Next February Russia will host the first Olympics in the country’s history. The Winter Olympics in Sochi promise to be remembered as a costly and glorious extravaganza, which will change the image of Russia’s south forever.
Back in 2007, during the International Olympic Committee Session in Guatemala, Russia’s bid was regarded as an over ambitious project which proposed to convert the small subtropical Black Sea resort town of Sochi into the world centre for winter sports.
Regardless of critics’ opinion however Sochi was selected as the Olympics host city defeating bids from Austria and South Korea. The world has been curious ever since: will Russia succeed in building the Olympics in Sochi?
"We won the bid in Guatemala because we believed in our dream and now it is important for us to do the best we can to make the Sochi Olympics the greatest in the history of the Winter Games"
Russian speed skater, Svetlana Zhurova
Russian speed skater and Olympic champion Svetlana Zhurova says not only will Sochi be ready on time but it will present the greatest winter Olympics in history.
In an exclusive interview to Al Jazeera she said: "We won the bid in Guatemala because we believed in our dream and now it is important for us to do the best we can to make the Sochi Olympics the greatest in the history of the Winter Games."
"Even though it is a year before the Games begin, construction works for all the venues have been completed. We did it, not because we wanted to show the world how great we are, but because it is the only possible way for our country, taking into account the famous Russian mentality and tendency to leave things until the last moment.
"This way we have time to test all the competition sites and make sure that we are ready for the Games”.
Sochi is a subtropical summer resort town between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains with average temperature in winter between 5-7 °C. It has never been known as a resort-haven for winter sports.
This is why the Russian Olympic organising committee had to build everything completely from scratch, doing the almost impossible by converting a summer resort into a winter paradise.
More than a dozen venues in separate coastal and mountain complexes with over 367 km of roads, 200 km of railways and 170 km of gas pipelines had to be built in the small town and to transform summer into winter Sochi also stored 450,000 cubic meters of snow to ensure a white Olympics next year.
It is the largest construction project in Europe, completion of which, according to the Sochi organising committee has gone extremely well.
Sochi 2014 President and CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko told Al Jazeera: "What makes me most proud is that we’ve worked hard and met every challenge thrown at us. This gives me full confidence that we will deliver wonderful Games next year."
"We have nearly completed our international test event programme and we’re setting more tests than any other Games. With our venues built and thoroughly tested through international competition, Sochi 2014 can fully focus on the final step – the staging of memorable and inspirational Games."
With all that success however there is something that could destroy the dream of a perfect Olympics forever - widespread corruption.
The opponents of the Sochi bid have predicted: Russia will not be able to host a well-organised Olympic Games because the funds allocated to Sochi 2014 will come to rest in the pockets of corrupt Russian officials. Fighting corruption has turned out to be an impossible task.
Before the Games have even begun a price tag has already set an Olympic record. The Sochi Winter Olympics will cost Russia over $50 billion, more than twice as expensive as the London 2012 Games.
Russian politician and former vice-premier Boris Nemtsov was born in Sochi. He alleges money has been wasted.
"The cost of the Sochi Olympics is beyond imagination: it’s 4.2 times more expensive than was planned. I’ve done research and the results are really shocking. The cost of the Sochi Olympics is $50 billion so far, $30 billion of which wasn’t used to build anything related to the Games but simply gone to someone else’s pocket, basically stolen," Nemtsov told Al Jazeera.
"It’s shameful, disturbing and causes a feeling of hatred for the people who are involved in making the Sochi Games ugly.”
The worry is that the Games of 2014 could be a major disappointment not only to politicians but to some of Russia’s well known athletes.
Olympic champion and four times World figure skating Champion Alexei Yagudin thinks that Sochi is far from being a perfect Olympic city one year before the Games. On Twitter he wrote: “Sochi is a rubbish dump and rude! This is where they are holding the Olympics? There are some good points of course but too few!”
Giving a prognosis on Sochi 2014 Olympics the champion skater said: “I am confident that Russia will hold a wonderful Olympics which will be long remembered by everybody. But I just wish people could appreciate more what a fantastic chance is given to our country to show the world our very best."
Source: Al Jazeera