Olympic Dreams: Will Sochi Rehabilitate Russia’s Image?

It would be so easy if it were just about new buildings. Those are doing quite well; the violent face-lift that Russia is giving the Black Sea resort city of Sochi before its 2014 Winter Olympics is well ahead of schedule. Where wetlands once lay along the shore, there are now gleaming shells of stadiums for hockey, skating and curling. In the alpine valley of nearby Krasnaya Polyana, the site of a freestyle-snowboard run has already been leveled and graded; the steel-and-glass biathlon stadium, built by energy giant Gazprom, is nearly finished.

But these Olympics are about more than buildings, more than even national prestige. Russia desperately wants these Games to transform its brand. The world mocks the so-called managed democracy that has Prime Minister Vladimir Putin poised to return to the presidency. The economy is so profoundly corrupt and addicted to oil and gas that Google co-founder Sergey Brin called his birth country “Nigeria with snow.” Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, a Putin ally, says people have the wrong idea about Russia and the Games will change that. “We want, through Olympic Games, through sport, to open a different Russia, a new Russia,” he says.

text © Nathan Thornburgh

The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics