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  • Tuesday Talk - Sochi Chief on Innsbruck 2012, Torch Relay, Test Events, Building Delays


    (ATR) Dmitry Chernyshenko says he can learn a lot from these first-ever Winter Youth Olympics.

    Read on for more from the Sochi 2014 president and CEO in this wide-ranging roundtable with reporters including ATR's Brian Pinelli.

    Q: Tell us about your role in the Innsbruck 2012 torch relay.
    Dmitry Chernyshenko was torchbearer number 2002 out of total of 2,012 for the Innsbruck Winter Youth Olympic Games. (Sochi 2014)

    A: I’ll probably never in the future be so close to the lighting of the cauldron itself. I was [torchbearer number] 2002, so the nine or 10 people remaining were part of the opening ceremony itself.

    I was at the very end and very close to the president of the organizing committee of the Youth Olympic Games [Peter Bayer].

    Q: Did he hand the torch to you?

    A: Yes, he handed it over to me.

    You know, I also was surprised at the team which was behind the organization of the torch relay. They’re part of our team. I didn’t know that. I was surprised that our suppliers are the same.

    Actually, the torch relay is a great tool. This is what we expect to surprise the world with next year. Our torch relay will be the longest in the history of the Games, but we are not trying to impress the world with the number of kilometers. As the biggest country in the world, we’ve got some advantages.

    The reasons why it’s so long is that the Russian citizens even two years to the Games are already so excited and so engaged in all the right ways.

    Having in mind the benchmark that we should provide 95 percent of our citizens the ability to physically reach the torch relay, that led to the route and the length of the torch relay, and now we have counted that we have the information from all 83 regions of Russia representing 140-something million people that the length will be about 45,000km so far.

    Q: Are you still planning to go into space and to the bottom of Lake Baikal?

    A: I will not repeat it. I spoke to the media several times already, but we’ve got some plans, so I look forward to having a picture of the Olympic flame in outer space. We’ll get something.

    Q: In terms of your plans internationally, there’s a lot of talk about the ice rink that you’re going to have at London 2012 at Marble Arch? Where are you with that?
    Plans calling for Sochi to use Marble Arch for a promotional display during the London Olympics were formally rejected by Westminster City Council in November. (Getty Images)

    A: First of all, we have to be very careful about blaming anybody.

    It came to the time when all the details were on the table, and we realized and [Westminster City Council] realized and local organizers realized that it would all create such a mountain of activity in a rather small landmark that might disturb Londoners and the visitors, and we respect this. The last thing we want is to create a problem for anybody.

    My main goal is to repeat and maybe overtake the success in Sochi World in Vancouver when we had lines of 3,000 to 4,000 people who wanted to learn more about Sochi and about Russia.

    Sochi World will be in London. Of course, we will be represented in Marble Arch because it’s a landmark in London and it’s on the crossroads of transportation flow and the movement of our target audience. We will somehow will be represented in the Marble Arch.

    While we’re finding with Westminster City Council another solution, we will build our traditional ice rink that we started in Guatemala [2005 IOC Session] as our calling card.

    We already committed to the public that we will provide some free entertainment with our best figure skaters, and during the Summer Games it will be a very exciting and very efficient way to promote Sochi as a product, to attract attention.

    Q: Can you talk a bit about the winter ahead? We’re less than one month to the first World Cup alpine test event there at Rosa Kutor followed by World Cups in snowboard and freestyle. Obviously, it’s an exciting time, but is there snow there? Is everybody ready? It’s a big start.

    A: It’s snowing like hell in the mountains, and I wish we could have the same amount of snow in 2014.

    We have created a special program called Hot Snow, so the snow will be guaranteed no matter what the weather will be. Even 15 degrees Celsius will not make us sweat.
    Three cauldrons now burn above Innsbruck, two for the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Games as well as a third for these inaugural Winter YOG. (ATR)

    Talking about the test events, you have to understand in Russia this is the first time in the history of our country we have an international level ski resort. It was opened the day after Christmas last year, and it’s a real something. I was so impressed that in such a short period of time our investors have built the infrastructure which really makes it deserving to be a destination for the world.

    Then the remaining challenge is how to make this effectively operational. Take Innsbruck. This is the very heart of the winter sports part of the world. They’ve got fantastic experience in handling all kinds of events of any scale and three Olympic Games now.

    By the way, it was a very exciting moment when the three cauldrons were lit on the stadium.

    Of course, the incredible level of efficiency, how to handle, how to decorate, how not to overspend the money for that, and that is what we have to learn.

    That is why we need our test events, and that is why we are so serious about staging the biggest test event program in the history of the Olympic Games. We’re committed to having at least a full two seasons of test events, and we’ll fulfill our commitment.

    Q: Looking at the state of preparations for the Games, where are you with construction in Sochi?

    A: We are well on track, and our major goal is as I said that we will have a full two seasons [of test events]. 87 percent of the infrastructure has been done already, and we should understand that Olympic and Olympic-related infrastructure is less than 15 percent of the construction projects that we have in Sochi now.

