Sochi Games still under construction but compact venues should shine on TV

The Canadian Press

SOCHI, Russia - Outside the Main Press Centre in Sochi, a line of perfectly measured, manicured palm trees displays the exotic flavour of these Winter Olympics.

There are palms trees elsewhere in Sochi outside the Olympic bubble, but many of them are mired in a sea of mud and looking more than a little tired.

While the Sochi Games clearly have an impressive wow factor with their coastal setting and picturesque mountains, some of the infrastructure remains a work in progress.

Fields of mud or broken rock scream of staging yet to be done, as if the Games were two months away rather than two days. Stray dogs casually go about their business.

At the mountain venues, there are obvious signs of work still in progress — construction items lying around, concrete still muddy and half-completed painting.

At the Athletes Village, workers are still planting trees and grass.

But with the Games a made-for-TV event (broadcast to more than 200 countries with some 75,000 hours of total coverage), the backdrop inside the Olympic bubble promises to be spectacular.

The flight from Moscow to Sochi takes a little over two hours, over a seemingly endless carpet of snow that suddenly turns into mountains and then takes you over the blue of the Baltic Sea. As planes turn towards the airport, the cluster of Olympic venues looms on the waterfront, a tight ring of sharp-looking venues.

In the distance, snow-capped mountains play host to the other half of a very compact Games.

Bathed in purple light at night, the sleek curved building housing the world's media in Sochi is reminiscent of the exterior of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Neon nightclub cool.

Add in bright sunshine and mild temperatures during the day and there actually seems some truth to the Sochi slogan: "Hot. Cool. Yours."

Rickety could be added to that tag-line, however.

Some reporters arrived at the media village to find toilet paper, towels, hot water and light bulbs still on the 'to-do list.' Some of the fixtures that were in place proved to be somewhat lightweight with colleagues soon swapping war stories of what fell apart where.

And they were the lucky ones who had a room waiting for them.

The media village comes across like a Eastern European summer camp, with its array of generic buildings on individual campus-like sites. But organizers have not forgotten the bars, cheering more than a few of local scribes while ridding them of their rubles.

Want to learn more about the Sochi region while imbibing? One modest building in the media paddock is all about the Wines of Krasnodar Krai, celebrating the local grape.

Outside the media village, the neighbourhood looks like a town under construction.

Asked about unfinished hotels and accommodation in the mountain cluster, IOC president Thomas Bach acknowledged there have been issues.

"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. Immediately after we were informed about the situation, we were in contact with the Olympic Games organizers," he told a news conference.

"Right now, according to our information, 24,000 rooms have been delivered and 97 per cent of them without any problem. For the remaining three per cent there are still some issues to be settled. But we have also been informed that everybody was offered a room of at least the same quality wherever there was a problem. The other problems which are more technical ones will be addressed, like giving some of the rooms the final touch."

Still the athletes seem to like their digs, with Bach saying 80 per cent of them can literally walk from their bed to their competition.

It wasn't quite as smooth for Australian freestyle skier Dale Begg-Smith on Monday night. Supposed to speak to Australian media upon his arrival at the Adler-Sochi International Airport, Begg-Smith never made it.

Australian Olympic Committee chef de mission Ian Chesterman said Begg-Smith's luggage was lost and the athlete entered a different terminal and "had no one to greet him and was left wandering around the airport for half an hour.

"A bit of confusion," the Canadian-born skier said later.

Life was better for the Canadian alpine ski team, which got to spend some time in the Athletes Village rooms reserved for the yet-to-arrive Canadian hockey team. Apparently Team Canada won't be slumming it, with balconies overlooking the water.

Calgary skier Jan Hudec is enjoying his Olympic experience.

"For me, honestly, it's been an amazing experience so far," he said. "It's been really organized, really easy to get from Point A to Point B. Great venues The people are friendly so so far, I have no complaints.

"And the weather's been amazing. The sunsets here are absolutely incredible."

Amidst all the talk of a security blanket over the region, guns and the military are not that conspicuous although the airport is ringed by security staff spaced out along the fence like stewards at an English soccer game.

Buses take seemingly convoluted routes that require a trail of bread crumbs to recreate. The route to Olympic Park has resembled a super-sized Daytona 500 at times, with buses jockeying for position.

In London, buses headed to the Main Press Centre were boarded by the military, often with sniffer-dogs while other soldiers slid mirrors under the chassis. In Sochi, the buses just drop off passengers outside before they go through airport-like security.

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