Sochi to Get Massive Games Makeover

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People will find dust in the air in Sochi as well as cranes and workers on roofs. There are sounds of the construction that's transforming this section of Russia into the face the country will present to the world when the Sochi Olympic Games begin in February 2014.

This is no minor project. With a reported budget of $18 billion, these will be the most expensive Winter Olympic Games in history.

By comparison, Vancouver-Whistler required a minor facelift at one-third of the cost: improvements to the Sea to Sky Highway here, the new Canada Line there. Touch-ups to Rogers Arena and BC Place Stadium, a new Olympic oval, curling venue and convention centre.

In Russia, everything is being built exclusively for the Games. That includes not only every venue for the ice events that will be contested in a coastal cluster on the Black Sea, but an entire mountain resort at Krasnaya Polyana to host the alpine events, and new hotels to house the athletes, media, officials and spectators.

A few years ago, nothing existed in these mountains. Now, there are ski hills, a sliding centre, ski jumps, a halfpipe tunnel, and a cross-country and biathlon centre.

Not only are existing roadways being improved, but work is underway on a new rail line and highway linking the coast to the mountains. It's a 48-kilometre journey fr om the coastal cluster of venues to the mountain cluster, making these the most compact Games in Winter Olympic history.

Meanwhile, improvements to the transportation system between Moscow and Sochi, which is 1,300 km south of the capital on the Black Sea, should cut the travel time in half.

"You're visiting one of the most exciting parts of the world, in terms of what's happening," Kevan Gosper, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's press commission, told journalists at the World Press Briefing in Sochi last month.

"What Russia is doing with Sochi to showcase itself to the world is very much like what the Chinese did with the Beijing Olympics. Russia is making a new presentation of itself to the world through these Games. ... It's one of the most extraordinary transformations of a community I've ever seen. It's one of the fastest-changing landscapes not just in Europe, but on the globe."