Russia has launched the one-year countdown to its first ever Winter Olympics amid fears that the games will be too high on costs and too low on snow.

Giant timers, set up in Moscow, St. Petersburg and six other biggest cities of Russia, started on Thursday counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds left to the opening of the 14th Winter Olympic Games in the health resort of Sochi on February 7, 2014.

President Vladimir Putin and head of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge marked “one year to Olympics” in Sochi on Thursday.

A day earlier, Mr. Putin inspected the Olympic facilities, which are two-third ready, voicing concern over skyrocketing construction costs. According to the Russian government, the games will cost $51 billion, five times the original price tag and 15 times more than Canada spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Even considering that all facilities and infrastructure for the Sochi games had to be built from scratch, experts find it hard to explain why the Russian Winter Olympics will cost $7 billion more than the costliest 2010 Summer Olympics in China, given the fact that summer games are far more expensive to prepare.

Russian media said corruption was the main reason for the huge cost escalation. At a meeting with officials responsible for Olympic construction Mr. Putin warned them to ensure “that no one steals anything and there are no unexplained [further] increases in costs.” He personally sacked a deputy president of the Russia Olympic Committee over delays and cost overruns in the construction of a ski jumping venue.

Lack of snow may be another headache for organisers. While Russia as a whole is having its snowiest winter in 100 years, with more than two metres of snow falling in Moscow, Sochi is woefully short of snow. Some slope-style skiing events had to be cancelled in Sochi this week because of heavy rain. Subtropical Sochi, one of Russia’s warmest health resorts sitting on the Black Sea, basked in 19 degrees Celsius on Thursday, and though mountains above the city are covered with thick snow, organisers take no chances. They are busy hoarding snow for the next year’s Olympics.

Several hectares of snow are being covered with a 40-centimetre blanket of sawdust to keep it from melting during summer months. Officials say they plan to save a total of 150,000 cubic metres of snow for the next winter — just in case.


Putin defends Sochi OlympicsFebruary 5, 2014