SBD/February 4, 2014/Olympics

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

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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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