Despite $51 billion price tag, Sochi Games feel simple

SOCHI, Russia -- For a party that cost $51 billion, the Sochi Olympics have a surprisingly simple feel.

Athletes whiz around Olympic Park on bikes, and stroll among fans on their way to training or the village. All of the indoor venues are within sight – and walking distance -- of each other. The crowds are manageable, and clowns, folk dancers and drum bands wander the park providing entertainment.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Ross Bucsis, who is experiencing his third Olympics after watching his daughter Anastasia, a Canadian speed skater, compete in Vancouver and seeing the 1988 Games in his native Calgary, Alberta.

"It's just marvelous. This is more like a world's fair."

The Winter Olympics were once quaint sporting festivals. Athletes and fans from around the world would gather in picturesque mountain towns like Lake Placid, Squaw Valley, Grenoble or St. Moritz, mixing and mingling with sports as their backdrop.

They didn't need massive, state-of-the-art venues. Figure skating and hockey, in fact, were held mostly outdoors through 1960, and the footprint of the games was more that of a child than Big Foot.

But the current Olympics bear little resemblance to those games of old. Venues are spread far and wide to accommodate the growing number of alpine and indoor events, and it can take a couple of hours to get between city and mountain areas. The indoor venues are usually sprawled across a city as organizers try and make some use of existing arenas.

Oh sure, there might be a central area around the flame and medals plaza. But the Winter Olympics can seem more like a series of related events than one big one.

Sochi, though, is different. Everything in the Black Sea city had to be built from scratch – hence the price tag – and organizers centralized the venues in an Olympic Park, much as organizers of the Summer Games do.

"I think it's a great idea because you can walk. I think that's great," said David Wallechinsky, an Olympic historian.

"In general, it's a nice idea because you're exposed to several sports at once," he added.


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