The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are just one year away from Thursday, and this week Russian President Vladimir Putin is touring the city and its facilities. Spending on these Olympics — $51 billion — outdoes every past Olympic games, but there is one vital thing the largest price tag in Olympics history might not be able to buy: snow.
When you think Russia, you think snow. When you think February, you think snow. The combination should be perfect. But Socchi happens to be the warmest spot in the world’s largest country, a resort town on the Black Sea adorned in palm trees, equipped with small islands and plenty of sunlight. But snow? Temperatures have been middling in the 5os this week, peaking at 60, with intermittent rain.
Of course, all the ice rink events are in controlled indoor environments and the skiing and snowboarding events take place in the mountains some 30 miles away at higher altitudes, but even there, those events aren’t immune. Skiiers and snowboarders wore raincoats coming down the mountain at 4,900 and 3,700 feet, and couldn’t come down from the peak due to avalanche warnings.
But calm down guys, because Russia’s got this covered. “Snow in February in Sochi is guaranteed,” Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, said in December. “In case of warm weather, we have prepared our backup plan.”
GUARANTEED. BACKUP PLAN. Sounds like reassuring words to me. Sochi’s definitely got its head in the right place, otherwise it wouldn’t have outspent Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic effort by $45 billion, expenses that include painting buses with “sinewy, bare-chested men lunging for volleyballs.” Ladies and gentlemen, Russia.
Now, we can’t fault Russia or Sochi for not producing snow for the Winter Olympics. That ultimately falls on the IOC’s shoulders for awarding the city the Olympics in the first place. And $51 billion is a ton of money, enough to give you some faith in a contingency plan. But with temperatures in the 50s, things might definitely get sloppy. Sochi wouldn’t be the first rain-inundated Winter Games, as Vancouver was no walk in the park either. Temperatures there hovered 40 for the duration of the games.
Still, Sochi is starting to seem like an odd choice. And with one year to go, it’s still pretty hazy as to what kind of host the “real, modern, vibrant Russia” will be.
[Washington Post, Getty Images]