Saturday, July 07, 2007

Skiing in the Palms

On July 4, the International Olympic Committee met in Guatemala to choose the site of the 2014 Winter Games. After Salzburg, Austria, was knocked out in preliminary voting (presumably in some part due to the big doping scandal plaguing the Austrian biathlon and cross-country skiing teams), the final two sites were both unusual ones: Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Sochi, Russia. Swayed by the presence (and deep pockets) of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who made the trip to Guatemala City to lobby for the Russian site, voters ultimately selected Sochi, a city on the Black Sea which, though at the same latitude as Madison, Wisconsin, enjoys a near-tropical climate. (Imagine palm trees on Lake Mendota.)

Obviously, if hockey teams from Raleigh and Tampa Bay can win the Stanley Cup, Sochi can host all the indoor, ice-dependent events right in town. But where are they going to hold the outdoor, snow-dependent events? Up in the very high mountains just outside the city. The Caucasus are already home to one of Russia's biggest ski resorts, and Putin announced that the Russian government is going to pour $12 billion into the Sochi area, sparking a miniature boom in many of the companies which will undertake all the work - from building the nordic ski trails to, you know, finishing the electrical grid in Sochi.

At the end of this seven year plan, and probably after more corruption than a Republican lobbyist's cigar break, Sochi 2014 may offer the host country the chance to dominate a games to an extent unknown since Norway dominated at Lillehammer in 1994. At least the Sochi committee is keeping the stakes low, saying before the vote that the "hopes and dreams of Russian nation rest on IOC decision" and after that “this is one of the most important days in Russia’s history."

(Cross-posted to Blowing & Drifting.)