centrepiece, hosting some of the most prestigious events. In a Winter Games however only two events take place in the stadium – the opening ceremony and closing ceremony. This is a shame as it is a very good stadium. The authorities have big plans for it though as it will be one of the venues for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the new Sochi Formula One Grand Prix circuit will actually go through the stadium. The Olympic flame is at the centre of the park and rises above the venues so it can be seen from almost everywhere. There is a massive Bosco megastore – the colourful (garish?) manufacturer of the Russian team’s kit. I have not managed to go yet as there are always long winding queues to get in. Many of the national Olympic Committees have their ‘Olympic House’ in the park. These are places where the athletes, their guests and select others can socialise. Most are unfortunately closed to the public but a couple are open and the House of Switzerland is the best I have visited so far with a great outdoor bar, a food stall (where you can get cheese fondue of course) and a sit-down restaurant. Throughout the park there are performances of traditional Russian musicals and folk songs. That might not sound like your cup of tea and, quite frankly, I did not expect it to be mine either, but they are actually quite fun.
I have not made it up to the mountains yet but will report from there when I have. In the coming days I will also explain a bit about the IBC and describe some of the things I have learned about life in Russia.