Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the balmy seaside city of Sochi. And with more than $50 billion spent on them, they will be the most expensive Olympics ever. With the opening ceremony just under three weeks away, here's a quick rundown on the Florida of Russia.
Sochi is Russia’s sunshine destination
Sochi is about as far as you can get from the sprawling snow-covered steppes of the popular imagination. A 37-hour train ride from Moscow, it's located in Russia’s deep south, on the Black Sea, and boasts palm trees, pebble beaches and sulfur hot springs that were once frequented by “Soviet leaders, acclaimed cosmonauts, actors and other members of the Soviet jet set”, according to the Sochi Project. There is no snow in the city of Sochi itself. That doesn't present problems for indoor events like figure skating or curling, but for Alpine sports like skiing, athletes will have to travel to Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus Mountains, a few dozen miles away. Organizers are also depending on 500 snow guns and 710,000 cubic meters of snow taken from the mountains last winter and kept in storage.
Did you say Caucasus? Isn't that a conflict zone?
The Winter Games will be held in close proximity to the restive North Caucasus region where bitter insurgencies in Chechnya and the republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia have led to armed rebellion and terrorist attacks in the Russian interior.
"I, from the very beginning, found it very ambitious to decide to [hold the] Olympics in such a close proximity to the most active insurgency crisis in Europe," Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, the North Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group, told NPR during a recent interview.
Less than a month ago, suicide bombers in Volgograd (approximately 400 miles from Sochi) killed more than 30 people. Amid ongoing threats from insurgents and to prevent terrorists from targeting the Games, Russian officials have established what amounts to martial law in the area and have sent more than 30,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops to provide security.
Oh yeah, and that genocide
While active insurgencies might be a current reality that worries officials and spectators alike, the area also has a tragic and violent past. According to Reuters, the Winter Games in Sochi will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the expulsion of Muslim Circassians from the Black Sea coast that resulted in the estimated deaths of 1.5 million people. Circassians living in the U.S. have staged demonstrations to protest the I.O.C.’s decision to host the games in Sochi.
You may not want to be alone in Sochi, ever
If the security situation leaves you feeling nervous, no problem. Sochi's planners have made it possible for you to have company at all times, as shown in this photo snapped by BBC journalist Steve Rosenberg, who is inspecting the Games’ sites prior to the opening ceremony.
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) January 20, 2014
And these types of toilets don’t come cheap. According to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the restroom facilities at the Sochi Olympics media center alone cost around 1.5 billion rubles, or $45 million, to build.
So where is everybody?
With less than three weeks to go until the opening cermony of the Winter Games commences, there are still 300,000 tickets still available. The Sochi 2014 organizing committee remains hopeful of a late rush. “We are expecting strong last-minute ticket sales and do not envisage having empty seats,” organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko told AP.
But why bother leaving your couch?
In the U.S., NBC will be providing more than 1539 hours worth of coverage of the event across six different platforms. And if one were to do the math that’s 64 days worth of Winter Olympics, which is quite a bit of coverage considering the Sochi Games will take place over a 17-day period from Feb. 6 to the 23. So if you’re worried that slalom skiing final might interrupt with the men’s half-pipe semis during the opening round of curling, fear not NBC likely has you covered.