In the mountains, we’re a bit sheltered from much of what you’re reading about back at home. I haven’t spoken to many members of the media staying in the mountains who have complaints of rooms lacking light bulbs, door knobs or walls, like those in the stories flooding Twitter, Facebook and most major newspapers. Walking around the area, as I did today for about three hours, it’s clear very little is finished. But the venues and most of the hotels (at least the occupied rooms) are more than livable.
But what I noticed today more than the construction, construction workers and police was that there are few people up here who are not construction workers, volunteers or police. The Olympics is empty. And I’ve heard similar things about Adler/Sochi. There is no Olympic spirit because there are few people around to show it. At slopestyle tomorrow, I believe I will feel differently. There will be friends and family and fans all squashed into a small area. But in the tiny mini-towns of Gorki City and Rosa Khutor, there is no one.
I walked out of my hotel today, which sits directly in front of the gondola most commonly used by the public to access the mountain, and loud electronica music was blasting from a small stage. Oonze oonze. Two women dressed as clowns were making balloon animals. A few men were filling neon green balloons with helium and a woman in an Olympic bear mascot was searching for someone with whom to pose for a photo. But there was no one for these people to entertain. The whole scene was just sad.
At the mall down the street, which is about 1/3 finished, the grocery store was selling Olympic merchandise. At past Olympics, the merchandise is sold ONLY in official stores, the lines are too long to deal with and little remains by the Opening Ceremony. Not here. The grocery store display looked like an after-Christmas sale. Olympic keychains resided next to the pineapple isle. And XXL Sochi 2014 T-shirts were tossed in with the pantyhose. Depressing.
I’m not sure much will change once the Games officially begin tomorrow, but I hope so. These athletes work so hard to earn spots to come to the Olympics and it’s sad to think their reward is walking in the Opening Ceremonies wearing a Ralph Lauren ugly Christmas sweater and competing in front of security guards and construction workers.