All-new Sochi Olympics venues a spectacle of lights, ice

Tuesday January 7th, 2014

Sochi had no storied stadium infrastructure to pull from, nothing to repurpose when it came time to plan for the 2014 Winter Olympics. While some Olympic hosts need only sprinkle in a few new venues, Sochi had no such luxury. They built the stadium landscape entirely new. All of it.

In 2010, three of Vancouver's main venues served the city for decades prior, requiring only cosmetic makeovers to house the opening and closing ceremonies (BC Place), hockey (Rogers Arena), and short-track speed skating and figure skating (Pacific Coliseum). The only new stadiums were the freshly built Richmond Olympic Oval for long-track speed skating and the Hillcrest Centre for curling.

For the 2012 Summer Olympics, even with London's bounty of famed venues, the sheer quantity of sports required 20 new stadiums and venues.

Sochi, though, started from scratch, constructing five new "coastal cluster" stadiums in Adler Olympic Park, all within walking distance to each other, and five "mountain cluster" venues just 30 miles into the Caucasus Mountains.

But the world's interest in this Russian resort city of nearly 400,000 on the banks of the Black Sea will focus first on Sochi's largest of its 11 venues, its new Olympic Stadium, home to the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies.

Fisht Olympic Stadium

40,000 capacity
Opening/Closing ceremonies, medal presentations
Venue design in Sochi both begins and ends with a connection to the sea and the mountains. And the biggest deal about the asymmetrically shaped Olympic stadium is its seating bowl that opens views to the outside. The 40,000-seat venue designed by the London office of Populous sits on a raised mound and opens 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," Populous designer Damon Lavelle tells "One can contemplate the landscape from within and without."

Located on a top of a hill in Adler Olympic Park, 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.

Lavelle calls Fisht the world's largest theater, complete with a track system that allows big opening ceremony sets to fly through the "vast internal spaces of the stadium." The design also welcomes temporary hangers at either end to serve as staging locations during the opening ceremony. A huge false floor and extra tunnels built into the lower seating tier will allow performers to enter and exit the "underworld" beneath the false floor, all while supporting water, light and pyrotechnics for the opening ceremonies.

But Fisht Stadium is about soccer more than the Olympics, really. Russia will host the World Cup in 2018, with Fisht as one of the 12 venues for the tournament. The stadium, which can increase capacity post-Games to around 45,000 for World Cup soccer, will eventually reduce to 25,000 seats for local and national team events. The infrastructure was purposefully left "unbuilt" to allow for flexibility of use during the Olympics and to adapt to soccer needs in the future.

38,000 LED lights embedded in an aluminum roof allow Bolshoy Ice Dome to brighten up the night.
Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Bolshoy Ice Dome

12,000 capacity
Ice hockey
The silverish dome-styled roof may appear a bit bland during the day, but when the roof lights up at night, the home of Olympic ice hockey will get just a tad wild. A frozen drop inspired the Bolshoy Ice Dome, designed by the Russian firm SIC Mostovik. Except, of course, frozen drops don't always shine in bright colors.

The traditional bowl-style seating inside does offer a bit of architectural flair with glazed glass allowing patrons on the concourse to gaze out toward the Caucasus Mountains (35,000 square feet of this curtain-like glass fills the inside). The aluminum-paneled dome, handmade to create a smooth surface with 38,000 LED lights studded within, drops over top but doesn't fully cover the building's sides.

Inside, a smart climate system controls multiple temperature zones to ensure warm spectators and cool ice.

The term Bolshoy reminds the world of Russia's Bolshoy Theatre and the success and tradition that Russia has enjoyed in the schools of ballet and ice sports.

Cool blue- and black-tinted glass make Iceberg Skating Palace's name self-evident.
Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Iceberg Skating Palace

12,000 capacity
Figure skating, short-track speed skating
This might be the most colorful "iceberg" anywhere near Russia, or in the world, for that matter. Designed to look like a giant block of ice, the rising steel roof clad in stained glass tinted in cool blues and blacks gives an actual sense of an iceberg, one of the more striking visual components of the Sochi venues.

The curve — or wave — of the roof in the front provides the most punch. To help create the height and visual appeal, Iceberg Skating Palace uses 15,000 tons of steel—twice the weight of the Eiffel Tower—and boasts 193,000 square feet of windowpanes.

