Sochi’s first big biathlon races are about to start. World Cup 8 is a test event for next year’s Olympics and is an opportunity for all the biathletes and team staff to see the venue. So far, I am having a great time.
The biathlon circus traveled to Sochi on direct charter flights from Oslo. An additional cargo plane carried ski equipment and extra luggage. Our journey started out surprising smooth- we arrived in Sochi on time and passed through customs quickly. However, next we sat in coach buses in the airport parking lot for three hours until every athlete’s rifle cleared customs. Rumor has it the airport staff weren’t prepared for us because they didn’t know that biathlon involved firearms. The biathlon venue and village are about an hour’s drive from Sochi uphill and into the mountains. Even through it was 1 o’clock in the morning, we saw plenty of construction crews hard at work to complete the highway. We rode a gondola for the final leg of the journey with all our luggage to the top of a mountain.
There will be several Olympic Villages for Sochi. The biathlete and cross country skier village is called the “Endurance Village.” It sits on top of a mountain, right next to our race venues. The “cottages” are very spacious and comfortable and surrounded by beautiful mountains.
A view of the stadium (and the only flat part of the entire course.) Range is below me to the left. The cables overhead belong to another gondola- this one is for spectators. It travels directly above the shooting range and will have to shut down on race day once zeroing begins. Apparently, they are going to have to limit the number of spectators next year due to the logistic of getting people up the mountain and lack of space. Supposedly there is capacity for 5,000 in the stadium, which would be less than 1/4 of the crowds we have seen at World Championships the last couple years.
Our rifles were delivered en masse to the venue directly from the airport. We had to unpack and assemble them there. In Russia, unlike most other countries we visit, our rifles and ammo are secured in lockers up at the venue. We have to sign them out every day before training and return them immediately afterwards.
There are hundreds of them and they can be easily identified by their blues coats. Most of the volunteers are young and speak good English. One of the guys I talked to, Alex, comes from the Ural Mountains. He arrived a couple days ago and is helping here for a few weeks. He hopes he can come back next year to help too.