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30 Jun, 2007 03:06

Russia close-up: How the Olympic bid changed Sochi

The beaches and mountains of the Krasnodar Region have ensured its popularity as a tourist destination. Yet recently the area has come into the limelight for a different reason: one of its biggest cities, Sochi, is bidding to host 2014 Winter Olympics.

The building of potential Olympic venues at Sochi's Krasnaya Polyana is already in full swing. Four venues for biathlon, alpine and cross-country skiing are being built in the majestic Caucasian mountains.  And that is only a part of the proposed plan.

“Everything is going according to plan, the blueprint approved by the country's government, and there are no delays on any of the construction sites.  I’m sure that the money allocated for this cause will be put to use on time,” believes Viktor Kolodyaznhy, Mayor of Sochi.

And it is a serious amount of money. It's estimated the first four projects will cost $US 1 BLN.

Some residents of the seaside town are concerned about what future, if any, lies ahead for the planned sports venues, if Sochi loses the vote? But the bid team has assured them the construction won’t stop.

Although the decision on who will host the 2014 Winter Olympics hasn’t yet been made, the games have already influenced life in the city. It is clean and tidy, and banners calling Sochi the “gateway to the future” have been posted on almost every corner. Some business-minded people have already started preparing for Olympic tourists.

Restaurant manager Zulfar Melgisimov says: “We have prepared a special menu, which has dishes served at past Winter Olympics, from every country. And we've also printed interesting facts about past games on the menu.”

However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of hosting the games.  Residents of some houses will be evicted in order to make way for an ice rink.  One of them says that although his house is in an almost uninhabitable condition, only one thing could force him to move:

“I think every man, a patriot of his land, would move out if his country needs him to do it. But only if he's offered an alternative home. Every man has his rights and no one can be forced out,” Artur Atakyan said.

So far, Artur says there have been no talk of any alternative home, and only the result of the vote will show what Sochi will be like after July 4. And as this potentially significant date draws closer, people in the seaside town are excited and nervous at the same time.

In just five days downtown Sochi will be crammed with people. Thousands will take to the streets to watch a live broadcast from Guatemala on the Winter Olympics decision. Russian pop-stars have arrived and there will be a party regardless of whether or not Sochi wins the bid.