dispatches from Sochi

Sochi road an engineering marvel

The newly constructed road to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia is 30 miles long, cost $8.6 billion, and features unique feats of engineering brilliance.
shira springer/globe staff
The newly constructed road to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia is 30 miles long, cost $8.6 billion, and features unique feats of engineering brilliance.

ON THE ROAD TO KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Give the Sochi organizers credit: They know how to build one impressive road.

A 30-mile stretch of pavement takes athletes, officials, volunteers, and media from the Coastal Cluster on the shores of the Black Sea into the Caucasus Mountains, where all the skiing, snowboarding, and sliding events take place.

Much has been made of the road’s cost: $8.6 billion out of the $51 billion spent to stage the Winter Games. For some perspective courtesy of Russian Esquire, for that staggering amount of cash, the road could have been paved with a 1-centimeter-thick layer of beluga caviar.


So, what do you get for $8.6 billion besides corruption?

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For starters, the road and parallel train tracks are feats of engineering. Lengthy tunnels cut through the mountains, one as long as 2 miles, and bridges lift the roadway above the Mzymta River and dips in the terrain, including the first cable-stayed bridge in southern Russia.

The wide road doesn’t twist and turn the way many passages to ski resorts do, and it lacks the treacherous feel of many mountain byways. (Anyone who has driven from Denver to Beaver Creek knows what I mean.)

The snow-capped-mountain views along the way are spectacular, but often partially obstructed by utility poles, guard houses, and what appear to be storage sheds and maintenance facilities. And that brings to mind what may be the greater cost of the road and rail link to the mountains: damage to the environment.

The road and its infrastructure pass straight through Sochi National Park, disturbing the natural habitats of endangered and threatened species.


Now the manmade habitats on the roadside appear designed mostly for security personnel. On the way to mountain venues, Olympic security measures appear most prevalent. At one point, there was a large cluster of camo-green military tents on the right side.

All along the road, police and military personnel are spread out at irregular intervals. That includes a couple of checkpoints where everyone on media buses has credentials scanned and other vehicles are stopped and thoroughly inspected.

Russian officials hope that, in the future, the road brings tourists to Krasnaya Polyana for ski vacations. But even if that happens, and as impressive as the road is from an engineering standpoint, it will remain an enduring symbol of the costliest Olympics.


Dry area

Hockey and beer. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, Valentine’s Day and chocolate, Gretzky and 99.

Not in Sochi.


To abide by Russian law, beer is not sold inside any venue at the Sochi Games. It’s readily available at concession stands in Olympic Park, at restaurants and bars and at various national team houses in the area. Just not to the general public in the arenas where the games and races take place.

‘‘You have a lot of opportunity to buy the alcohol in the concessions and food on the street, everywhere,’’ Sochi 2014 CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko said. ‘‘But in the venues it is only allowed in the special boxes. That is not for the public. That is in accordance to the Russian law.’’

That has lent itself to a different kind of buzz in the arenas during these games.

‘‘I did notice you didn’t see them drinking in the stands,’’ Canadian women’s hockey player Jayna Hefford said. ‘‘It’s definitely different than what we’re used to.’’

Adjustments are being made. The Canada fan house has a beer refrigerator that opens only when it scans a Canadian passport. And beer drinking is a common sight throughout Olympic Park. , so fans are finding a way to make things work


Love is in the air

In case you’re wondering: Yes, people celebrate Valentine’s Day in Russia, just like in many other countries.

And fancy dinners, flowers, and chocolates are just as popular here as they are elsewhere.

Here’s how some athletes and others are marking the day:

 US short-track skater Jessica Smith of Melvindale, Mich., got her fiance Mike Kooreman into the athletes’ village on a pass that expired in the evening. ‘‘He brought me roses and some chocolates,’’ she said. ‘‘We’ll probably just go to the cafeteria. It’s a real hot date.’’ Friday was their third dating anniversary. She says they’ll celebrate more when they get home.

 At the curling rink, British curling skip David Murdoch didn’t remember, but said he should probably send something to his wife: ‘‘Thanks for reminding me.’’

 South Korea curler Kim Jisun said she’s ignoring it to train and be with her team: ‘‘It’s not a special day for us.’’

 IOC spokeswoman Aleksandra Kosterina had a small surprise waiting for her when she got to her daily press briefing: ‘‘Whoever gave it to me, thank you for the valentine.’’


Presidential sweet

In a powerful symbol of international sports detente, Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped in on US Olympic headquarters to chat about the Winter Games and the upcoming Russia-US hockey showdown.

He even wore a red Team USA pin on his lapel.

Putin spent about half an hour at USA House in Sochi’s Olympic Park, sitting on a couch talking with US Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst and CEO Scott Blackmun. From there, he made a stop at Canada House next door.

‘‘Putin was very gracious,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘What I would remember is it sends a strong message about the importance of sport to Russia.’’

The Russian leader looked relaxed, wearing a dark jacket with an open-collar light blue shirt. He had a glass of red wine as he asked the Americans about their experience in Sochi so far.

‘‘We talked about mostly our impression of the games,’’ Blackmun said. ‘‘He was very interested in knowing what we thought about the level of infrastructure, the level of services. We complimented him on the great operations so far.’’