Sochi 2014: Excitement grows as preparations near the finish line

British volunteer in Sochi Richard Winterbottom gives his impressions in the days before the Winter Games begin.

Sochi is buzzing with international guests and it is hard not to feel like the whole world is looking on. Source: Reuters

Richard Winterbottom, special to RBTH

These days Sochi meets a lot of guests. The Olympic rings hang proudly outside its iconic central railway station; bilingual signs adorn every street corner; and small groups of brightly clad volunteers can be seen flocking around the Greater Sochi area.

The stadiums and most of the hotels are complete, though the city still hums with activity in the mad dash to get the finishing touches done in time for the opening ceremony on February 7.

It is hard not to be impressed by the scale of building work that has been carried out. The sleek ice-sport stadiums of the coastal cluster form a stylish ring on the coast of the Black Sea, and are most impressive at night when they are beautifully lit up. Televised aerial views, especially of the opening ceremony, are sure to be stunning.

Paths and roads connecting this cluster to the newly built Olympic Park railway station, however, are still being worked on and may be finished only just in time.

The centre of Sochi, which will not host any sports, has been massively revamped. The last bricks have been laid in a new pedestrian zone and a new dancing fountain and human-scale statues of the 2014 mascots greet guests outside Sochi State University.

The finishing touches are being put to the Sochi 2014 “live sites” that have been placed in several key points around Greater Sochi. Large screens will show live broadcasts of the sporting action, and stages will host the cultural programme. Exactly how these will work is unclear at the moment, but even just their existence is causing interest among the local population, who seem to be feeling more and more pro-Games as the clock counts down.

An army of new Sochi 2014 branded buses is already zooming along the Olympic lanes of the city’s newly improved roads, which means local marshrutkas (minibuses) are slightly less crowded than they were. Modern, comfortable Lastochka high-speed trains, whose tracks were laid specially for the Games, are also running smoothly, efficiently and cheaply between major venue clusters and transport hubs.

Most impressive of all is the route up to Krasnaya Polyana, host to the snow and mountain sports. Just 10 minutes from Adler station, the train comes out of the third tunnel and you suddenly find yourself deep into snow-covered mountains, far from the palm trees of the coastal cluster. The change is instantaneous.

The scale of work that has been completed in the mountains equals that on the coastal cluster. Alongside the sports venues and ski lifts, new streets, pedestrian bridges and squares have been filled with hotels, restaurants and shopping centres, all built from scratch in a quasi-European style.

Local shopkeepers across Sochi are now willing to be patient with English and bad-Russian speakers as they browse the array of Olympic souvenirs. Along with the toys, mugs and Russian dolls that you would expect to find, you can also pick up Sochi 2014 dog clothes, sunflower seeds, potato peelers and even soap dishes. Fans of collectible merchandise will not be left wanting.

Sochi is buzzing with international guests and it is hard not to feel like the whole world is looking on. Excitement and anticipation can only get stronger as February 7 approaches and Sochi shows how ready it is to host a wonderful Olympics.

The Numbers:

80  countries are working with Russia to ensure safety at the Olympics. Some of the most significant co-operation is with the UK and the US. 

60  miles – the length of the traffic exclusion zone in Greater Sochi, open only to transport with special permits.

7  miles from the nearest Olympic venue – the area designated by the authorities for demonstrations during the Games.

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