Originally planned as a temporary structure, expect the Iceberg Skating Palace to stick around in Sochi now that everyone has fallen in love with it, even if its use does change after the games.

Adler Arena's advanced heating and cooling system can create ideal temps for skaters and spectators.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Adler Arena

8,000 capacity
Speed skating
Don't let the drab daytime angularity and grayness of Adler Arena fool you—similar to the Bolshoy Ice Dome—the triangular windows and rising roof lines remind us of an iceberg alive with lights at night.

The stained glass and aluminum panels on the exterior come in white, gray and blue for a multi-layered roof that allows the 700 LED floodlights to shine through and light up the arena, giving off a spectacular show.

In a common Sochi theme, spectators can look from the inside out, catching both mountain views to the north and glimpses of the sea to the south.

The oval-shaped facility for speed skating holds two competition tracks and a training track with microclimates built into the venue for optimal ice conditions. With over 37 miles of piping inside for heating and cooling, officials can manage temperature and humidity levels down to several tenths of a degree in varying zones. The interior foil-like ceiling includes technology designed to reduce heat emissions by five times.

Shayba Arena is not long for Sochi. The "moveable venue" will depart after the Olympics.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Shayba Arena

7,000 capacity
Ice hockey
Shayba means puck, exactly what this ice hockey venue looks like. With a blue-gray roof meant to evoke movement as the colors swipe across the side of the building, this arena will serve as a temporary home for ice hockey during the Olympics. At night, 45,000 LEDs, each individually controlled, will give life to the cylindrical shape of the decorative aluminum exterior.

Following the Games, the "moveable venue" will get dismantled and transported to another Russian city.

Ice Cube Curling Center's stone-like exterior is designed to mimic the look of curling stones.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Ice Cube Curling Center

3,000 capacity
Also designed with the ability to move to another Russian city, the "simplistic" design — albeit it with a wrap-around roof providing at least a little design flair—will provide a cozy atmosphere inside the curling rink.

The gray and silver exterior was meant to resemble stone, akin to curling stones. The façade features mirrored stained glass, tinted with a graphite hue.

Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center features two separate stadiums in the mountains.
Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center

7,500 capacity
Located on the crest and slopes of the Psekhako Ridge and named after the Laura River — which has its own folklore story to go with it — the center boasts two separate stadiums, each with its own start and finish zones and isolated track systems for skiing and biathlon.

Twelve miles of track at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center will host all the alpine skiing events.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Rosa Khutor Alpine Center

7,500 capacity
Alpine skiing
This single-venue resort will host all the Alpine skiing, including downhill, combined, giant slalom and super giant slalom with a total length of competition track at over 12 miles on the Aibga Ridge slopes above the Mzymta River. With the slopes designed by internationally known ski architect Bernard Russi, the stands will allow spectators in the Krasnaya Polyana district to enjoy a variety of racing styles.

RusSki Gorki Jumping Center's name is meant to evoke a rollar coaster, similar to the jumps' shape.
Bob Martin/SI

RusSki Gorki Jumping Center

7,500 capacity
Ski jumping
Located in the Esto-Sadok village on the northern slope of the Aibga Ridge, the two-jump complex — K-95 and K-125 — tucks near the junction of two ridges to protect athletes from side winds.

According to Sochi organizers, the name has multiple meanings. Meant to sound like a roller coaster, which is symbolic of the shape of the jumps that are also known as "Russian Mountains," RusSki also plays off the "English slang word for a Russian person."

Safety was critical at Sanki Olympic Sliding Center after Nodar Kumaritashvili's death in Vancouver.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Sanki Olympic Sliding Center

5,000 capacity
Bobsled, luge
Safety first was the mantra at the sledding tracks built at the Alpika Service Mountain Ski Resort. With a vertical drop of about 430 feet throughout the 18 curves in the track, spectators will line the track down to the Rzhanaya Polyana finishing area.

Rosa Khutor Extreme Park will feature "unique" snow conditions for each event, such as aerials (above).
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Rosa Khutor Extreme Park

Snowboarding, freestyle skiing
The extreme snow athletes will compete just down the slopes of the alpine center on the west side of the Rosa Khutor slopes. Organizers say that "unique" snow conditions and a variety of specialized tracks for everything from cross-country skiing to aerial competitions to moguls to the variety of snowboarding events will keep the extreme park a permanent venue.

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

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