Sochi-Park to one day be Russian Disney

SOCHI, Russia — With all the talk about what was half-ready for the Sochi Olympics, there has been little attention paid to something that isn’t even remotely half-ready, but has become an integral part of the visitor experience.

That would be Sochi-Park, also known by locals as “the Russian Disneyland.” One day, this will be a shimmering land of amusements, fantasies, soaring towers, and breathtaking rides, all accompanied by the cartoon characters beloved by generations of Russians.


In President Vladimir Putin’s vision of post-Olympic Sochi, the park will play a central role in making this resort on the Black Sea a must-see. At the moment, many a ruble will be spent before Russian Disneyland is ready for Mickey Mousesky.

Right now, the only part open is a cluster of colorful houses styled as a Russian-version of Main Street U.S.A. What surrounds it looks like something out of one of those pictures of Disneyland being built. Large swaths of barren land punctuated by soaring, colorful, tantalizingly twisty roller coasters. A map of the park handed out at the entrance with the roughly $9 ticket shows several attractions marked as “coming soon,” but the territory they occupy belies that forecast. (Lots of vital wetlands were paved over to get this far, but it’s not like Disney didn’t do that.)

As often happens with Russian prestige projects that are taking a long time to finish, Sochi-Park has had several official openings. In just two weeks here I have heard it was supposed to open fully later this year, or maybe next year, or perhaps 2022.

None of this is to say the place is not fun. And being located just a slight detour off the Olympic Park path, it offered a nice respite from the Games on a spring-like day.

Children played chess, checkers, and Monopoly on oversized boards. Children and adults took rides on the “fantasy carousel,” and two exhausted reporters napped on a park bench. Stands sold soft drinks and snacks, and a machine pumped bubbles past brightly colored towers where they faded against the backdrop of the snow-capped Caucasus peaks and the azure sky. A few of the storefronts on the main street were open — on one, a portly Cossack encouraged you to try to pick up his weighty club with one hand.

At the moment, this is slight fare with which to draw Russians to Sochi instead of spending airfare and lodging on, say, a trip to Turkey or Cyprus. But if the project can steer clear of the graft and overruns that made the Games look less-than-ready for prime time, maybe the idea that Russians will skip the Riviera to lounge in Sochi will seem a little less, well, goofy.

— David Filipov


Funny face

Ashley Wagner calls the popularity of the photo of her reaction to a disappointing score ‘‘absolutely hilarious.’’

The American figure skater was not thrilled with her marks after her short program in the Olympic team event last Saturday. A shot of the sour expression on her face quickly went viral.

Back in Sochi on Saturday after spending several days training in Austria, Wagner called it ‘‘one of the most awesome things that ever happened to me in my life.’’

She found out about the photo Sunday morning when a friend posted it to her Facebook wall, and Wagner thought ‘‘this is either going to be really good or really bad.’’

‘‘Luckily,’’ she says, ‘‘people thought it was funny.’’

— Associated Press


Wine country?

Vodka is the czar of Russian drinks — ubiquitous, powerful, and sometimes crude. Russia’s wines are like a provincial nobleman, little-known but aspiring to refinement.

Foreign visitors to the Winter Olympics may be surprised Russia even has a wine industry. Most of the sprawling country has far too many frost days for grapes to ripen adequately, but a small corner of the country, including the Sochi area, stays warm enough long enough.

So local producers are aiming to educate Olympics visitors by setting up sales booths and conducting tastings.

At one tasting, Zhanna Sadovskaya of the Myskhako Winery puts some Russian twists on the stereotype of oenophile prissiness.

She gives instructions on how to hold the glass, savor the aroma, and contemplate the color — all part of the ritual — then says, ‘‘We should speak about wine, but not too seriously.’’

The winery’s operations are about 120 miles up the Black Sea coast from Sochi in an area where, she admits, the soil isn’t particularly good.

That’s OK, she adds in a cryptic note of Slavic sternness, because ‘‘wine should suffer.’’

A Myskhako Merlot won a bronze medal at a wine competition in London last year and ‘‘it was a shock — a surprise for everybody,’’ Sadovskaya says.

— Associated Press


Water world

Lydia Lassila wants her home country to get all wet.

The two-time Olympic medalist in women’s aerials says it’s time for Australia to get serious about developing a sport in which it has reached the podium in each of the last four Winter Games.

Atop Lassila’s wish list is a water ramp that would allow hopeful aerialists to train throughout the year in a country not exactly known for its harsh winters.

‘‘It’s something we don’t need, but something that we damn well should have if we want to continue winning medals in this sport,’’ she said Saturday, less than 24 hours after capturing bronze.

Australian aerialists are often forced to spend long months overseas to train, an expense that she says hasn’t allowed her country to recruit a new wave that will take over once she and her contemporaries retire.

‘‘It’s been so challenging,’’ Lassila said.

‘‘It’s a game changer. We shouldn’t wait. We should do it now.’’

— Associated Press


A leading role

Taylor Kitsch had one of the best seats in the house to witness the US beat Russia in a heart-pounding shootout.

The Canadian actor is in the Navy SEAL drama ‘‘Lone Survivor,’’ a movie that might help him go from being known for his role in ‘‘Friday Night Lights’’ on TV to becoming a big-screen star.

That’s business.

For him, hockey is personal.

And, he loves it.

‘‘I'm Canadian, right?’’ he asked rhetorically.

The 32-year-old Kitsch played the sport for 20 years, starting when he was 3, and became friends with Team Canada and Rangers forward Rick Nash.

He has become friendly with NHL officials as well, setting him up for a ticket to watch the Americans and Russians.

‘‘It’s a dream come true,’’ Kitsch said.

The actor met Canadian and Lighting forward Martin St. Louis during the first intermission.

Kitsch, who was in Moscow to promote ‘‘Lone Survivor,’’ jumped at the opportunity to watch hockey at the Winter Olympics after missing the Vancouver Games — in his hometown — four years ago because he was filming ‘‘John Carter.’’

‘‘I was in London, of all places,’’ he lamented.

Kitsch wished he could stay for more hockey games — he also watched Canada beat Norway — but he’s scheduled to leave Sunday night.

‘‘This is so great,’’ he said.

— Associated Press


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