Chilled out: snowboarders in Krasnaya Polyana. Source: Max Avdeev
Steve Redgrave, special to RBTH
Arriving in Sochi, I wasn’t really sure what to expect: what the altitude would be, the style of the place would be, etc. What I found was an all-new, all-sparkling venue, with a real sense of space. It really was a very, very impressive set up.
Now I know it cost a hell of a lot of money, but once you are here and see the infrastructure they have put in, you see how spectacular it is. Even the president of the IOC said what the Russians had achieved in seven years would have taken any other Winter Olympic venue decades to complete.
Even though the scale of a Winter Games is so much smaller than a summer Games, the Olympic Park was bigger than the London Park. Sochi is big and open but easy to get around from an athlete’s point of view. I saw [GB men’s curling skip] David Murdoch when I was doing my tour around the village and he was saying that, of the Games that he’s been to, this was the best by a long way.
You do balance that appreciation with your results, of course. Once you get start getting better results you feel better about everything – and the curling team didn’t do so well in Vancouver the time before! I was out in Vancouver for three weeks and I really enjoyed the experience, but you were in the heart of the city. Sochi felt really special from the athletes’ point of view, because they felt it had been purpose-built for them.
They said at the closing ceremony that this was “the athletes’ Games”, And though they say something like that every time, this time they really meant it.
I was only in Sochi for four days and I only got up into the mountains once, to see the women’s half-pipe. I really would have liked to have seen more up there. I did spend a lot of time at the curling, however – for obvious reasons. The day we went up into the mountains it was a 45-minute drive. There is an express train, too, which I didn’t go on but which everyone says is absolutely first-class.
I didn’t ski up there, so I don't know what the skiing is like. But the day I was up there I can tell you that it looked fantastic.
Sochi is quite a big place, but when you get up into the mountain areas, you can’t relate to it like a town or city any more; it’s more like a large Alpine village with cable cars going off in all directions – to the endurance centre, sliding centre, the mountain and ski resort, etc.
There’s been an awful lot of thought put into it, too; it hasn’t just been thrown together. This is always one of the problems when people talk about how much money has been spent producing new venues, because you have to look at the infrastructure behind it all. This is a long-term process of making a winter resort for many, many years to come.
We know that a lot of Russians have bought into the traditional European Alpine resorts – all the well-known, nicer, more expensive places. While that may be OK for the seriously rich, perhaps for the next level down, Sochi will become a serious alternative for Russian people within their own country. In that way, as in America, Russia’s winter sports enthusiasts won’t have to travel outside their own borders to indulge their passion.
A lot of new sports were introduced in Sochi and they were just unbelievable. Doing The Jump [a winter sport/ski jump celebrity reality show] on TV, gave me quite an insight into the bravery of these guys. In fact, it scared the living daylights out of me!
From a British perspective, the athletes and the administration are all delighted with our showing in Sochi where we equalled our best ever haul of four medals. But, overall, the feeling within the camp is that this Winter Games was a springboard. And while we are never going to be a big power within winter sports, with the advent of young people being able to learn on dry slopes – what the Americans call the “fridge kids” – we can improve on the new disciplines (and some of the older ones) and we can be competitive.
For Russia? Well, a great success. They would obviously loved to have been in the men’s ice hockey final. But having such a good final day – when they took gold, silver and bronze in the men’s 50km cross-country and won the four-man bob – will have helped a little bit with that disappointment. But topping the table, and with most medals, Russia is going to be well pleased.
Sir Steve Redgrave won five Olympic rowing gold medals for Great Britain in five Olympic Games, from 1984 to 2000.