Falmouth resident volunteering in Sochi reflects on journey so far

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The day of the grand opening ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics is almost here, and by the time you read this report, it will have come and gone and medal competitions will be well underway.

There are thousands of Russian workers busily completing final preparations around and inside buildings around the Olympic Park in Adler, Sochi and in the mountain areas of Esto-Sadok. The landscaping continues with trees and shrubs being installed, grass being laid and thousands of brick pavers being laid over miles of walkways. Thousands of people including athletes, coaches, trainers, and officials are arriving along with additional volunteers, spectators in preparation of tomorrow's grand opening ceremony and the start of the competitions on Saturday, Feb. 8. Sochi and area is a buzz with activity.

With respect to the grand opening ceremony, the volunteers had a sneak preview. I attended the first rehearsal on Feb. 1 with half of our workforce group after taking the bus into the Olympic Park from our mountain cluster residences in Esto-Sadok.

The Olympic Park is a huge site comprising of 200 hectares with five competition venues and two training venues, including the Bolshoy Ice Dome, and Shayba Ice Arena, Ice Cube Curling Centre, Iceberg Ice Palace and Adler Arena. It is a huge plaza, miles of walking and is anchored by the Fisht Olympic Stadium, medals plaza and the Olympic Torch. The capacity of the common area is about 75,000 people.

We had a first-hand look at the Fisht Olympic Stadium while taking in the practice rehearsal of the opening ceremony.

The stadium has the biggest spectator capacity of all of the 2014 venues. It seats 40,000. After the games, the Fisht Olympic Stadium will become a soccer stadium and will host the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2018. The name Fisht means “The White Head" in the local Circassian language. It is the name of a Caucasus Mountain peak.

Those of us who attended the first rehearsal of the opening ceremony were impressed with the show despite the fact that not all of the players were in costume and, at times, some of the props malfunctioned.

Apparently the roof sections were open and a lot us were having a hard time enjoying the show because of the frigid temperatures. I think it was the coldest night I had spent here since arriving. Everyone was bundling up trying to keep warm.

Having seen the Vancouver full dress rehearsal, I don't think it rivaled that production but the show people will see on TV should be spectacular. My favourite part of the show was the appearance of the giant robotic mascots, the leopard, the polar bear and the hare (our village mascot) floating around the stadium.


Some interesting facts about Sochi and the Olympics

The awarding of the 2014 Olympic Games to Sochi came in 2005 after two earlier unsuccessful bids in 1994 for the 2002 Winter Games and 1990 for the 1998 Winter Games. They say persistence pays off.

The initial vision for Sochi 2014 was to upgrade Sochi into a year-round international destination.

Sochi's population is slightly larger than Halifax, with about 450,000 residents. The city stretches for 147 kilometres along the Black Sea coast, with 118 kilometres of beaches and supposedly 300 sunny days per year. It is coined the Russian Riviera, "South Capital" and is the summer residence for the state leaders. Former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's summer residence in Sochi is now a museum.

Sochi's location is sub-tropical with palm tree vegetation yet only 50 kilometres from the Black Sea is white snow in the Caucasus Mountains.

The Olympic site parallels that of Vancouver but is slightly more temperate in the Sochi-Adler area.

The development of the former Greenfield area in 2007 to the present Olympic Park site has been phenomenal and has brought about many environmental changes to a once natural area. Time will tell of the eventual environmental impact to the area but the infrastructure legacy is huge. Many of the major venue structures will be used for training and future world sports events while others were constructed in modular units to be moved elsewhere.

For the area, five new power plants were created, 400 kilometres of gas pipeline were installed, a new sewer system was created for the city, the airport was modernized to world class, a new high speed train access corridor to connect Adler, Sochi and the mountain clusters was created, and the construction of 967,000 square metres of roads and sidewalks was completed.

The tourist infrastructure legacy is massive too, with four brand new alpine resorts for 42,000 visitors, 150 kilometres of new alpine slopes, 100 brand new hotels with 27,000 rooms and four villages for games volunteers.

Before 2007, volunteering was non-existent in Russia but for the 2014 Olympics, more than 200,000 applications were received.

The games workforce includes 53,160 for the Olympic Games and 28,767 for the Paralympic Games. The volunteer group consists of 19,137 for the Olympics and 9,483 for the Paralympics.

The profile of our volunteer group includes an average age of 23, compared to Vancouver’s 40 and London’s 36, with 70 per cent younger than age 25. Of the volunteers, 25 per cent are between the ages of 25 and 50 and five per cent are older than 50, which is where I fit. I’m probably one of the oldest volunteers at 75. The most startling stat is that 70 per cent of the volunteer group is made up of women. That’s incredible odds for men! The international volunteers comprise of eight per cent of the total. There are around 2,300 of us from various parts of the world.

I have met a few Canadians and Americans here. There are supposedly about 300 people between the two countries. I certainly feel fortunate to have made the cut with 200,000 people applying.

Security has ramped up to a high level. In my next report, I’ll speak on the life of a volunteer here in Sochi and the organizational process.

I've lucked out and got tickets for two hockey games — the ladies game against the USA on Feb. 12, and the men's hockey game against Finland on Feb. 16. Go Canada go!


Stan Kochanoff is a Falmouth resident who is volunteering in Sochi, Russia at the 2014 Olympics.


Organizations: Bolshoy Ice Dome, Olympic Games, FIFA

Geographic location: Sochi, Olympic Park, Falmouth Fisht Olympic Stadium Vancouver Black Sea Caucasus Mountain Russia Caucasus Mountains Greenfield London USA Finland Canada

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