SBD/February 4, 2014/Olympics

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  • Bach Declares Sochi Ready For Competition, Despite Unfinished Work On Hotels, Venues

    Bach said that 97% of Sochi's hotel rooms have been readied in time for the Games

    Amid concerns about "terrorism, complaints of unfinished hotels rooms, controversy over Russia’s law targeting gays and reports of a last-minute roundup and killing of stray dogs," IOC President Thomas Bach yesterday "proclaimed the 2014 Winter Olympics ready for competition," according to William Douglas of MCCLATCHY NEWS. Bach, presiding over his first Olympics, said the stage is "set for the athletes." Bach added, "We can see it in the Olympic villages, which are all of very high quality and offer excellent conditions for the athletes." But Douglas noted three hotels slated to house journalists near the mountain events "aren’t finished, forcing Russian Olympic organizers to scramble to find suitable lodging for thousands of people who arrived in Sochi to find that they had no rooms." However, Bach said that the situation "wasn’t a major setback." He said that 97% of the hotel rooms "had been delivered on time" and that only 3% of the rooms "had problems that made them unavailable." But even in facilities that "are finished, some guests have complained about no or spotty wireless communication, televisions that don’t work, faulty hot water and problems with other amenities." Some sites near Games venues "are still muddy messes of land with unsightly rubble or heavy construction equipment in plain sight." Workers in the last week have "gone into beautification overdrive, planting palm trees, flowers and other assorted greenery." What "can’t be covered by nature is covered with wallpaperlike Olympic billboards" (MCCLATCHY NEWS, 2/3).

    VILLAGE PEOPLE: SI.com's Brian Cazeneuve noted the athletes' village "appears set, but while the IOC has been consistent in downplaying reports of budget overruns as costs that belong to structural upgrades of the city rather than Games' preparation, there has been little acknowledgment of just how much money has apparently disappeared from construction budgets through theft and bribery and how much construction remains undone." Unlike previous Olympics, where "most sports venues and accommodations were already in place, Sochi officials built a new city." IOC Exec Dir Gilbert Felli said, "If people have not been put outside, it is not a catastrophe. We don't feel it will be a big issue" (SI.com, 2/3).

    LET THE GAMES BEGIN: NBC's Matt Lauer noted these "are the most expensive Games in history but there are indications that not all of Sochi is ready for its close-up." Most of the 41,000 hotel rooms "are brand-new" and still "without furniture" ("Today," NBC, 2/3). CBS' Charlie Rose said construction workers yesterday morning were "racing to finish work" in Sochi and "there is a growing concern organizers won't be ready" for Friday's Opening Ceremony ("CBS This Morning," 2/3).

    WORK IN PROGRESS: In N.Y., David Segal in a front-page piece notes "much of Sochi is a work in progress, and parts of it look at least a dozen all-nighters away from completion." Last-minute touch-ups have "been a feature of Olympic Games for seemingly as long there have been screwdrivers," but the "list in Sochi seems extraordinarily large" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/4). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Anton Troianovski notes news has been "coming in about apartments missing their kitchens and lamps missing their bulbs." Organizers have been "trying to tamp down worries." Russia Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who has been overseeing Olympic preparations, emphasized that "all the hotels necessary to accommodate our guests have been built" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/4). In Boston, Jack Encarnacao noted "feverish construction continued" on Sunday in "Gorki Plaza -- envisioned as the hub for Sochi visitors -- and some people with Olympic credentials were turned away from unfinished hotels or checked into unfinished rooms" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/3).

    THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: In California, Scott Reid noted work crews on Sunday were "busy trying to drape oversized banners with the Sochi logo around the miles and miles of mud and rubble that surround the Olympic Park, which was built on a landfill next to the Black Sea." But because "hundreds of acres of landscaping Sochi organizers promised in their bid for the Games almost certainly will not be finished," the Adler district of Sochi could "resemble a 21st Century version of Woodstock with just a day of rain" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/2). Also in California, Jeff Miller wrote if "speed landscaping were a sporting event, the Russians would be making Olympic history." Miller: "I’ll assume everything will look fine and well established by the time NBC turns on its cameras. But I’m not entirely sure how, as powerful as he is, President Vladimir Putin will get those trees to grow for a year in the next four days" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/3). In Chicago, Philip Hersh wrote the "beauty of this landscape is overwhelming." One "immediately understands why environmentalists around the world worry it has been permanently despoiled by Olympic-related construction" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/3).

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  • Sochi Threats Downplayed, While Several U.S. Athletes Encouraged By Security Presence

    Officers during the Games will purposefully wear unimposing uniforms

    IOC President Thomas Bach yesterday in Sochi "played down any potential cause for alarm" regarding Olympic security, but the "stage is rife with tension that threatens to overshadow the achievements on the ice and snow once the competition gets underway Thursday," according to Liz Clarke of the WASHINGTON POST. Bach said, "Every big event is under threat, whether a political summit or another big convention, you name it." Russia President Vladimir Putin has responded to December bombings "by erecting a so-called 'ring of steel' around Sochi for the duration of the Games." The presence of Russian security forces was "as pervasive" yesterday "as the sight of bulldozers and construction workers at a site that’s not quite ready for opening night, however well-fortified" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/4). In Boston, David Filipov writes Sochi organizers "have made a clear effort to give the security force, at least the one visible Monday, a friendly face." Instead of "wearing urban camouflage and toting assault rifles, as Russian police on patrol do in many cities of the restive North Caucasus, security officers in Sochi are wearing purposefully unimposing plum-colored uniforms, their sidearms tucked away in holsters." The question "most often asked has been whether Russia will be able to make Sochi secure enough, not whether the people providing security will be vigilant enough." The "understated police presence was felt elsewhere in Sochi" yesterday afternoon. There were "none of the heavily armed troops manning checkpoints that clog traffic circles in cities throughout Russia, though this could change" before Friday (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/4).

