With a little over a year to go before the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, the Black Sea resort is still covered in scaffolding and construction equipment. Though Sochi, which is better known in Russia as a warm weather destination for oligarchs than as a ski hub, has long been on the local tourist map, the Olympics will mark the city's international debut. As such, everything must be perfect.
Early reports from the city made it sound as though locals would be victimized by the success of their Olympic bid: forced evictions began not long after the Games were announced. Moscow clearly never planned to embrace the town's shabby chic aspect.
Now, as Sochi begins to welcome international competitors into its new stadiums -- the FIS Cross Country Skiing World Cup is underway near the ski resort of Rosa Khutor -- a new version of Sochi has emerged. In this iteration, Sochi is less focussed on the beach and more connected with the Caucasus. The mountains are thick with ski runs and gondolas. The views are punctuated not only by scenic villages, but by major construction sites.
As with any other Olympic host city, Sochi is hoping that the Games will bring more than an economic boost. Sochi wants to be an international destination for European and Asian elites. Organizers would have the city's name be synonymous with the glamor of Moscow, but disconnected from that inevitable association with repressive politics and organized crime.