ADLER, Russia -- The Sochi Olympics have been riddled with controversy and idiosyncratically Russian absurdity. This is a country where things are not always what they seem. So it comes as no surprise that even the name "Sochi Olympics" is somewhat misleading, because none of the venues are actually in Sochi city.
The Olympic coastal venue cluster and Olympic Village are located in the town of Adler. Sochi proper is situated roughly 15 miles (or a 25-minute train ride) to the west.
Often referred to as a suburb of Sochi — officially it is a micro-district of that sprawling, 90-mile-long metropolis — Adler has the feel of an independent city. It has a bustling downtown, unique demographics (it has a large Armenian community) and a rapidly growing population. With 76,500 residents, Adler is now more than half the size of the Sochi district (pop. 138,000).
The center of Adler is about a 10-minute cab ride from Olympic Park. Having been given a full facelift before the Games, it is an attractive subtropical beach town, complete with nightclubs, restaurants and lively boardwalk. But Adler is not all touristy. Residential blocks begin immediately outside the Olympic Park gates.
While the citizens of Sochi proper enjoy a month of celebrations and a boost to their city’s economy (all of the major landmarks advertised as must-see local Olympic attractions are there, such as Mount Bolshoi Akhun, the Friendship Tree and Riviera Park), it’s the people of Adler, not Sochi proper, who have had to endure the hardships of Olympic construction. Those have ranged from incessant dust and traffic jams to displacement of residents to make way for Games projects. Given their uncertainty about the future, and whether the town’s new high-end hotels and restaurants will be sustainable after the Olympics end, locals have mixed sentiments about the Games.
Some are giddy with excitement. Others are bitter about both the Olympics’ intrusion on their daily lives and the influx of foreigners, of whom Russians’ still tend to be weary. After four years of living in a construction zone, many of those living in Adler are simply desensitized.
“There are people who are unhappy about the Olympics. I don’t care either way. For me, this is a day like any other,” says second-generation Adler resident Garbo Dazrian. “Everyone is just relieved that the construction has ended. This town was all dirt for four years. People are grateful to have electricity and running water again.”
Like many others, Dazrian is more concerned about what will become of all the new Olympic venues and stadiums once the Games are over. The ice rinks, for instance, supposedly will remain in tact for what Olympic organizers promise will become a world-class hockey and skating training center. But even if that happens, it’s unlikely that locals will get much use out of the facilities. Then again, the sports of choice in Adler don’t involve ice; they are are martial arts, such as kickboxing and Muay Thai, thanks in part to the heavy Armenian presence.
“I’ve lived here all my life and never known anyone to go out for hockey. We don’t really do that here,” Dazrian said.
Fishing enthusiasts Andre and Kirill (who didn’t wish to give their last names), both in their mid-50's, have also lived in Adler their whole lives. When construction began, both were forced to move from their homes. They currently reside in a community of one-story shacks along the Black Sea waterfront. The subject of their displacement evokes more boredom than bitterness from them. Their biggest concern is losing access to the beach where they fish, if the waterfront Olympic apartment buildings are sold to private owners after the Games.
The Olympics are not yet a week old, but these two seem ready for the Games and the international media to move on.
“I’ve had Japanese, Canadian and American journalists knocking on my door for months wanting to ask how I’m doing. I had to start turning people away,” says Andre. “It happened three years ago. We’re doing fine. Let them worry about problems in their own countries.”