August 29, 2005

Sochi hopes for third time lucky in 2014

By Gennady Fyodorov

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - At first glance, the sub-tropical
Black Sea resort of Sochi does not seem an ideal place to stage
cross-country skiing, biathlon or bobsled.

Yet less than three weeks after Moscow failed in its bid to
stage the 2012 Summer Games, Russia decided to enter Sochi for
the race to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Sochi, a haven for Russian beach-goers, already has two
failed Winter Games bids behind it. Officials from the Russian
Olympic Committee (ROC) think, however, that with proper
planning, solid preparation and sufficient funding, the city
would be the perfect choice for 2014.

"Unique natural resources, fresh mountain air and a mild
climate are Sochi's great advantages," ROC president Leonid
Tyagachyov said after ROC chiefs voted unanimously to submit
their bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"If we add the necessary infrastructure then you could
hardly find a better place to host the Winter Games."

Sochi mayor Viktor Kolodyazhny echoed those comments: "Here
you can ski down the mountain and 20 minutes later you could
sunbathe on the beach."

Nestled behind the picturesque Caucasus mountains, Sochi's
charm comes from its unique location, creating a sub-tropical
climate for much of the year. It is the warmest city in Russia
with year-round temperatures averaging more than 14 degrees

The plan calls for having all ice events, such as hockey,
figure skating, speed skating and curling in Sochi, with Alpine
and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and biathlon to be held
in Krasnaya Polyana, a mountain resort an hour's drive from the
city center.

ROC officials say that staging the 2014 Games would cost
Sochi almost $6 billion, with most of the money coming from the
private sector.


Russian metal tycoon Vladimir Potanin is a major player
behind Sochi's bid.

The 44-year-old Potanin, whose wealth is estimated by
Forbes magazine at $4.4 billion -- making him the 117th richest
man in the world -- has pledged to invest $140 million in the

Potanin, an avid Alpine skier who has already helped to
develop Krasnaya Polyana into a winter sports resort, plans to
build a major ski center, equipped with lifts, hotels and

However, inadequate infrastructure, a crumbling airport, a
lack of suitable hotels, bad roads and traffic jams could
derail Sochi's ambitious plans.

Kolodyazhny identified several main problems which needed
to be solved quickly for his city to have any chance of winning
the IOC vote in July 2007 which will decide the 2014 hosts.

"First of all, we must finish the 2.5-kilometre tunnel
connecting Sochi with Krasnaya Polyana and other areas. Then
build the motorway around the city, thus alleviating traffic
along Sochi's main roads," the mayor said. "We must also build
more four- and five-star hotels and we need a modern airport."

He said the federal government had set aside 14 billion
roubles to improve Sochi's infrastructure.

"In five years we can solve most of our problems," he

Potanin, however, was less optimistic: "The mayor was
talking about the tunnel but he forgot to mention that the work
has been going on for five years now, money is being spent but
no result. And talk about the airport -- they started working
on it in the mid-1990s and still can't finish it."


Russian President Vladimir Putin, a great fan of downhill
skiing, has visited Krasnaya Polyana several times in the past
few years and ROC officials hope his support will help.

"Just look what (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair did to
help London win the right to stage the 2012 Summer Games," said
Tyagachyov. "I feel the President's high profile, his
well-known enthusiasm for sports would definitely help our

Blair was widely credited with helping London to edge out
Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow in July's IOC vote to host
the 2012 Games.

Sochi officials hope it could be third time lucky after
their two previous attempts failed. The city bid for the 1998
and 2002 Winter Olympics but was eliminated in the first round
on both occasions, losing out to Nagano and Salt Lake City

Sochi should face stiff competition this time round as
well, mainly from South Korea's Pyeongchang and Austria's

Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty, Bulgarian capital Sofia,
Georgia's Borjomi and Spain's Jaca are also in the running.

Russia's long-serving IOC member Vitaly Smirnov feels that
Sochi has a big advantage over its Asian rivals.

"Europe is the major continent when it comes to winter
sports, most of the spectators are also Europeans," Smirnov

"Sochi is only two-and-a-half hours away by air from most
of Europe, unlike Pyeongchang or Almaty."

Sochi's mayor also remains upbeat. "Don't worry," he told
reporters. "We can promise you plenty of snow."