AP

Sunny Olympic host Sochi turns into World Cup playground

1 Comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Warm weather, beaches, amusement parks.

It’s not exactly what Australian fan Adam McKinley expected to find when he decided to make the trip to Russia for the World Cup.

But that’s exactly what he got in Sochi, the city introduced to the world as a winter destination during the Olympics four years ago, with its coastal location on the Black Sea and its majestic snow-capped peaks a short distance away.

“Whenever I think of Russia, I picture something like cold Siberia. I picture, like, real cold stuff,” McKinley said. “I’ve been blown away by this. We even went for a swim and it was lovely. It was just nice and warm. We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Sochi wasn’t so cold during the Olympics, either, with temperatures frequently climbing into the mid-50s in the Olympic Park. The chillier mountains are roughly an hour’s drive away.

But in the summer, the snow is replaced by sun, lots of it, as Russia’s seaside playground explodes into a scene more akin to Southern California or Miami Beach than Siberia.

“The moment we saw Peru was going to play in Sochi, we wanted to come here,” said Peru supporter Luis Medina, one of the thousands of World Cup fans who have come to the city. “We knew this was going to be the place to be.”

Even the teams based in Sochi were taking full advantage of the region’s attractions. Brazil was feeling right at home, enjoying the warm temperatures and a private beach at the team’s hotel in possibly the closest setting to what it had back home before traveling to Russia.

“We are having lunch and breakfast with a view of the sea. That’s a plus for us,” goalkeeper Alisson said shortly after Brazil arrived.

The Brazilians fought hard to secure Sochi as their base. The Austrian federation initially picked the five-star hotel where Brazil is staying, but luckily for the Brazilians, Austria did not end up qualifying for the World Cup.

Germany stayed in Sochi during the Confederations Cup last year, but this time it chose a different location in part because it said it couldn’t secure a proper private training field. After the opening loss to Mexico, some local media questioned whether the decision not to return to Sochi played a part in the team’s disappointing performance.

Poland also is based in Sochi. On a day off, the team visited the city’s dolphin park, one of the most famous in the region.

The micro-district of Adler, where the Olympic Park sits and the World Cup matches are played, is a hub of activities catering to tourists of all ages and tastes.

Many gather at the rock-covered beach by Fisht Stadium, which is hosting six World Cup matches, including one in the round of 16 and another in the quarterfinals.

But if sunbathing isn’t high on the agenda, there is plenty more to do.

Sochi Park, known as the Russian Disneyland, is walking distance from the stadium. Based on local fairy tales, it’s the country’s first modern theme park — and one of the biggest.

It was mostly empty during the Olympics, but four years later it has been popular among World Cup fans. Officials estimate the tournament has added about 2,000 people a day to the park, which annually receives 1 million visitors.

“It’s a shame we can’t stay longer and enjoy more of the park because we have to go to the game,” Panama supporter Nathalie Nielsen Atencio said.

The park includes a “roller-coaster” restaurant, with orders sliding down to customers on metal tracks. It’s believed to be the only restaurant of its type in Russia, and one of nine in the world.

Also near the park is the Sochi Autodrom, which hosts Formula One races but is open to people wanting guided tours and even a chance — for a price — to drive the circuit.

“There are so many things to do in Sochi,” said Alexey Titov, who is in charge of the company that organizes the Russian Grand Prix and operates the track. “It has developed greatly in the past four years since the Olympics have gone. You can see it has changed massively. This place went from a swamp in 2008 to a thriving park with restaurants, food, activities, things to do.”

By the track there’s also a go-karting circuit, and the remaining Olympic venues offer indoor sports like tennis, skating and hockey.

Sochi’s downtown is some 20 miles from the Olympic park, but activities there also revolve around the waterfront, including a lengthy promenade of storefronts, souvenir stands and water-related activities connecting the heart of the city with the seaport where the Fan Fest is taking place.

Beach clubs playing a mix of pop hits from Europe and the United States are mixed with more family-oriented places to enjoy the sun, like waterparks with slides and splash-pads on the shore of the Black Sea.

The train line connecting Adler and Sochi runs mostly along the shore and is filled with small pockets of land teeming with beachgoers.

All those waterfront activities don’t include the resorts of the Krasnaya Polyana mountain cluster 30 miles inland, where the Alpine events of the Winter Olympics were held. They offer a summer attraction for those not as interested in the beach.

Martin Fasth was visiting from Sweden for the World Cup and was impressed with all the options.

“We kind of expected something better than Sweden,” he said, “but not something this nice.”

MORE: Carli Lloyd on retirement plans, career milestones, more in Q&A

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Sochi doping lab now a restaurant serving ‘B Sample,’ ‘Meldonium’

AP
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Would you drink a sample from the Sochi doping lab?

The building at the center of a Russia doping scandal which rocked the 2014 Winter Olympics now hosts a restaurant celebrating its notoriety amid a tourism boom.

Former lab director Grigory Rodchenkov has testified to doping Russian stars and covering up for them, but four years on, the cocktails offered in the same space contain only alcohol, not steroids.

There’s the B Sample, named after the second test that often confirms whether a doping athlete is guilty. It’s a punchy shot of tequila, sambuca and hot sauce.

Meldonium, the substance for which tennis star Maria Sharapova tested positive in 2016, now lends its name to a mixture of absinthe and Red Bull.

Performance-enhancing? Probably not.

The unusual menu is “so as not to forget the story of this building … it’s (about) history,” manager Elena Dyatlova told The Associated Press, though she considers the doping scandals “really unpleasant for Russia.”

Rodchenkov says he served a different kind of cocktail back in 2014.

He’s testified he dispensed steroids dissolved in vermouth or whiskey to top Russian athletes ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in a state-backed doping program, then covered up their drug use by swapping tainted samples for clean ones through a hole in the wall of the lab’s supposedly secure storeroom.

