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Olympics opening ceremony gives soccer fans a look at World Cup 2018 stadium

Soccer fans wanting a sneak peek at World Cup 2018 have a vested interest in Friday’s Olympic Opening Ceremony in Sochi. Fisht Stadium, host of the ceremony, will also serve as one of the 11 venues for the Russian version of the World Cup in four years. And before you go thinking Fisht Olympic Stadium is all about this week, look ahead four years.

Populous architect Damon Lavelle tells SI.com that the venue was “conceived firstly as a football stadium compliant with FIFA for a major tournament” and as an eventual long-term home to domestic and national-team soccer in Russia.

What we’ll see Friday in Sochi when 40,000 fans pack the theatrical venue offers an initial look at the final configuration, able to host more than 45,000 for soccer. Lavelle says some of the permanent infrastructure remains unbuilt to allow flexibility for the Olympics and offer the best planning possible for the World Cup.

But the nature of the stadium won’t change, sitting atop raised mounds on a hill in Adler Olympic Park, open on either end allowing for views of the mountains to the north—the venue is named after nearby Fisht Mountain, which is seen from foot to peak from within the venue—and the sea to the south.

“One senses and can experience the joy of being at the seaside but connected to the mountains beyond,” Lavelle says. “One can contemplate the landscape from within and without.”

Lavelle says he really worked to create a natural sensation, both in approaching and navigating the venue and even just by looking at it. Circuitous paths and ramps lead to the venue, akin to how one “approaches a remote beach up and across dunes.” The asymmetrically placed stairways move through a park-like setting and into a venue—“zoomorphic” is how Lavelle describes the lack of uniformity—purposefully asymmetrical and meant to remind us of tendons and joints. The translucent ETFE shell-like roof combines with metal and LED lighting in a first-ever application to play off this tendon-like theme.

Don’t fret, though, the huge “hanghars” at either end the false floors are temporary components for the Olympics, removable to open the stadium back up for the World Cup. And, if nothing else, we can rest assured that at least one stadium will finish in time for the World Cup in 2018, a solid assurance we embrace.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb
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