Russia begins 1 000-day countdown to Winter Olympics

2011-05-14 12:30

Sochi – Russia today started a 1 000-day countdown to the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, seeking to assure sceptics that building was on schedule and the environment respected.

Authorities in the Black Sea city proudly unveiled a mountain-shaped giant clock in front of the main railway station, which will count down each of the 1 000 days that remain until the start of the Games on February 7 2014.

“This means that we have entered the finishing straight in preparations for the Olympics,” declared Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, acknowledging that much work still remained to be carried out.

“Time has already passed and we cannot slow down. Only move fowards,” he added.

“We are ever closer to the moment when we will need to say the Games are open,” said the head of the Sochi organising committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko.

“We still have a lot to do but we have a very strong team and I’m sure we will win together.”

The Olympics will be by far the biggest event held in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and preparations are spearheaded by strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

But there have been concerns about whether Russia can build the infrastructure on time, given that facilities in Sochi often date back to Soviet times, while the surrounding mountains were until now virgin territory.

Environmentalists have also criticised organisers for failing to respect the surrounding nature, with particular concern over the creation of illegal rubbish dumps next to building sites in sensitive areas.

Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund last year withdrew from the process to monitor the construction.

Another worry for Russia is their own team’s athletic performance, with its leaders reportedly targeting 14 golds to boost national morale after winning only three golds at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

But this year’s world championships in figure skating, nordic skiing and biathlon have provided thin pickings for a nation that considers itself a sporting superpower.

Further bad news came yesterday when Russia were beaten 3-0 by Finland in the semifinals of the world ice hockey championships.

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