A Week in Sochi

14 Dec

Last week, I took the long journey to Sochi, Russia, home of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

The 2012 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for junior and seniors served as the figure skating test event. Despite the 27-hour travel time to and from Colorado Springs, I was excited to be in Sochi over a year before the Opening Ceremonies.

The Olympic Park is based in Adler, Russia, a suburb of Sochi. A small town on the Black Sea, Adler has become a massive construction zone leading up to the Games. I arrived late Tuesday night, long after the sun set, and my first bus ride the following morning was also in darkness. (It stayed dark until almost 9 a.m. every day.) At first glance, it was hard to appreciate the work that has been and continues to be done in the area. Cranes, dirt, framed buildings and arenas all over the place!

Many of the competition venues are complete, including figure skating’s home, the Iceberg Skating Palace, the women’s and men’s hockey arenas, a curling venue and the long track speed skating oval. The Iceberg will also house short track events. Across a small parking lot from the Iceberg, the practice rink for figure skating and short track speed skating already has ice.

The Olympic stadium (for the opening and closing ceremonies), athlete village, hotels, roadways, railroads and other infrastructure now appear to be the focus of current construction. Structures that surround the Olympic Park are getting facelifts, while hotels and dorms are being built from the ground up.

Due to construction and security concerns, we weren’t allowed to do much walking around the Olympic Park so I did most of my viewing from the concourse levels of the Iceberg.

In addition to the view of the Olympic Park, the view of the landscape from the Iceberg was impressive. On clear days, the snowcapped Caucasus Mountains were a beautiful backdrop to the city.

Speaking of mountains … in addition to the work being down seaside for the main Olympic Park, crews are working to build the secondary park that will host the ski and bobsled events. On a bus, a few of us chatted with a gentleman from New Zealand whose company is working on the snow making machines on the slopes. Their company (the name of which escapes me) was selected for this role because the climates in this part of Russia and New Zealand are similar. He was in town to prepare snow for an upcoming event.

The two Olympic parks will be connected by a high-speed rail system.

Several people were surprised by the weather in Sochi. I had done my research and knew that Sochi has a humid subtropical climate (well, I got that term from Google). In lay terms, Sochi enjoys mild winters. The days were in the 50s, the nights in the 40s. It did rain, but snowfall in the coastal areas is infrequent. The average high in February is nearly 50 degrees F. Sounds like great swimming weather…

As for the Iceberg, the 12,000-seat venue was originally built to be unassembled and moved following the Olympics. However, rumor is that the building will remain where it stands and be converted into a velodrome after the Games.

The Iceberg’s event level was easy to navigate with the locker rooms, warm up area, athlete lounge, entrance to the ice and media areas all in close proximity to each other. The athletes will have no trouble getting around the building once they’ve cleared security. It certainly helps that they have to walk a few hundred yards between their competition and practice venues.

For spectators, the concourse hallways are wide, feature concession and merchandise stands, elevators and staircases. My favorite part is that the façade is made completely of glass, allowing fans to get great views of the outside from inside the building.

On Sunday, after competition had wrapped up, several of us, including Jason Brown, Angela Wang and Joshua Farris, took the 20-mile ride up to the city of Sochi. It was a lovely drive on a sunny day … A look to the right offers views of the Caucasus Mountains, while glancing left presents a pretty view of the sea.

Upon arrival in Sochi, our first stop was the Olympic countdown clock. Just 420 days to go! That is not a lot of time…

We also stopped in the BOSCO store. The company makes official Olympic apparel. I was very tempted to get a pair of cute shoes with the Olympic logo, but refrained. It’s the holiday season, I shouldn’t be buying stuff for myself, right?

From there we made our way to the boardwalk. Like any boardwalk, there were souvenir shops, food stands and restaurants. There was also a waterslide that Marla Brown, Jason’s mom, seemed disappointed she couldn’t ride. We all found some Olympic-themed souvenirs and had lunch by the water.

I’m glad we left Adler as early as we did for our trip to Sochi. There was a huge traffic jam headed in the opposite direction, toward the city, as we returned to the hotel.

While there is a lot of work to be done, what already stands is impressive and, most importantly, the athletes who qualified for the JGP and Grand Prix Finals were all inspired by their visit to the home of the next Olympics.

Charlie White, who won his fourth straight Grand Prix Final title with partner Meryl Davis, said, “This is the Olympic setting. It’s great practice. It really sets the tone and helps us build toward that Olympic goal.”

Athletes from around the world seemed to share the sentiment … how could they not. I feel lucky as a member of U.S. Figure Skating’s staff to be one of the few people to experience Sochi before the Games. I can only imagine how competing there must amplify the feeling!

-Renee Felton
media relations manager, U.S. Figure Skating

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