It’s the middle of February and your flight has just landed at Sochi International Airport. You grab your bags and hop on a high-speed train for a 25 minute ride into the Krasnaya Polyana station, a short walking distance from the hotel. You check-in, leave the bags and board an eight minute gondola ride. The doors swing open and you’ve made it to the ski and snowboarding venue at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. That was the preview from Vice President, Athletics Luke Bodensteiner and his recent site visit to Sochi, host of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Bodensteiner recently joined an initial U.S. Olympic Committee visit to the 2014 venues. The Games will feature two venue centers. The Coastal Venue in the city will host the skating events and the ceremonies, located just minutes from Sochi International Airport. Only a short distance away in the mountains, all of the ski and snowboarding venues are in close proximity in the Mountain Cluster – the closest concentration of outdoor venues in recent Olympic history.
Back home at the USSA’s Center of Excellence, Bodensteiner took a few minutes to talk about the trip to Sochi.
What’s your first impression of Sochi?
What a great place for our athletes to come and have the time of their lives, It’s like nothing I’ve seen for a Winter Olympics. Excellent food, relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and still an intriguing hint of the old Russian style reminds you that you are in a very different place. It’s the biggest construction project I’ve ever seen – think Rome in a day!
What’s new in Sochi?
When I went there two years ago, it was a really small little mountain town up a pretty narrow mountain valley. I swear there must have been about 800 people living there with old houses and without any kind of resort at all up there. Now, going back, you can see it’s going to be a huge transformation. There’s tons of construction going on right now everywhere you go with thousands of workers and trucks. They’re building a world class ski resort which is going to have great skiing. The mountains are all being connected by peak to peak gondolas on two sides of the valley. Down along the river they’re doing great development of about two dozen high-end hotels. That’s going to basically be the heartbeat of the Olympics because along the river corridor are the mountain venues up at the top of the ski area, then the resort village and down at the bottom of the river valley in Sochi are the ice arenas. They’re actually at the end of Sochi, about an hour from downtown in normal traffic. So really I think the action is going to be up in skiing and snowboarding venue at Rosa Khutor.
They built an entire ski and snowboard area from scratch?
There was a beginning of a ski area up there, but I don’t know how long it’s been around. It was pretty minor, so they’re really jamming away.
Never heard of Sochi before the bid, what was it before this?
Basically Sochi has been a summer getaway for probably 50-60 years for the Russian or Soviet elite government officials. It’s still a pretty nice summer resort, although when I was there in the town a couple years ago it was feeling old and needed a facelift. Now you go around and can definitely see that redevelopment is happening. This is going to be an incredible summer and winter resort. They’re building the winter compliment of the beach resort and it’s a full on beach resort. In fact, when you’re at the skating venues or ice arenas you’re about 100 yards from the sea. They’re building all the Olympic villages inside the venues, which will be super convenient for the athletes because once your in the village you really don’t have to go through security anymore. But from the Olympic village in Sochi there’s an access way by sea, so you can ship your equipment in and it will land on a dock at the village.”
What weather can people expect?
It’s going to be interesting. I haven’t been there in the winter so I don’t really know what to expect in terms of climate. When I was in Sochi two years ago in November, it was basically summer weather in the city. It’s going to be temperate down in the city and you don’t climb that much elevation to get to the village up in the mountain but there’s snow that comes down to the town. I hear they get a lot of snow and there was still snow on the peaks when we were there. It snows pretty frequently, but they get a lot of moisture from the sea, so I don’t know if it will be dry, powdery snow or something a little wetter. It will for sure be great skiing.
What’s the feel or vibe going to be like?
I think the Olympics are going to provide a really light and fun atmosphere there. It’s going to be great for the athletes and I think they’re really going to like it.