Russia readies for its Olympic turn in 2014

The following is an excerpt from an article published at NBCOlympics.com:

From the Pacific coast to the shores of the Black Sea. From the peaks of western Canada to the Caucasus mountains of southern Russia. From gleaming North American skyline to palm-fringed resort in the former Soviet Union.

Do svidanya (goodbye) Vancouver. Do vstretchi (see you) in Sochi.

As the Vancouver Olympics come to a close, the focus turns across the world to Russia’s first Winter Games in 2014 – taking the Olympic movement to a new territory and a new set of challenges.

“We are next,” Sochi organizing chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said. “The bar has been well and truly raised.”

The Russian city’s first big moment in the global spotlight came during Sunday night’s closing ceremony, with the Olympic flag handed from the mayor of Vancouver to the mayor of Sochi.

In the traditional handover ceremony, the Olympic flag was lowered and presented to the hosts of the next Winter Games in 2014.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson handed over the five-ringed flag to IOC president Jacques Rogge, who passed it on to Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi. That was followed by the Russian national anthem and a presentation about Sochi featuring opera, ballet, ice skating and giant glowing spheres called “zorbs.”

“This is a historic event for Sochi,” Pakhomov said before the event. “We understand it is a huge responsibility for Sochi and for Russia and we can’t let anyone down.”

After the showbiz, the hard work continues back home as organizers continue to prepare for an event that has the prestige of Russia and its leaders – including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – on the line.

Ever since Sochi was awarded the games by the International Olympic Committee three years ago, questions have been raised: Can Sochi complete its massive construction projects on time? Will the funding hold up? Will the games be safe in a city near the separatist Abkhazia region in neighboring Georgia?

Putin, Russian president at the time, was instrumental in Sochi securing the games when he traveled to Guatemala City in 2007 and personally lobbied IOC members. He and current President Dmitry Medvedev remain centrally involved in making sure the games are a success.

“It’s so important for Russians that they will not allow it to fail,” senior Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. “Whatever has to be done will be done.”

Sochi, established as a summer resort under Joseph Stalin, is a city of about 500,000 people in Russia’s Krasdonar region. Olympic organizers hope the games will serve as a catalyst in turning the area into a year-round world-class destination for Russians and foreign tourists alike.

Organizers say the games will feature the most compact layout in Winter Games history, with a cluster of ice arenas situated along the Black Sea coast and snow and sliding venues a half-hour away in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains. A new rail line is being built to connect the two clusters.

Click here to read the entire article.

Click here for more on Sochi.

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