Keeping up the Sochi facade

olympic ring failure
Four of five Olympic rings are seen lit up during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble (RUSSIA – Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT)

Editor’s Note: The following piece is from the perspective of Metro World News reporter Alexey Shunaev.

“You’re a journalist, right? Then let me tell you a story,” says a checkout operator in his 50s, grabbing my jacket sleeve to stop me from exiting the 24-hour convenience store. It was 2 a.m., lashing rain outside and I was keen to get back to the hotel. But I stayed a while to hear the cashier’s tale.

“My nephew works in the hospital here. About a year ago, he told me that he got an emergency call from the bobsled track, which was being built at the time,” he continued. “When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they found the bodies of four construction workers, Uzbekistani nationals, smashed into different parts. Do you know what happened? After a hard day’s work, they decided to relax, drank their fair share of vodka and then got the idea to go for a slide down the track. So, they each took a cardboard box, flattened it and bombed down the race course like Russian luger Alber Demchenko, crashing to pieces.”

The cashier smiled at me and asked if I liked his “exclusive story.” I smiled back, thanked him and left. The sensational story he told me sounded all too familiar. I must have heard it half a year ago but then it transpired as fiction, just a tall tale from someone’s mind.

The rain was bucketing down now, but oddly my clothes remained dry. Then it hit me: the deluge was as fake as the shopkeeper’s fable. I’m not even sure if he really has a nephew. Day by day, I’m beginning to get the feeling that the entire city of Sochi is one big fabrication.

Is this place the future capital of Russian sport? False! Originally they had decided that after the Games, they will relocate all the sporting facilities to other cities, because nobody here will need a curling center or a 40,000-capacity stadium.

Is Sochi Russia’s first completely barrier-free city, giving people with disabilities easy access, as the authorities claim? It’s false! Yes, there are plenty of ramps and elevators dotted around, but many are poorly serviced and have been out of order for months.

Inside my hotel room, I have one fake television set, a fake lamp and fake light switcher – that is, they’re all in place but don’t function whatsoever. Let’s say they’re there for cosmetic reasons. In some of the sports venues, there are fake Wi-Fi signals that barely give you a connection. And today, I ate a fake hot dog that left me with a bad case of heartburn.

But the sensation the cooked sausage left was a pleasant one. Why? Because it was perfectly real.


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