As London 2012 closes, Olympic addicts are already getting excited about the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia.
A surprise winner back in 2007, the tourist resort area on the southwest coast of the Black Sea near Russia's border with Georgia won the bid to host the games following intensive campaigning from noted sports fan and Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Sochi beat out Peyongchang in South Korea which, at the time, was considered to be the favorite choice for host city.
Adding fuel to the early excitement fire was Evan Lysacek's announcement on "Today" Friday that he would be returning to professional skating competition and hopes to make the U.S. team that will be Russia bound. The revelation gives Lysacek two years to get back into elite form - he took gold in men's figure skating at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics - and audiences a chance to regain their Olympic fervor following London.
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Sochi, where palm-lined beaches are set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, has been a popular vacation draw for Russians for over a century and has 343, 285 residents according to a 2010 census. To brush off the dust, raise the area to Olympic standards and host the games will cost Russia a reported $30 billion. Every venue has to be constructed by scratch according to the Washington Post. An upgrade of the telecommunication and power systems is underway while 220 miles of new roads and 125 miles of railway are being built to avoid gridlock.
Even with all the building and investment, Sochi will be the most compact Winter Games in Olympic history with only two multisport venues - one in the mountains for the downhill events as well as city venues for hockey, skating, curling and the opening and closing ceremonies.
Private investment in the region has also increased. Rosa Khutor, the new ski resort where many of the downhill events will be staged has a projected private industry cost of $2 billion according to the AP. That amount buys 60 miles of new ski paths. Some 20,000 new hotel rooms are also being built in the area.
"We’re creating the new standard in environmentally-friendly construction, and we’re creating the volunteerism culture that did not exist in our country before,” said Dmitri Chernyshenko, president and chief executive of the Sochi Winter Games organizing committee, in an interview with the AP.
Like London with its security woes, the Sochi Games are already making headlines of the negative variety. Russian officials recently defied the Olympic Charter by banning Pride House, a gay-targeted venue for LGBT athletes and allies during the games which first appeared in Vancouver in 2010 and then again in London. While the move has activists citing human rights violations, the I.O.C. has yet to make a statement concerning the ban.
On the fun side, the five mascots for the Winter Games were announced in February following a public vote during the live television show "Talismaniya Sochi 2014." The hare, polar bear and leopard have been chosen, while the Ray of Light and Snowflake were named as Paralympic Winter Games mascots. It was the first time in the history of the Olympic movement that an entire country was involved with the selection process.
While tickets are still not available for sale, online registration for news and updates is available at tickets.sochi2014.com.
The XXII Winter Olympic Games will be held in Sochi, Russia from February 7-23, 2014 and broadcast on NBC.