Sochi – Russia’s field of dreams?

Story highlights

The Russian city of Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February

Hundreds of works still working on construction ahead of the Games

Organizers confident that all work will be ready on time

Snow storage operation underway to ensure alpine events will be fully prepared

CNN  — 

“If you build it, they will come.”

A very overused, but very apt quote for my take on Sochi following my first visit to the Russian host city of next year’s Winter Olympics.

The Sochi 2014 organizers have taken Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams quote literally, except their film has a soundtrack of constant drilling, banging, and the grinding of rocks.

Russian rubble

The Black Sea resort seems a million miles from the one I’d read about. More the Russian Rubble Field than the Russian Riviera.

I’ve never seen so much construction on such a large scale in one place. Hundreds of workers in orange bibs working in shifts on construction sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They’re building roads, train lines, hotels, promenades, and harbors in the coastal Olympic Park area – and in the mountain location in Krasnaya Polyana as well, which is 40 kilometers inland.

As one local driver put it: “they build and build. There is no end to it. And then – where is what they build?”

CNN’s Aiming for Gold team spent five days in Sochi, after which it’s difficult not to have some sympathy with him.

Traffic trouble

Every journey we took, the road layout changed around the construction. A journey from the hotel to Sochi took 45 minutes one way but took double on the way back after we were caught out by another diversion.

Read: Grand Sochi project highlights

The disruption to the lives of Sochi’s residents is immense. It’s dangerous to walk along many of the (alleged) roads, for danger of falling down an uncovered man hole.

From inside my hotel room you couldn’t fail to hear the nine nearby cranes going about their business night and day and leaving a thick layer of dust covering everything in sight.

But this is all a means to an end – an end which is just five months away. It’s the biggest international sporting event to ever come to the region and many of the locals are acutely aware of its significance.

Watching world

One lady told us: “it’s a great thing that such a big thing will happen right in our yard. All these sportsmen will come – the whole world will be here – can you believe it?”

The importance isn’t lost on the organizers either. If it is the daily 1am progress report with the government is guaranteed to see to that. And in their mind there’s no doubt things won’t be ready.

The man in charge Dmitry Chernyshenko told me that the Olympics would be “one of the brightest moments in the history of modern Russia.”

They’re aiming to shatter stereotypes but says: “we’re not over confident, we’re just delivering what we promised in accordance with our commitment.”

On track

Although the Sochi airport upgrade has been completed we still had to wait over an hour for our bags at the carousel after our flight from Moscow.

The brand new train line to link the coastal area with the mountains is still under construction – as are a large number of the roads. However the buildings for the two athletes villages are in place.

The 508 room hotel and Congress Center – complete with three swimming pools, tennis court & spa, which will house the International Olympic Committee – is finished.

Twenty thousand new hotel rooms have been guaranteed, but the U.S. team planning representatives who we bumped into said they’ve been told five of the promised hotels will now not materialize.

The many areas which looked like chaos to my untrained eye have been described by the organizing committee as simply requiring finishing touches.

Ready for action

Across the building sites, pavements were emerging, walkways were being flattened, trees were being planted. Perhaps no surprise with 70,000 workers on the job.

In terms of the sporting venues, there’s no denying it seems they could host the Games tomorrow.

All 10 of them have been newly built – and they don’t just look great, they’ve all successfully held a number of high profile test events already.

The pre-Games test program has included more than 70 events in all Olympic and Paralympic sports – with the press briefing notes proudly declaring their program has been three times bigger than the one in Vancouver four years ago.

They’re not tinpot events either. They have included the speed skating world championships, the FIS Alpine skiing European Cup and 12 World Cup stages.

From our tour of the venues, it appears that the early preparation seems to have paid off. There was a medal podium, flags, a full ice rink and even pot plants inside the Adler arena, home to the speed skating events.

Late decision

The tall structures and semi-permanent marquees were going up on the concourse of the Bolshoi Ice Dome. The only coastal venue with major construction still ongoing is the stadium for the opening & closing ceremony – largely as a result of the late decision to build a roof.

As manager of the Adler Arena Dmitry Grigoriev said: “We can only put our feet up when the Games end and the last athletes leave the village, but we are as ready as we can be.”

Up in the mountains, it’s the same story. The Rosa Khutor alpine center, Sanki sliding center and Laura cross country and biathlon center have all held test events of their own with the structures firmly in place.

However it doesn’t take a genius to realize there’s one vital ingredient missing from these venues. The white stuff. Much has been made of the madness of hosting a Winter Olympics at a seaside resort.

Admittedly it’s only September – but our cameraman Andrew Waller had no problems filming at the highest point (2,300m) in just a t-shirt.

Last February did organizers no favors either. It was the warmest on record, with some of the alpine test events canceled due to rain.

Snow fears

It’s for this reason Sochi has undertaken the biggest snow storage operation ever. They’ve got nine epic aluminum covered snow slugs resting on the rocky mountainsides, like something from an alien occupied lunar landscape.

It’s what’s been stored from last winter – just in case. Snow making equipment has also been installed on the mountains. Just in case. The team are resolute that they won’t need it.

We met the man in charge who hails from Finland – Mikko Martikainen aka Mr Snow – halfway up the mountain. He certainly doesn’t look like he’s having sleepless nights over it.

“I’m not worried at all,” he said. “I’m very confident. We guarantee we will have snow. There might be a lack of snow, but there may be too much snow. We are prepared for both scenarios.”

It’s a good bet that the sun is set to shine on Sochi once again come February. But from what we’ve seen on our first trip here organizers are doing all they can to make sure this Black Sea resort does the same as it plays host to the 2014 Winter Olympics.