SOCHI, Russia – Just days before the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the rush is on to get Sochi ready.
“Yesterday, I could not even drive on this road,” the van escort says during the drive from the airport to the hotel. “I’ve been here two weeks, and every day is different.”
Along the road to the just-opened Radisson, he pointed at small pine saplings lining the street by the dozens. “They weren’t here two days ago. This place is going 24/7 to try and get things done.”
Once you’re here, though, it’s clear that there are truly two Olympic Games. The ice events will take place on the edge of the Black Sea in the Sochi suburb of Adler, where there isn’t a flake of snow on the ground. Newly planted grass is actually growing as builders try and hide the acres of mud before the Games open Thursday night.
Thirty minutes away, the alpine events will take place in the Caucus Mountains. There is almost too much snow there, and the Russians have built what appears to be a quaint ski town literally from scratch.
Many things give this year’s game a different feel – the remote location, the security concerns. But the question on everyone’s minds is whether Sochi will be ready in just five more days.
Debris and un-installed windows were strewn across the jetway when I walked off the Moscow-Sochi leg of the trip. Driving into town from the airport, front-end loaders jockeyed with shuttle buses for room on single-lane roads still under construction. Street pylons diverted traffic to allow paint to dry, making just about every two-lane road a single-track adventure. Scaffolding dots the landscape.
Police are stationed at every exit ramp on both sides of bridges, directing traffic and, inevitably, handling accidents, sometimes in foreign languages.
In this globalized world, Americans are still not used to traveling to a place where English is hardly spoken and while the Games are English-friendly, the potential fun of struggling with each other’s language can be lost in small moments of tension.
But somehow, with the overarching security concerns, and the overwhelming sense of how intense the next few days will be in the region, it’s the Olympics. The energy is high and the air is warm.
Mingling among the athletes are Russian tourists who have flocked to Sochi to marvel the beachfront on the Black Sea.
People snapped photos of new signs and the rapidly changing hotel cityscape.
Next to my hotel, an entire row of luxury two-story condominiums looked like it might be ready for the summer season. Plastic wrapping was on the chairs, exposed pipes waited for insulation, muddy walkways readied for concrete.
But the condos, like the rest of Sochi, are supposed to be ready this week. Will the town be ready in time? Sentiment is split. Steve Christian – a contractor from England who’s been driving transfer vans here for weeks predicted it would be close.
“Putin says it will get done, and so I imagine he’ll get his way.”