SBD/February 7, 2013/Olympics

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  • One Year Away From Start Of Sochi Games, Pricetag For Russia Already At $51B

    Sochi this spring will host 22 test events at its future Olympic venues

    The '14 Sochi Games will officially begin one year from today, and the "current overall price tag for the games is $51 billion, more than four times as much as Russia estimated when it was awarded the Olympics in 2007," according to Nataliya Vasilyeva of the AP. This would make Sochi the "most expensive Olympics in history, surpassing the $40 billion that China is believed to have splashed out" for the '08 Beijing Games. The costs are "high because they include extensive infrastructure development in addition to construction of the Olympic venues, almost all of which had to be built from scratch." Most of the sports venues already have "been completed or will be in the next few months, while armies of workers are busy building hotels and additional Olympic facilities, including two of the three athletes' villages and the media center." The sheer scale of the construction "is staggering," but SOCOG President & CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko is "confident that everything will be ready for the games." He said, "We're building all the infrastructure right on schedule and within the budget." Vasilyeva reported all indoor sports, including figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey and curling, will "be held down on the Black Sea coast in five new arenas which have already been completed." The only remaining arena to "be commissioned is the Olympic Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held." Sochi through this spring is "hosting 22 test events at the same venues where the Olympic athletes will compete next year." Cross-country skiers who "took part in a test event last weekend praised the courses but said they were taken aback by the high level of security." The Olympic Village competing in Alpine skiing "is still under construction, as is the one for skaters and other athletes who will be based on the coast." However, the third Olympic Village is "close to completion and housed the cross-country skiers during the weekend's test events" (AP, 2/5).

    CONSTRUCTION ZONE: Sky Sports' Geraint Hughes noted that 10 of the 11 "venues being used for the Olympics are built," but there is "still much to do and time is running out." The "two areas being used for the Games are enormous construction sites," and the distance between Sochi to the mountains is a "challenging two-hour drive." However, a new "50-kilometer railway and road is being built" (SKYSPORTS.com, 2/5). NBC's Ben Fogle said of the remaining construction, "It's all hands on deck as they work around-the-clock to get things done on time." NBCSports.com's Alan Abrahamson: "It is a work in progress. It is still very much a heavy construction site, (but) they will get it done. This is not Athens. This is not like any place you've ever been. They will get it done" ("Today," NBC, 2/6). Russian Life magazine Managing Editor Maria Antonova said, "They'll finish on time just because there's so much at stake in the government." Russia President Vladimir Putin "will do whatever it takes pretty much to make sure they do happen" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 2/7).

    ROGGE PLEASED WITH PROGRESS: The AP’s Victoria Buravchenko noted IOC President Jacques Rogge yesterday “praised Sochi organizers” and “defended the $51 billion price tag.” Rogge said that he was “impressed by the preparations for Russia’s first Winter Olympics.” He said, “The site is very compact, it’s high quality and is situated in beautiful surroundings.” Rogge added that a “great deal of the money is going to infrastructure projects, including new roads and railways, which will serve the development of the entire region for decades to come.” He said, “You cannot just take the cost of the train and the tunnels and the road into the cost of the games because this tunnel and the train and the road are not meant for two weeks of competition, they are meant for generations to last” (AP, 2/6).

    WEATHER ALERT: In DC, Kathy Lally notes whether it will "snow has been an underlying concern for the Olympics." Sochi is the "warmest place in Russia, a palm-fringed city that runs 25 miles along the Black Sea." Tuesday morning it was "54 degrees, and the day before it was around 60." Of course it is "colder in the mountains, some of which rise 8,000 feet, and it regularly snows -- but regularly enough?" However, snow was "dodgy in Vancouver in 2010, and life went on" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/7). In Chicago, Philip Hersh notes there were "substantial weather issues in Vancouver (2010) and Nagano (1998), causing postponements, but the events eventually took place." U.S. bobsledder Steve Holcomb yesterday from Sochi said that it was "warm at the track but it is refrigerated and covered so there were no problems" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Rachel Bachman noted Australian snowboarder Torah Bright was "planning to compete this Sunday at a test event at the Sochi snowboard venue in slopestyle," but the event was "canceled due to warm temperatures and a lack of snow." The forecast for Sochi this weekend is "for highs in the low 60s." The city has a "humid, subtropical climate, with an average February high of 49 degrees" (WSJ.com, 2/6).

    PUTIN'S PET PROJECT: In N.Y., David Herszenhorn notes the financial investment in the Games “reflects the outsize ambitions” of Putin, who has “made the Olympics a pet project.” Though he “expressed some concerns about cost overruns in the mountain events, there is no doubt that a certain amount of exorbitance and grandiosity have been part of his plan from the beginning.” Parts of Sochi “look less like a postwar reconstruction zone and more like the target of a sustained assault by rampaging aliens.” In some places, “cavernous pits open deep into the ground.” In others, “unfinished elevated train tracks halt in midair.” While Putin has “embraced the role of host to secure Russia’s place on the world stage and add yet another chapter to his legacy, his critics see Russia’s role as inviting international scrutiny on issues like human rights and civil liberties.” The Games also “pose serious security concerns, largely because of neighboring Abkhazia, a disputed territory that has sought independence from Georgia, and the North Caucasus, a hotbed of Islamist insurgency” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/7). Meanwhile, the BBC's Bill Wilson noted Sochi organizers said that not only are "preparations on track but that the event will introduce some important 'firsts' to the country." These include "better access for and acceptance of people with disability, greener standards of construction, and the growth of a volunteer programme in a country not known for this sector" (BBC.co.uk, 2/6).

    IT'S WORTH A SHOT: In Milwaukee, Don Walker noted Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak this week said that he "thinks Minneapolis would make a fine locale for the 2024 Summer Olympics." Rybak concedes the idea "is a long shot," but he wants to "explore the idea further" (JSONLINE.com, 2/6).

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