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Sochi: the city the Olympics will build



The biggest attraction at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver isn't Heineken House. It isn't Swiss House, Hockey House or the Government of Canada pavilion.

No, the one that's really turning heads is Sochi World, an installation by the Russian delegation to the Winter Olympics. Also known as "Russky Dom," it has taken over Vancouver's Telus World of Science as a way to promote the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

Lineups to the pavilion stretch as long as city blocks, in two directions. People wait literally hours to get a glimpse of what the Russians have in store for their Olympics.

Naysayers at the Vancouver Games have decried the cost of holding them - $6 billion is the most common estimate we've had.

Wait until they get a load of Russia. The most optimistic estimate for the 2014 Games is $12 billion, with an estimated $7.3 billion coming from the Federation Government alone. That's more than the whole cost of Vancouver's Games.

The money is going to a massive infrastructure project that will essentially build an Olympic city on top of what's already there. Sochi doesn't have a single venue and everything will have to be built from scratch.

Rosneft, a Russian oil company, is contributing $180 million - the biggest capital investment any private donor has ever made into an Olympics.

The only spokesman authorized to talk about the Sochi Games is Dmitriy Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. He's not available for an interview.

Once inside the pavilion you're greeted by ambassadors dressed like Russian royalty from the pre-Soviet area - only not really. Look closer and you realize you're talking to a life-size glass cutout with the Tsar and Tsarina projected into it. There are similar contraptions at infodesks throughout the "Dom," supplementing information offered by stunning Russian women.

First on the tour is a scaled-down model of what Sochi will look like in 2014. The layout is simple: all indoor Olympic venues will be housed in a village overlooking the Black Sea. The Bolshoi Ice Palace will house the hockey events, the adjacent Central Stadium the opening ceremonies, all of them in an area known as the "Coastal Cluster."

A railway transport system will connect the village to a ski resort, where all the alpine venues are housed in a complex called the "Mountain Cluster." The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort will host alpine skiing events while all Nordic races will be held at the Biathlon and Ski Complex, among other venues.

The lead-up to 2014 has seen organizers highlight the more mystical aspects of the region. Sochi is located in the ancient Kingdom of Colchis, famous in Greek mythology because it's where the hero Jason stole the Golden Fleece and swept Medea back with him to Iolcus, where he later betrayed the woman and she exacted a grisly revenge.

The narrative glosses over Sochi's more recent history as the homeland of the Circassians, an indigenous population of the Caucassus.

A policy memo composed by Sufian Zhemukhov, a professor at Georgetown Unviersity, says the Circassian issue has been largely overlooked by Russian authorities.

Sochi is the site of a defeat at the hands of the Russians after it struggled with the Circassians for control of the region in 1864. After 100 years of fighting, a diaspora followed, with Circassians settling in areas such as Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

2014 marks the 150 th anniversary of that defeat and Zhemukhov worries that a remaining population of 700,000 could mount serious opposition to the Games if their concerns aren't addressed.

The Circassians, he says, could look like neglected indigenous peoples. He doesn't yet consider the issue a threat but worries it could become a bigger problem after the Games.