    This is the first time ever in the history of our country that deadlines are really deadlines. They’re not moveable.

    We’re using this opportunity to speed up some processes.
    Sochi's coastal cluster, now Europe's biggest building site. (SC Olympstroy)

    Sochi wasn't developed since the middle of last century. We should understand that this is the only resort for such a big country. It was a smart solution to use the Olympic Games as an unmovable deadline to redevelop the region.

    The amount of work that we are doing to create an all-year-round resort and a winter sports destination is really huge, but the majority of the work has nothing to do with the success of the Games or the testing of the venues.

    All the competition and noncompetition venues for the Games are well on track. No doubts that we will deliver that.

    There are rumors in the media that there are 70-something delays in the projects.

    We have 393 big construction projects with a thousand subprojects. Among them, some paperwork for handover of the land of some permission still needs to be done.

    This has nothing to do with a real delay that could harm the Games.

    Games delivery is well on track, and this is always confirmed by our colleagues, the watchdog from the IOC, the Coordination Commission.
    Rosa Khutor will host alpine events at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (ATR)

    They will come right in the middle of February to see the test events.

    Important things about the test events: It’s next season when we will test question by question.

    The advantage of the Sochi Games is that they are the most compact ever Games.

    Q: What about the Sochi 2014 staff? Everyone is still located primarily in Moscow. At some point, will the staff transition to Sochi. I’d assume that’s important to be there on the ground day-in, day-out as much as possible. Is this a challenge you’re facing?

    A: It’s challenging. The major challenge – I’m not trying to hide it – is the human resources.

    Sochi is a wonderful region with no unemployment people at all, so the market is rather tough. All the people that we have working there used to work in the hospitality industry. For the Games-time, we are building the amount of infrastructure equal to a city of 150,000 inhabitants.

    That is why we have created this special recruitment center like a single window for all participants of the project, not only for the needs of the organizing committee, to handle this project and to attract those who want to work at the Games for all over the world.

    We’re open and welcoming the world to the Sochi Games.

    Q: What about your immediate staff? Do you have plans to move them?

    A: The key criteria whether they’re coming or not is whether they’re needed on the venues or not.

    The first who moved already were the venue managers and the constructors in charge for the temporary infrastructure and who’s in charge for the venue durations and so on.

    Some back offices like finance will stay in Moscow until the period of the Games. Of course, some of them will be reemployed for other positions because even financial guys deserve to be in the field and to work on the real positions even if they had nothing to do with their previous experience but they really deserve to contribute and to be there in Sochi. So for the Games-time, everybody will be there.
    Chernyshenko is in Innsbruck this week observing the first-ever Winter YOG. (ATR)

    So far, we’ve already built three new office buildings in Sochi, and we’ve moved there the staff I mentioned and in Sochi Park right in the middle of the coastal cluster, it’s a new building of the Sochi organizers office.

    Everybody’s there. It’s a common center and perfectly located.

    Q: I know this is out of your control, but have you been in touch with the situation with NHL players coming? I know it’s an NHL labor issue and involves the International Ice Hockey Federation, but any news there?

    A: In February, it will be the 40th anniversary of the Canada Cup series in 1972 and there will be a big celebration in Moscow’s Red Square and some interesting moments will happen there, so be patient.

    Q: There have been members of Parliament who have said they don’t want Vladimir Putin to go to the London 2012 Olympics because of human rights issues. Do you have an opinion on that at all?

    A: The most stupid thing would be to forget the historical lessons from 1980 and 1984 and to make the same mistake.
    I am a manager of the delivery of the Games. The Olympics is not about politics and it will be unforgivable to use such a wonderful moment like the Games to reach some political goals.

    But I'm sure that Russia will be proudly represented in London and I know that there is huge interest from the Russian people to come to London and share in the glory of our athletes at the Games.

    Q: Will Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin be making appearances at next month’s test events in Sochi?
    Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev took in last season's test events. (Sochi 2014)

    A: Of course, we would be happy to have them during the test events because they're the best promoters of anyone and if they are coming, the interest of the media is also following.

    I’ve got no information about their plans to come, but I can only recall that last year’s Europa Cup was visited by both of them together.

    I know that they already skied at the new open resort at the Olympic slopes in Sochi, and they’re both sport-lovers. We’ll see if the timeframe will allow them to come.

    Q: Have you been up to ski the course yet?

    A: I did it last year on the eve of the Europa Cup together with Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak. They were covered by the ice. We were so excited because we were first to do the downhill on the Olympic slope.

    Q: Have you been impressed by the government support. You’ve had Kozak and Putin playing major roles in getting the Games and then supporting them. Is that something that’s been strong with the government behind you?

    A: I remember that during the bidding campaign, we use to call Putin the captain of our team. That wasn't just nice words. He was fully behind the bid and he was involved in the daily operation. He helped create the momentum in Guatemala and then in his capacity as prime minister has also been fully supportive ever since we won the bid. It is almost like his baby, and in any capacity he will be proudly up on the stage at Sochi 2014.

    Interview conducted in Innsbruck by Brian Pinelli

    For general comments or questions, click here.

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