Sochi organisers confident as huge building programme changes face of Winter Olympics host city
By Geraint Hughes. Last Updated: 05/02/13 10:02am
It was one of the most regularly asked questions to the organisers of London 2012: "Is everything ready?"
"Yes", always came back the reply from either Lord Coe or chief executive Paul Deighton - usually with a detailed breakdown of what was being built, when it would be open, how much it cost and how many toilets and bars were nearby.
The organisers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a city as far south as is possible to go in Russia that was previously known only as a holiday resort on the Black Sea, have a different way of explaining their readiness with just a year until the opening ceremony.
"We'll be ready," Dmitry Chernyshenko, the CEO of Sochi 2014 told me. "No doubt, of course we will be."
Before meeting Mr Chernyshenko I had had the opportunity to see a little bit of the main Olympic Park, which is 25km from Sochi and is right on the sea. It's known as the Coastal Cluster.
I had also travelled 60km along a twisting mountainside road that leads to Krasnaya Polyana where the Mountain Cluster is situated. That is where all the snow sports are, high up in the Caucasus.
While 10 of the 11 venues being used at both clusters have been declared built and ready, the first impression of Sochi is that lots of work is still required. Let me explain...
The main Olympic Park is one enormous building site and Krasnaya Polyana is, well, one enormous building site. It had the feel of a frontier town during the American gold rush in the 19th century, albeit the methods of construction were much more up to date.
Seventy-five thousand construction workers are on both sites seven days a week, with a 24 hour operation. Mud is everywhere, as are trucks, cranes, cement mixers, diggers, steel and concrete. The sheer scale of the operation dwarfs London 2012.
The Sochi Games are not just about building sporting venues, they are being used as an opportunity to build vast infrastructure programmes.
Investment in the area has been lacking since the collapse of Soviet Union, and areas of Krasnaya Polyana have gas for the first time thanks to a new pipeline up the mountain.
To link the Olympic Park on the outskirts of Sochi where sports such as ice hockey, figure skating and speed skating will take place, with Krasnaya Polyana where alpine sports - skiing, cross country, ski jumping and bobsleigh - are held, a massive engineering project is underway.
At the moment, a twisting single track road that hugs the mountainside is the only way to drive between the two clusters. It's an exhilarating drive, yet terrifying at times as you may come face to face with one of 5000 dumper trucks trundling up and down.
Why are they there? Well, a railway and new road is being built - not hugging the mountain, but going through it and along the river which courses through the valley. It's an incredible sight, steel and concrete battling nature and thousands of men working around the clock to make it happen.
So back to that question I asked Dmitry Chernyshenko - will it be ready? Of course he said yes, but maybe it just will be ready.
Russia approaches grand engineering projects in a different way to many countries. While 10 of the 11 venues hosting sport at next year's Winter Games are ready and many have already hosted events, so much building work is still ongoing, but the sheer might of the Russian Federation is at work here.
It is for many, not all, a sense of national pride. Russia feels like a sleeping giant. During Soviet times their athletes were among the best, their facilities at the time were world class, but in the last 20 years or so, Russia has fallen behind - it is time for that to change.
Dmitry Chernyshenko is a powerful, charismatic individual - he has budgets to meet, but he also knows he has a direct line to Government: Vladimir Putin, the Russian President has personally inspected the sites and expects all to be ready and perfect for the world to see.
Putin has the country's deputy prime minister overseeing everything - he even has an office in the organising committee's headquarters.
Chernyshenko says all building work will be complete by spring/early summer. Then all that remains is 'beautification' - a wonderful word, but I was left in no doubt that when the world comes to Russia in 12 months, the roads, railway, stadia, hotels will be ready and Sochi will be looking beautiful.