Any evidence of that hole seems long gone after remodeling to create the restaurant and space for other businesses.

The International Olympic Committee upheld Rodchenkov’s testimony despite objections from the Russian government.

The IOC banned 43 Russian athletes from the Olympics for life and forced Russia to compete under a neutral flag in PyeongChang.

Away from the lab, Sochi is a city defined by its Olympic legacy.

Tourists flock for selfies in front of plaques in the Olympic Park bearing the names of 2014 medalists, including those sanctioned by the IOC.

Time and the weather have nearly erased some names, just as the IOC erased 13 Russian medals from its 2014 records.

For many visitors, the banned athletes are still champions.

“I react very badly to this. I think our athletes shouldn’t be left like this and shouldn’t be competing under a neutral flag,” said Karina Tolmachyova, a lawyer from the industrial city of Saratov on her first skiing holiday in Sochi.

The Russian government spent an estimated $51 billion on the Olympics and related infrastructure for Sochi, and the city is seeing the benefits.

Deputy mayor Sergei Yurchenko said the population has boomed by 50 percent to 600,000 people since the Olympics as Russians are tempted to move south for better weather.

The rapid growth is forcing local authorities to build more schools.

Sochi offers skiing in winter and beaches in summer, and Yurchenko said 6.5 million tourists visited last year, around 85 percent of them Russians.

“The Olympics was a big boost to the whole development of the city,” he told the AP. “We consider the city’s become practically like new, as if it were built all over again.” That’s certainly true of its tourism attractions, though many older houses still remain.

Political turbulence has affected other once-favored destinations, indirectly helping to boost Sochi’s profile.

Russian visitors spurned Turkey for much of 2016 when the two countries’ governments clashed over the Turkish shootdown of a Russian fighter plane in November 2015.

Flights to Egypt were suspended in 2015 and will only start again next month after an airliner carrying Russian tourists was destroyed in a suspected bombing.

In the Caucasus mountains above Sochi, business is strong, too.

During the Olympics, the mountain village of Rosa Khutor was the base for many snow sports.

However, numerous new shops were unfinished, prompting visitors to wonder if they’d ever open once the Olympics were finished.

Now there’s an array of businesses chiefly aimed at the wealthier Russians who can afford ski lessons, while a casino draws visitors from Turkey — where gambling is severely restricted — and a concert hall advertises shows by star Russian musicians.

The next step for Sochi is the soccer World Cup in June and July.

The seafront stadium that held the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies is now reconfigured as a soccer stadium to welcome teams including Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Portugal and world champion Germany.

Local authorities are hoping a successful World Cup will bring more foreign tourists. However, its sporting legacy is far from clear.

The Fisht Olympic Stadium has hosted just seven soccer games to date, four of them at last summer’s Confederations Cup. Sochi no longer has a professional club.

FC Sochi played one game last year in front of 6,000 fans in the 47,000-seat arena, then soon after said it was “going on a one-year break” to rethink its strategy.

There have been no updates on the club’s status since June. Management did not respond to a request for comment.

Since 2003, there have been five failed attempts to run a club in the city, not counting the most recent incarnation of FC Sochi.

All collapsed due to financial problems.

“The issue is that clubs in Russia are usually financed by (government) budgets, but in this case the Sochi city budget isn’t able to support clubs,” Yurchenko said. “We’re all hoping that an investor will come in after the World Cup and we’ll enter the 2019 season with a Sochi football club.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: List of Russia Olympic medals stripped, new Sochi medal standings

More Russian medalists stripped, banned from Olympics

Getty Images
2 Comments

Eleven more Sochi Olympians from Russia were disqualified by the IOC and banned from the Games for life, including two Sochi medalists, bringing the total to 43 athletes and 13 medals gone.

The athletes banned in Friday’s announcement relating to Russia’s doping violations:

– Lugers Albert Demtschenko and Tatyana Ivanova (Sochi silver medalists)
– Speed skaters Ivan Skobrev and Artem Kuznetcov
– Cross-country skiers Nikita Kryukov, Alexander Bessmertnykh and Natalia Matveeva
– Bobsledders Lyudmila Udobkina and Maxim Belugin
– Hockey players Tatyana Burina and Anna Shchukina

More from the IOC on the decisions is here.

In Sochi, Demtschenko became the oldest Winter Olympic medalist in an individual event when he took luge silver at age 42 in his record seventh Winter Games (Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai also competed in his seventh Winter Olympics in Sochi and hopes for his eighth in PyeongChang).

Italian Armin Zoeggeler, who took bronze in Sochi for his record sixth straight Olympic medal in one individual event, is in line to be upgraded.

As is the Sochi fourth-place finisher, Andi Langenhan of Germany (another German, Felix Loch, won gold).

Demtschenko and Ivanova made up half the Russian team for the first Olympic luge relay.

The Russians have been stripped of their silver medal from that event, with Latvia in line to go from bronze to silver and Canada potentially going from fourth to bronze. The Americans were sixth.

Demtschenko is retired.

Ivanova is Russia’s top female luger ranking third in the world last season and 10th this season. She won the World Cup race at the PyeongChang Olympic track in February.

The cross-country skier Kryukov was one of two individual Olympic champions for Russia at the 2010 Olympics, a title he will not lose for his Sochi DQ.

Kryukov and Bessmertnykh already had Sochi relay silver medals stripped due to teammates’ doping.

Kryukov, 32, last finished in the top 10 of World Cup standings in 2014.

The speed skater Skobrev won two individual Olympic medals in Vancouver but did not make a Sochi podium.

Skobrev is retired.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: List of Russia Olympic medals stripped; new Sochi medal standings