Sochi: Frozen tips and tropical bottoms
I can clearly remember standing in Whistler at the 2008 Winter Olympics and looking at someone who was wearing a wooly “Sochi” bobble hat and thinking; “Japan hosting a Winter Olympics? Surely not…” Obviously, my old geography teacher would be overjoyed at my blistering lack of global knowledge. It turns out Sochi is actually in Russia and, coincidentally, so am I.
The Sochi 2014 Winter Games is due to begin in one year so AFP sent me here to check out the site, test the facilities and get to know my way around. This came as a bit of a twin shock as an email landed in my inbox a matter of days after the Paralympic Games finished, telling me that, as I was going to be shooting the Games in Russia, AFP would like to send me to scout the area out a year in advance, during the current test events. Double win.
Never having been to Russia before, I had no idea what to expect apart from the fact that it was a Winter Games and so therefore COLD. As it turns out, a quick check on “BeWeather” told me that while London shivered at 3 degrees centigrade, Sochi was shivering in… erm… 17 degrees centigrade. Who am I to question such a decision. It makes perfect sense. Honestly. *cough*
Flying via Moscow, I had the pleasure of drinking the most expensive cappuccino I have ever experienced. I thought it seemed a bit high as I paid but nearly wasted most of it as it sprayed from my nose as I worked out that it cost me £7.64.
Arriving in Sochi, I jumped into a
rolling deathtrap local taxi and headed up to my destination, the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana. You’ll have to forgive my swipe at the transport there but I’ve never been the best passenger and since hearing that the biggest cause of injury for working media in a war zone is traffic accidents, I feel even less confident. The day’s chariot had no seat belts, was leaning at a decidedly rakish angle and was driven by a guy who believed that the perfect welding work on his Skoda would easily withstand any impact with oncoming traffic as he turned yet another blind corner on the wrong side of the road.
Anyway, I promise not to rant about that again, or at least until the next time I have to get into any form of transport.
The accommodation for my 12 day residency is an apartment in a brand new block at the very furthest tip of Krasnaya Polyana. When I say brand new, it really is brand new. When Getty sports photographer Richard Heathcote came here a year ago, they were pouring concrete into the foundations for nearly all of these buildings. As it is, the buildings are now up but many are still unfinished. Travelling up from Sochi feels at times as though you are driving onto a building site as cement mixers rush between the scaffold-covered shells of next year’s athlete’s village and business offices. It’s nice to get a well-cleaned room when you check into somewhere but having to remove the shrink-wrap from the fridge plug and connect up the lights felt like I was popping the blister-pack on the building.
My first day of shooting started with a trip up to the peak of Mount Aigba, the location for the snowboarding and skiing events. Feeling decidedly unprepared for peak conditions, I gingerly tiptoed around on the ice for a while and managed not to slide to my death before heading back down to more boot-friendly conditions.
With no sport on at the Sliding Centre yet, the afternoon was spent wandering down towards the two nearest villages with Reuters photographer Kai Pfaffenbach. The wander ended up being more of a hike which in turn morphed into a trek as we headed further down the valley.
With the focus on construction, workers and residents, the walk took us off the beaten track and into the residential areas of those who have lived here for long before this explosion of development was suggested and plan on being here for many years to come. With so much change happening on such a rapid timeline, it really must be quite a turbulent time for the locals of Krasnaya Polyana. The dust kicked up on the roads alone is enough to cause some serious gasping for air at times.
With so much building and development going into preparing for a 3 week event in early 2014, it will be very interesting to revisit the lives of these people in five years.
Now, on with the sport…