Sochi still basking in Olympic afterglow
Two years have passed since Sochi hosted an unforgettable Olympic Winter Games – and the event’s legacy has changed the face of the Russian resort. Sochi has been transformed since the Games, which took place between 7 February and 16 February, 2014, and now has international standing as a major centre for sports, events, health and business tourism according to research conducted by the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU). Its development potential has been realised in a period that has seen visitors flock to the Black Sea region.
Tourist arrivals to Sochi in the first eight months of 2015 were up by seven per cent on the corresponding period of 2014 – bringing the total number of visitors up to more than four million. Occupancy of the city’s world-famous health resorts reached 94 per cent, a five-year high, and the facilities that hosted the Games have thrived too.
Foremost among these is the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, which hosted the alpine skiing events during the Olympic Winter Games. The resort greeted more than 600,000 guests during the 136-day long 2014/15 winter season, with over one million arriving in the entire year from June 2014.
Rosa Khutor was part of the ‘Mountain Cluster’ of Olympic venues. The bobsleigh, luge, biathlon and snowboarding competitions were some of the events to take place in the cluster, which received more than one million visitors in the early stages of 2015.
All of the venues for Sochi 2014 were put into use straight after the Games had finished – with the exception of the Fisht Stadium, which is being reconfigured in time to host matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Notably, the Bolshoi Ice Dome now plays host to the Sochi hockey club, which joined the Kontinental Hockey League – Europe and Asia’s top ice hockey competition – in the 2014/15 season. More than 120,000 supporters have already flocked through the turnstiles to watch the team play at the highest level, and the Dome has also hosted KHL All-Star games and a range of concerts and shows.
The Adler-Arena Ice Skating Centre, where the likes of Sven Kramer and Ireen Wust won memorable gold medals in 2014, has been converted into a regional tennis centre, with international and national tournaments taking place there regularly. A Fed Cup tie between Russia and Argentina in April 2014, attended by more than 5,700 fans, proved popular and was outdone when Russia hosted Germany for a Fed Cup women’s semi-final the following year, with 7,500 people in attendance. Meanwhile, the Ice Cube Curling Centre continues to be a leading venue for its sport, hosting the World Senior Curling Championships and the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in April 2015. The Sanki Sliding Centre has also remained in the international spotlight, hosting Luge World Cup races as recently as February 2016.
Among other success stories are the ice shows that now take place inside the Iceberg Skating Palace. More than 17,000 watched the ‘Snow King’ ice show there in May 2015 while a three-and-a-half month run of the opera, Carmen, brought in over 215,000 attendees. The Olympic venues are all open to the public with the aim of increasing the number of local citizens participating in sports and fitness activities.
The Olympic Park has also benefited from some exciting new additions – none more so than the Sochi Autodrom circuit, which hosted the first Russian Grand Prix to be staged in a century in 2014 and will continue to do so annually until at least 2020. Formula One’s management named the race, won by English driver Lewis Hamilton, the best of the year at their annual gala ceremony in Doha after the 2014 season’s conclusion. More than 166,000 F1 lovers came through the venue’s gates over race weekend.
Non-competition venues have also found important uses. The Olympic Village has been transformed into a variety of housing projects – including social housing – and the media centre has hosted major events such as a World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand in November 2014, along with a number of exhibitions and congresses.
As with any Games, the humanitarian legacy also takes on special importance. The RIOU, which was established to preserve the Sochi 2014 legacy, is currently in the process of creating Russia’s first Olympic Legacy Centre. This will house the unique Archive of the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, along with a museum and a library. The university itself aims to deliver a range of successful and competitive courses, with students from 31 countries having enrolled in its Master of Sport Administration course – and it has even developed a new Master of Football Administration programme, which will target football managers and was commissioned by the Football Union of Russia.
There is plenty more to look forward to in Sochi during 2016. The Grand Prix, in May, will be a showpiece event once more, while March’s Sochi Cup international cycling tournament should also draw in large crowds. The region is already on its way to becoming an important destination for winter sports and plenty more since the 2014 Olympic Winter Games – and looks sure to keep growing in prominence over the coming years.