The preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi Russia continue satisfactorily: the organisers have been awarded a medal for their work in training the thousands of volunteer workers; the committee has chosen not one mascot but three; and terrorism worries remain despite increased security measures.
The Russian public has voted for a mascot for the games on a live TV show Talismaniya Sochi 2014. Unusually the top three choices have all been selected. So now the polar bear, the hare and the leopard will all feature as souvenirs. Dimitry Chernyshenko, president and CEO of the Sochi organising committee, said he was proud that for the first time in the history of the Olympic movement the mascots had been democratically selected.
The preparations for the Para Winter Olympics are also going well. For the first time the mascots - Ray of light and Snowflake Luchik and Snezhinka - were revealed together with those for the main games.
The organisers say that construction work is one year ahead of previous games at the same stage. Two centres or clusters linked by a new rail connection are well on the way - the mountain cluster at the ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana and the coastal cluster for skating, ice hockey, curling and the Olympic stadium itself. In addition, a vast infrastructure programme is in hand including upgrading the 1500-kilometre railway from Moscow to high-speed standard, extending the local airport, building a new electrical grid, installing 700 kilometres of fibre optic cables, and installing a stat- of-the-art sewage plant - complete with ecologically approved micro filtration. At the same time as preparing for the games, the Russian government is using the event to focus efforts on modernising the infrastructure of this part of Russia.
It is still not clear which extra events will be added and the final decisions of the President of the Olympics, Jacques Rogge, have yet to emerge. Sports under consideration are team figure skating, a mixed relay biathlon, ski half-pipe, ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle, a team relay luge event, and women's ski jumping. So far it has been decided not to include an alpine team skiing event, ski mountaineering, ski orienteering or a winter triathlon. It seems also that the 11-a-side ice hockey game 'Bandy' will not be included but that the Bandy World Championships will be held during the Sochi Games. Sports historians say that the first Bandy international was between England and Holland in 1882. At the time both countries had large agricultural areas that flooded to a shallow depth and then froze - East Anglia in England.
The Russian anti-terrorist services and political authorities have plenty to do to make sure that the games go off smoothly
Considerable security worries remain. Sochi borders are close to six of the troubled and poverty stricken Russian Republics in the North Caucasus. Prime Minister Putin and the Olympic committee are both clearly gambling on the games bringing an element of outside civil stability and prosperity from European Russia to the Caucasus. Jan. 24 - a suicide bomber killed 35 people at Moscow's Domodedovo airport and injured more than 100. Closer to Sochi, Feb. 20 - masked gunmen murdered three Russian tourists and wounded two others and bombed a cable car near the Mount Elbrus resort. There have also been a number of high profile murders across the Caucasus.
The Russian government is promising massive security and the Russian army has pledged to supply S-400 Triumf surface to air guided missiles. Security complications were emphasised by the comments of the chief analyst of Russia's anti-terrorist and anti-criminal fund Oleg Nechiporenko on the likely instigator of a recent car bombing. He explained, "the area is such a muddled and bloodied aquarium of conflict that to pick out any one fish is impossible." Suspects include local mafia groups, separatists, Islamists and even certain unfriendly foreign intelligence services, all of them with an interest in destabilising the Northern Caucasus. The Russian anti-terrorist services and political authorities have plenty to do to make sure that the games go off smoothly and before that to reassure the winter sports fans.
As was expected Circassian organisations have criticised the games as being on the site of the last resistance of the Circassian people before their defeat and exile to neighbouring Turkey in 1864. They are not at the moment calling for the banning of the games but for the inclusion of symbols of Circassian history and culture to be part of the presentation as was the case in similar circumstances in Australia, the United States, and Canada when Olympic events took place there.
The Winter Olympic games are to be held for the first time in Russia Feb. 7th-23rd 2014. The Para Winter Olympics will take place March 7-16.