Sochi basking in Olympic Games praise
SOCHI, Russia — Russian fans are beginning to warm to the Winter Olympics as ticket sales top one million and the Sochi Games sizzles in the sunshine.
That is the picture Olympic and Sochi officials are painting as the competition approaches the halfway stage.
The Sochi Games, a week after the opening ceremony at the Fisht Stadium and on day seven of medals events, is certainly giving every indication of being a slow burner.
Terrorist threats and reports of heavy security had led to fears the atmosphere in Sochi would suffer. Empty seats at some events early on seemed to confirm that impression.
However security has been unobtrusive, events are running like clockwork and conditions for competition in the coastal and mountain clusters are have been praised as second to none by athletes and officials from around the world.
With thousands of friendly volunteers doing their bit, the weather warm and the feedback from athletes positive, the Russian hosts are enjoying their moment in the sun.
"Thank you, my friend Gilbert. After such complimentary words I certainly will send you a St Valentine's Day card," Sochi 2014 chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said after hearing complimentary words from Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director of the Games.
So far, so good. The hosts still have a week to go, and the mood could also easily change. The hosts won't be relaxing their efforts to make sure the Games pass off without incident.
The final judgment will come from IOC president Thomas Bach, at his first major event since succeeding Jacques Rogge in September. As a former Olympian, winning a team fencing team gold for West Germany in 1976, he knows a thing or too about what it takes for a successful Games.
"I am enjoying it because there are wonderful conditions for athletes. I have not a single complaint from an athlete," he told dpa.
Felli admits there were question marks beforehand about the atmosphere and also concerns that not enough people would visit the Olympic Park.
But those fears seem unfounded. Russian fans have been contributing to "a great atmosphere" and have shown themselves to be an extremely fair public, applauding all the athletes and not just the home favourites, he said.
"There's no bad view about a Russian losing a competition, and that's something that surprised everybody and it is very nice to see and the athletes appreciate it," he said.
Chernyshenko agreed that Russian fans "are taking every nation into their hearts." He had seen "incredible" sport while the atmosphere at venues and at the Olympic Park in Sochi, where the Olympic flame burns, is "electric."
Around 20,000 people were visiting the park every evening for the medals ceremonies. The start of the Russian men's ice-hockey team's quest for a gold medal also brought a Sochi record of 106,000 fans to the park on Thursday.
Felli said the apparent slow start was perfectly normal — it happens at every Games before people start to mix.
"You always have to let the time work two or three days at the start of the Games so the machine can go and people start to have full enjoyment of the Games," he said.
Along with the smooth logistics and positive mood, the sunny weather has helped bring people out and put smiles on faces. The good vibes will even improve in the final week if the Russian ice-hockey team reach the final.
But for now the organizers can bask in the praise as Sochi basks in the sun, all gloomy pre-Games talk dispelled.
The Games quirky motto Hot.Cool.Yours could, in fact, hardly be more appropriate, says Chernyshenko.
"Yes, we have the hot, the weather is hot yesterday, but also the competition is extremely cool," he said, hoping everybody will consider Sochi 2014 "my Games, like your Games."