Sochi 2014 begins just 30 days from now and organizers are hard at work putting the finishing touches on the venues, performances, and infrastructure. Security has also been a hot topic as we head into the final few weeks before the Opening Ceremony, but even in the wake of recent suicide bombings and threats, organizers say these will be the "safest and the most secure Games ever."
“It’s a really calm and friendly environment. All security is in place. And I want to ensure you that despite the global threat of terrorism, here in Sochi everybody will be protected,” Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko told RT today.
The comments come just over a week after back-to-back bombings in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), located about 430 miles northeast of Sochi. On Dec. 29, a suicide bombing killed 18 people and sent over 30 to the hospital. A day later, a second explosion killed 16 in the city's Dzerzhinsky district.
In response to the bombings and possible threats to Sochi during the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to boost security to ensure a Games free of attacks. As of today, all security personnel in the Black Sea resort town have been put on combat alert. Reuters reports that around 37,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops are on hand in and around Olympic venues for the event.
Though the Olympics end on Feb. 23, the Paralympics will follow from March 7-16 and Putin has ordered the security measures to stay in place until March 21.
Another cause for concern is Sochi's close proximity to the Caucasus Mountains, an area in which an Islamist insurgency resides. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov is said to be Russia's most-wanted terrorist and has called on his followers to disrupt the Games with "maximum force."
Nonetheless, organizers say security has always been a priority for the Games, and measures such as restricting vehicles and visitors to those registered ahead of time will be in effect. Anti-aircraft mechanisms will also be in place to respond to any threats from the air.
“When we come to Sochi, it will be impossible for the terrorists to do anything,” Norwegian International Olympic Committee member Gerhard Heiberg said. “The village will be sealed off from the outside world.”
Not everyone is content with the security restrictions, however. Russian blogger Alexander Valov, for instance, said the town was turning into "a sort of concentration camp."
"When the town is in such a state of siege I don't think it will be comfortable here," he told Reuters.
The operation budget for Sochi is reportedly about $2.2 billion, plus $7 billion going towards infrastructure in what's being called the most expensive Olympics ever. That infrastructure has been a major part of getting ready for the Games, as nearly all of it needed to be built from scratch. A few of the main venues we can expect to see include Fisht Olympic Stadium, which will house the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and was also built to accommodate games for the World Cup tournament in 2018.
The Bolshoy Ice Dome, meanwhile, will operate solely for the ice hockey tournaments, while the Iceberg Skating Palace will serve as the venue for-you guessed it-the Games' figure and speed skating events. Organizers are even prepared for a lack of snow in the balmy resort town and are keeping 16,000,000 cubic feet of snow on hand for the events relying on powder.
The Opening Ceremony for the Sochi Olympiad will air on NBC in primetime on Feb. 7.