Sochi, which was previously more widely known as one of Russia’s most popular summer holiday destinations, has been completely transformed ahead of next year’s Games, with new venues, roads and railways being built, alongside many other major infrastructure improvements.
“The preparations are going well and everybody is working incredibly hard to make sure that we reach all of our targets,” explains Dmitry Chernyshenko, the President and CEO of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee. “We have received brilliant feedback at every stage.”
That feedback has included significant praise from many of the athletes who will compete at the 2014 Winter Games, who were given their first experiences of the Olympic venues during the 2012-2013 winter season, which saw Sochi host major events in all 15 winter disciplines, with more than 3,000 athletes taking part.
"The venue, the mountain is world-class,” said Olympic champion Bode Miller, of the USA, after competing in last year’s FIS Alpine World Cup event at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre. "It's as nice as any of the places we ever go. I think it's going to be amazing to host the Olympic Games here.”
The busy programme of events gave the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee the chance to test key aspects of its operations ahead of the Games, including scoring, the fields of play and results systems.
“We are very pleased with results,” says Chernyshenko. “The test competitions have passed successfully, which was proved by positive feedback from many athletes, coaches, international federations’ representatives, IOC, IPC and spectators. We have efficiently overcome all the trials and can now say with confidence that we are ready to host the Games even in the most challenging conditions.”
During the Games, events will be held in two distinct areas – the “mountain cluster”, which will host the Alpine and sliding events, and the “coastal cluster”, which will stage the ice-based events, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Sochi Olympic Park, covering 8km2, is the main focus of the coastal cluster and will be able to host around 75,000 visitors at any one time during the Games. It is home to all of the ice competition venues, including the Bolshoi Ice Dome and the Shayba Arena, which will both host ice hockey, the Ice Cube Curling Centre, the Adler Arena speed skating venue, and the Iceberg Skating Palace, which will stage figure skating and short track speed skating.
This compact setup means that, for the first time in the history of the Winter Games, all ice venues will be within walking distance of each other, enabling fans to attend multiple events in the same day. The Park will also be home to the Fisht Olympic Stadium, which will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well the International Broadcast Centre, Main Press Centre and Main Olympic Village.
Approximately 40km inland, the mountain cluster features the Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Centre, Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, Sanki Sliding Centre and Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, as well as the Mountain Olympic Village and the Endurance Olympic Village.
Before Sochi’s array of new venues take centre stage, however, the whole of Russia will be given a chance to experience the growing excitement of the Winter Games thanks to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay, which is due to begin on 7 October in Moscow.
Set to be the longest Torch Relay in Olympic Winter Games history, it will see the Olympic Flame cover approximately 65,000km of Russian soil as it visits more than 2,900 towns and settlements across the country, carried by more than 14,000 bearers.
"The Olympic Torch Relay is one of the most important and magical Olympic occasions,” explains Chernyshenko. “It continues the build-up of excitement ahead of the Games and, as well as spreading the Olympic values to the whole country, we will be creating, as a nation, an important part of Russian history. I am sure that the Olympic Torch Relay will be welcomed by a wonderful celebration in every city it visits. For one day during the Relay, each town or settlement that the Olympic Flame visits will become the centre of attention and it will be a unique chance to showcase itself to the whole world."
Once the Flame enters the Fisht Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony on 7 February, however, it will be Sochi’s turn to shine, as the eyes of the world descend on the Russian city for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. For the Organising Committee and the athletes competing, the final countdown is well and truly on.