    ATHLETES ENCOURAGED: USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside notes security experts are "holding their breath after news reports of Russian forces searching for three 'black widow' suicide bombers." But locals "don't seem scared by such threats; the enormous police presence eases their fears." There are "more than 40,000 troops and police in Sochi, a city of 350,000." Before U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace "brought her two young children to Sochi, she was nervous." But now that "she is here, her worries are gone." Pikus-Pace said, "We've felt very secure, very safe. It's just felt normal. We've been able to drive our cars where we need to go. The security is high, and that makes me feel a lot safer, too. We just haven't had any issues since we've been here" (USA TODAY, 2/4). The AP's Tom Withers reported U.S. bobsledders Dallas Robinson and Johnny Quinn "ventured outside the athlete’s village on bicycles and rode to the media center to get a better grasp of the immense security detail." Robinson said, "I don’t anticipate us being in any more harm’s way than going down the mountain in a bobsled at 85 miles per hour" (AP, 2/3).

    ON LOCKDOWN: In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins writes the Olympics "have long been near the top of my career bucket list, and yet almost every conversation in recent weeks has begun with the same question: Are you nervous?" Scoggins: "The honest answer: Yes, a little." Any excitement is "tempered by an uneasiness that comes from daily warnings about potential terrorist attacks." Putin "doesn’t want anything or anyone to disrupt his moment, and the guess here is that he’ll devote as many resources and spend as much money as needed to make sure his Olympics aren’t tainted by violence and bloodshed" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/4).

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  • Sochi Officials Consider Changes To Slopestyle Course After Snowboarder's Injury

    Officials said they would modify the slopestyle course to make it safer

    Sochi Olympics officials yesterday scrambled to "make changes to the slopestyle course" after Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo "broke his collarbone in a crash, and several athletes raised concerns about the safety of the course," according to the N.Y. TIMES. Horgmo "crashed on the rail portion of the course." Snowboarders yesterday discussed the course’s safety after a three-hour training session and "proposed changes to the sport’s officials." U.S. snowboarder Charles Guldemond said, “The last jump has a lot of impact on it, and the takeoff is really long. Some of the guys and girls are intimidated. I felt like I was dropping out of the sky.” Assistant Snowboard Race Dir Roberto Moresi said that officials "would modify the course to make it safer" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/4). U.S. snowboarder Ryan Stassel said, "The course was just built, so they're kind of working out the kinks and everything" ("Today," NBC, 2/4). But REUTERS' Philip O'Connor notes Int'l Ski Federation organizers blamed Horgmo's injury "on the jump he was attempting rather than the course." Moresi: "He was just trying a really hard trick" (REUTERS, 2/3). Meanwhile, SI.com's Brian Cazeneuve noted at least one Olympic venue "appears to be safer than usual." Perhaps "owing to the tragic crash that took the life of Georgian luger Nodar Komaritashvili at the Vancouver Games, officials in Sochi have designed a sliding course that has a number of safety points built into it." U.S. bobsledder Steven Holcomb said, "There are three uphill parts which will slow things down and make crashes less likely" (SI.com, 2/3).

    HERE COMES THE SUN: In L.A., David Wharton notes storms over the last seven days have "blanketed the nearby Caucasus mountain range where skiing, snowboarding and sliding events will take place." Still, the region "has a history of warm spells that can arrive overnight." U.S. skier Ted Ligety: "It's obviously a concern. It's something we're going to have to deal with when we get there." Wharton notes weather "should not be a concern for the skaters, curlers and hockey players competing in five venues that make up the 'coastal cluster.'" The mountains are "far more vulnerable." If "all else fails, organizers have stored 710,000 cubic meters of last winter's snowfall under immense thermal blankets, keeping the mounds cool and largely intact over the summer." Those reserves "might come in handy at a low-elevation ski jumping site that Sochi officials claim is the warmest in Winter Games history" (L.A. TIMES, 2/4).

    MOVING MOUNTAINS: In Winnipeg, Ted Wyman noted the Krasnaya Polyana area is "home to the Russki Gorki Ski Jumping Center, the Laura Endurance Village, where the cross country skiing and biathlon events will be held, the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park and Rosa Khutor Alpine Center and the Sanki Sliding Centre, where luge, bobsleigh and skeleton events will be held." But the "picturesque, Banff-like village, which has seemingly been built almost entirely for these Olympics, doesn’t seem quite ready for action." A mall built in the center of town has "yet to open" as of this past weekend, and the "same goes for a bank and a Subway sandwich shop." Workers were "still pouring cement in some locations and jack-hammering in others, no doubt the kind of finishing touches often applied at the last minute before such a massive undertaking" (WINNIPEG SUN, 2/2).

    BREAKING THE BANK? In L.A., Wharton & Loiko noted the budget for Fisht Stadium, where the Opening Ceremony will be held Friday, "could reach" $700M. That would "be 14 times higher than originally estimated and 2.5 times more expensive than similar stadiums around the world." The cost of the Adler Arena Skating Center for long-track speedskating has risen to $226.3M, an "estimated 2.4 times higher than the going rate." Meanwhile, the Sanki Sliding Center "could cost as much" as $76.5M, making it "1.6 times more expensive than comparable facilities" (L.A. TIMES, 2/3).

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