See You in Sochi: 500 Days to Go25 September 2012
There is a cool change on the Olympic horizon as the Winter Olympic Games head to Russia for the first time in 2014. Today marks the 500-days-to-go milestone on the road to Sochi. The Black Sea coastal city is preparing to welcome 5,500 Winter Olympic athletes including a mighty contingent of Australians in February 2014.
The Sochi Games follow on from Australia’s most successful Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. In 2010 the nation’s equal largest Olympic Winter Team (40 athletes) returned home with a record three medals and a string of top ten finishes.
In Vancouver Torah Bright won gold in the snowboard halfpipe, Lydia Lassila continued Australia’s strong record in the aerials when she took gold following on from Alisa Camplin’s bronze and gold medals in 2006 and 2002 respectively, and 2006 moguls gold medallist Dale Begg-Smith took silver. Bright, Lassila and Begg-Smith are all in training for Sochi 2014, but they are not the only athletes to keep on the radar.
Australia’s winter athletes have continued to soar since 2010, headlined by a blistering 2011 season. At last year’s World Snowboarding Championships in Spain, not one but three Australians stood atop the podium with Alex Pullin (boardercross), Nate Johnstone and Holly Crawford (snowboard halfpipe) all winning gold.
The Sochi program was further boosted by the addition of ski and snowboard slopestyle events in 2014. It was welcome news for Australia, home to Mt Buller’s Anna Segal, the 2011 World Ski Slopestyle Champion, and Russ Henshaw who won bronze in the men’s event.
Reflecting Australia’s depth in these new disciplines, NSW Central Coast snowboarder Alexandra Fitch won bronze in snowboard slopestyle at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria. After coming down from the podium and the euphoria of Youth Olympic success, Fitch set her sights on qualifying for a senior Winter Games as did alpine skier and Team Flagbearer Greta Small. Small, 16, has been explosive on the alpine scene, winning the 2012 National and Australian New Zealand Cup Championships.
Rising stars Emma Lincoln-Smith (skeleton), Laura Peel (aerial skiing), Britteny Cox (mogul skiing) and Lucy Chaffer (skeleton) have also begun to medal on the World Cup circuit, with 2012 X Games medallist Jenny Owens (ski cross) also wrapped up in Australia’s bundle of Sochi potential.
Sochi Preparation and Planning
Sochi will cater for 5,500 Olympic athletes, 1,350 Paralympic athletes, 25,000 volunteers, and 13,000 members of the press. 75,000 people are expected to visit Olympic Park daily with a global audience of approximately 3 billion watching on television.
The Games designed to be “the most compact Winter Games in the history of the Olympic Movement” features two venue clusters 48km apart (or less than 30 minutes on the new railway). The majority of venues have been built from scratch, with a Village located in each cluster.
“It’s like a painter having a blank canvas to paint what you really dream about,” Dmitry Chernyshenko, President of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee said.
“Having in mind that we have empty space that was made up of agricultural fields, we can put all the Olympic venues within walking distance of each other to create the clusters with the present accommodations on the seashore just [3.1 miles] from an international airport.”
“It’s the world’s biggest construction site. It’s more than 55,000 people working 24/7.”
The Coastal Cluster (Sochi Olympic Park) is located on the Black Sea coast and features all new venues including a 12,000 capacity Ice Dome “Bolshoy” for ice hockey, a secondary ice hockey venue “Shayba”, the “Ice Cube” curling centre, “Iceberg” skating palace, a speed skating arena and "Fisht"- the Olympic Stadium which hosts the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and doubles as the Medal Plaza.
The jewel in the Mountain Cluster crown is “Rosa Khutor.” It hosts two prime venues- the Alpine Centre and Extreme Park where Australians will have plenty to cheer about in the aerials, moguls, boardercross and halfpipe events. The “RusSki Gorki” ski jumping centre, “Sanki” sliding centre (bobsleigh, luge, skeleton) and “Laura” cross country ski and biathlon centre are also situated in the mountain cluster.
As organisers strive to deliver “the metamorphosis of Sochi and its region,” Australian athletes are vying for selection and qualification onto the 2014 Australian Olympic Winter Team.
The International Olympic Committee has applauded the progress the Sochi organisers are making in the Games’ second foray into Russia (the summer 1980 Games were hosted in Moscow while as the Soviet Union).
“Progress is considerable and we can only be impressed by the developments made over the last 12 months,” said Jean Claude Killy, Olympic skier and chair of the IOC’s Sochi 2014 Co-ordination Commission which oversees the Games’ preparations.
“Most of the venues should be delivered on schedule, and we can say, with confidence, that the competition venues that will host the athletes participating in the Sochi Games will be extraordinary.”
To mark the 500-day milestone there are national celebrations across Russia including sport and music festivals in 17 cities. But the real highlight of the day will be a “national flashmob” featuring Games volunteers.