How Sochi Was Transformed for the 2014 Winter Olympics
To say Sochi was given a face-lift for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games would be an understatement-it's more like a whole new body, circulatory system and skeleton.
The once-faded Soviet-era coastal spa town and the nearby mountain ski resort have been refashioned into a city of space-age-looking venues, new roads and rail lines, and hundreds of refurbished buildings.
'Our city has completely changed,' says Fyodor Afuksenidi, president of the Sochi chapter of the Union of Architects of Russia. 'I was away for a few months, and when I came back I almost didn't recognize the place. People from Sochi are amazed.'
The Tycoon Ski Trip
The transfiguration of the Black Sea resort is the culmination of a yearslong effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has staked much of his personal prestige on hosting a successful Games. At an estimated cost of around $50 billion, it would be the most expensive Olympics ever held, topping the previous record of about $40 billion for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
During Soviet times, Sochi served as a fashionable vacation destination under Joseph Stalin, who ordered a number of opulent sanitariums constructed along the coast. A popular ski resort also sprouted in the mountains that loom over the subtropical beach resort. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the area began to deteriorate, until Russia won its bid in 2007 to host these Olympics.
The idea to bring the Games to Sochi was born when Putin and Russian metals tycoon Vladimir Potanin took a ski trip in Austria and discussed what it would take to create a world-class ski resort in Russia. Potanin has said they realized that bringing the Olympics would allow them to get it done, and the bid was born. Over the next few years, Putin would call the effort to transform the city of 358,000 into a cutting-edge Olympic venue 'the biggest construction site on the planet.'
The core of the region's metamorphosis is concentrated in the tightly packed 'coastal cluster,' where many of the main indoor venues stand, and the 'mountain cluster' about 30 miles away in Krasnaya Polyana, where outdoor events will be held.
'Frozen Water Droplet'
Much of the attention will be drawn to the futuristic buildings of the coastal cluster, built on the grounds of what had been a state-run farm, with six main buildings in a compact circle around the medal podium.
Among them will be the Fisht Olympic Stadium, which is named after a nearby mountain and designed to resemble a giant snowflake, and where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held. Hockey matches will be held in the nearby Bolshoi Ice Dome, which was built to look like a frozen water droplet.
Other buildings include the Iceberg Skating Palace for figure-skating competitions, a speed-skating center and a curling center.
The Olympic Village is situated just next door to the main complex, and in one nod to the area's history, a small century-old Orthodox cemetery stands in the middle of it all.
Officials have boasted about the proximity of the main venues to one another, saying it will take no more than 10 minutes on foot to reach any of the buildings from anywhere on the main site. A new railway service can carry people from the coastal cluster to the mountain venues in about 30 minutes. In contrast, some venues at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver were nearly two hours apart.
'Having venues that are close to each other is a big deal,' says Richard Burdett, an urban-planning expert at the London School of Economics who has written extensively on the impact of large-scale sporting events. 'If the distance from where the athletes sleep to where they train is actually reduced to 10 minutes, it makes a difference to the way they perform. The likelihood of achieving better results and breaking records is higher.'
Tourists From All Over?
Russia has come under heavy criticism for the high price tag of the Games and allegations of corruption. The government has said the costs included major infrastructure improvements the city needed, such as a sewage-treatment plant, new power plants, road and rail improvements and an expanded airport.
As with all Olympics, it is hard to tell at this stage if the wide-scale revamp of Sochi will have a positive long-term effect. Russia has said it hopes the new facilities will make the resort a major draw for skiers well into the future, and some of the sporting venues are earmarked for use for soccer's 2018 World Cup and as exhibition and training space.
'What will happen after the Olympics is difficult now to estimate accurately,' says Alla Guseva, deputy director of the Sochi Resort History Museum. 'It seems clear that as the city develops, it will attract tourists from all over.'
Come Back in 20 Years
Burdett, the urban planning expert, says that Olympic planning has increasingly focused in the past 20 years on 'that which is left behind,' but that it may take as long as 10 to 20 years to determine if the legacy of such an event is a success.
For example, he notes that Barcelona was left with a completely reinvigorated waterfront that had been an industrial wasteland before the 1992 Games. But in Athens, a center built specifically for taekwondo has never been used since.
'It is just a taekwondo stadium, and Greeks don't do much of that,' he says.
From an architectural standpoint, Burdett says the look and feel of the buildings will also say as much to the world about where Russia is at the moment as anything else.
'The buildings tell you the language Russia is speaking as much as anything said politically,' he says. 'They have been trying to send the message that we are a normal country, we are powerful, we are not unlike others. But in recent years architecture from Russia has been very much in your face-here I am, look at me-while the rest of the world has been embracing more architectural modesty.
'I'm interested in how much Russia really is in line with the rest of the world in this area, at least.'
俄罗斯建筑师联盟(Union of Architects of Russia)索契分会会长费奥多尔•阿夫克森尼迪(Fyodor Afuksenidi)说：“索契发生了翻天覆地的变化。我曾经外出几个月，回来后几乎都不认识这个地方了。索契人都感到惊奇。”
其中一座建筑是“菲什特奥林匹克体育场”(Fisht Olympic Stadium)。这座体育场以附近的菲什特山命名，其设计就像是一朵巨型雪花，冬奥会的开闭幕式都将在此举行。冰上曲棍球比赛将在附近的“波尔肖冰宫”(Bolshoi Ice Dome)举行，其设计灵感来自于一个冰冻的小水滴。
其他建筑包括用于花样滑冰比赛的“冰山溜冰场”(Iceberg Skating Palace)，一座速度滑冰中心和一座冰壶中心。
伦敦政治经济学院(London School of Economics)城市规划专家理查德•伯德特(Richard Burdett)撰写了大量有关大规模体育赛事影响的文章。他说：“赛场之间相隔很近这一点很了不起。如果运动员睡觉的地方到训练场所的路程缩短到10分钟，将会对他们在赛场上的表现有很大影响，实现更好成绩、甚至打破纪录的可能性会更高。”
索契度假村历史博物馆(Sochi Resort History Museum)副馆长阿拉•古谢娃(Alla Guseva)说：“冬奥会后的事情现在还很难精确估计。随着索契的发展，它显然会吸引来自世界各地的游客。”