What the Winter Olympics in Sochi was Really Like
After being to the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia I feel I have some sort of duty to tell people what it was actually like. I feel that people should know that the town, the events, the atmosphere was as good in Sochi as it was in London in 2012. The reports I have read are more often than not biased from western journalist giving some false account of the situation there as it seems to be the herd mentality. As I sat in Sochi I read article online of what a farce it was citing some ridiculous petty incident (no change in one shop), I listened to reports about how the ‘security situation was getting worse by the day’ (Fox News) meanwhile there I was drinking a coffee outdoors (with a jacket on) on the street looking at kids playing with mascots. Hardly a critical security situation. I am not denying there weren’t double toilets or some of the shops weren’t in situ but 99% of things were great and I would have hardly noticed any problems only for my mind was filled with preconceived ideas that I had read before I got there.
I spent 4 full days in Sochi and went to 5 different Olympic events both in the Olympic Park on the coast and in Krasnaya Polyana in the mountains so I think I have a reasonable overview of the games. Sochi itself was great, new and more like the south of Spain than Russia. I am not debating that there were problems when building or it cost a fortune when it shouldn’t have but the way it is now for the games is great. Simply great. After all it was Russia’s money that built it, not yours (unless you are Russian) so what are you complaining about? Doha spent money on a 16ft statue of Zinadine Zidane headbutting Materazzi (in the soccer world cup final) which I find plain weird but it’s their money so let them off. Sochi looked and felt ready for the games. The place had palm trees, street entertainment, concerts, dancing fountains and plenty of cafes, it was all good. Krasnaya Polyana is where the snow events were held in the mountains were also well organised. The stadiums here were temporary structures but this is understandable as you need to ski past them when all this hullabaloo is over. London 2012 had plenty of them too. The Olympic Park had plenty of food and drink and at reasonable prices. In Ireland if they have you fenced in with no options they would charge 30% more. We also never had problems with change although I did have trouble finding advertised baked potatoes at one point but I got over that!
Everywhere from Sochi to the train station to Olympic park to the mountains there were oodles of volunteers. There was always music and there were always the brightly dressed volunteers doing a dance and generally getting people in a good mood. Not all of them could speak English but they were very helpful and I would always be able to get what I wanted to know even if it did take a few seconds of charades. In my estimation 90% of visitors were Russian so English wasn’t such a priority. The transport system was brand new (I expect a lot of the money went on this) and was very efficient, often and very clean. It was a little confusing at first but if you actually looked at a map you could figure out what bus to get where. There was a lot of security but you were never bothered. For example to get on the train you had to go through airport style security. Once this was done you were never searched again so despite lots of security it never interfered with your day. The one complaint I would have though was the travel times were long. To get from Sochi to the downhill ski competition involved a 1.5hr train ride and a 30min bus. The train also took an hour to get from Sochi to the Olympic Park, which is actually in the city of Adler!
Olympic Park was really cool and had a great fun atmosphere, entertainment for kids, lots of bright floors and welcome banners with the highlight being the stadiums around the Olympic flame with its dancing fountain that came alive under the cover of darkness. I read in the New York Times generally giving out about the games that from the Olympic Flame to the skate stadium took 15min walk. 15min?? If I crawled I could do it in less. If it took 5min at a normal pace that would be it. I could have walked around all 5 stadiums in 15min. Why would somebody lie? They also said there were so many stairs, ‘flights and flights’ of stairs from the train station down to the park. I counted them, there were a total of 50 steps. The steps were on a gentle slope that ran by a fountain leading to the first official Olympic rings! Why misrepresent them?
By all accounts the games were expensive, really expensive. Western Journalist say $50billion whereas the organisers say there were going to spend only $6.7billion on the Olympic facilities, the rest were road, rail etc. A good article on what the breakdown may be is here and that $50bill would actually be $43billion at today exchange rate. But $50billion sounds way better right! Although these games were ‘Putins’ games the general aim was to have a city and region with good infrastructure afterwards and that it would become a tourist and economic hub. Office blocks aren’t need for the Olympics but they will be afterwards. The new motorways, new cable cars and new railway are useful for the games but so much more useful when it is over. Only in 10years time will we know whether this expensive gamble paid off.
Any foreigners we met were really enjoying themselves like we did. The accommodation was good, the transport was good, the games were good, people were very helpful and there was a fun atmosphere no matter where we were. What is wrong with that?