The Edge
5:40 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Countdown To Sochi: Will The City Be Ready?

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 8:07 pm

The Winter Games begin Thursday in Sochi, Russia.

Thousands of athletes and journalists have already converged on the city along the coast of the Black Sea, and spectators will be streaming in this week. But ahead of the games, the real race is to see if all the last-minute preparations can be completed in time.

To gauge how prepared the Russians are for these games, we took a tour that began in the cozy confines of the Olympic Village, with athletes like Chris Creveling, an American short track speedskater. This is his first time at the Olympics.

"We've just been impressed with the facilities so far, and everything has been up to our standards, I'd say," he says. "We're all just very excited to walk in the opening ceremonies."

Many of the speedskating athletes have competed in Sochi already for the World Championships. Jordan Malone, a member of the U.S. Olympic team for a second time, was here last year before the athlete's village was complete; he says things are much better now.

"All the United States is in one particular house. It's the same as it was in Vancouver," Malone says. "There's Wi-Fi everywhere so you can get your geek on. It's great, I mean, it's conducive to an environment that you'd want to spend an entire month in."

A tour of the various sporting arenas shows they're ready to go, too. Journalists have complained about poor construction, and interestingly there are perfectly pleasant but stray dogs wandering about town.

But how about the rest of Sochi, and the other facilities?

Down a brand-new highway looking out from a brand-new bus, there's freshly overturned dirt everywhere you look, as if building projects had just finished, or just begun. Some of the ski events will be held at a village that's about an hour away from downtown Sochi, and through all the windows, there are stores that look like they're on the verge of opening.

At the Gorky Gorod resort outside Sochi, there's a hotel that appears to be under construction, but nothing yet is quite finished. Hotel operator Volkam Shemsak says he has people at it around the clock.

"The hotels will be open," he says, though he admits there are some technical issues. "I mean, this is [a] living city, but you cannot say it's not ready."

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, says delays are inevitable.

"I have some travel experience," he says. "And I know how embarrassing it is when you arrive after a long flight to a place and your room is not ready."

Bach says the facilities will be ready as spectators arrive. The workers have until Friday.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Winter Olympics officially begin Friday in Sochi, Russia. Thousands of athletes and journalists have converged on the city along the coast of the Black Sea, and spectators will soon follow.

NPR's Sonari Glinton is in Sochi and he reports that one race is already underway: to finish all the last-minute preparations in time.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: In order to gauge how prepared the Russians are for these winter games we're go to go a few place. But let's begin in the cozy confines of the Olympic Village with athletes.

Chris Creveling is a short track speed skater and these are his first games.

CHRIS CREVELING: We've just been impressed with the facilities so far and everything has been up to our standards, I'd say. We're all just excited to walk in the opening ceremonies.

GLINTON: Many of the speed skating athletes have competed in Sochi already for the World Championships, like Jordan Malone. It's his second time on the Olympic team. Malone was here last year before the athlete village was complete. And he says things are much better now.

JORDAN MALONE: All the United States is in one particular house. It's the same as it was in Vancouver. There's Wi-Fi everywhere so you can get your geek on. It's conducive to an environment that you'd want to spend an entire month in.

GLINTON: While the athlete village is done and gets near universal praise, a tour of the various sporting arenas shows they're done and ready to go. Journalists however have complained about poor construction. And interestingly, there are perfectly pleasant stray dogs wandering about town.

But how about the rest of Sochi and the other facilities?

So right now, I'm on a brand new bus that seems to be going down a brand new highway. And as you look on the side of the road, you can sort of see the freshly overturned dirt everywhere you look as if building projects had just finished or just begun.

I'm in a village that's about an hour away from downtown Sochi. It's near where some of the ski events are held. And through all the windows there are stores that look like they're on the verge of opening. There is a hotel that appears to be under construction but nothing yet quite finished.

I met Volkam Shemsak in the village.

VOLKAM SHEMSAK: Volkam Shemsak, like a volcano.

GLINTON: And tell me what your job is.

SHEMSAK: We are the hotel operators here in the Gorky Gorod.

GLINTON: It looks like everything is still not yet complete.

SHEMSAK: Why? What is not complete?

GLINTON: Well, we're standing in the front of - like this building we're standing in front of right now, it's not ready to go yet.

SHEMSAK: I mean what do you need? All the people are here for work.

GLINTON: Shemsak says he has people at it around the clock. And the vast majority of the work will get done.

SHEMSAK: I mean the hotels will be open. I mean there are several - OK, one or another technical issues. I mean this is a living city. But you can not say it's not ready.

GLINTON: Meanwhile Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, says delays are inevitable.

THOMAS BACH: You know, I have some travel experience. And I know how embarrassing it is when you arrive after a long flight to a place and your room is not ready.

GLINTON: Bach says the facilities will be ready as spectators stream in. Workers have until Friday.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Sochi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.