Sochi Olympics: Predictions of mayhem are thus far unfounded

CBC's David Common shares his first impressions of Sochi and Russia's readiness to host the Winter Olympics.

Winter Games sites a mix of the temporary and permanent, complete and incomplete, smooth and complicated

CBC News's broadcast position faces the Bolshoi Hockey Arena. (David Common/CBC)

Let me begin with the tent.

Or as Russians call it: The Sochi Airport Arrivals Hall. Not exactly inspiring to be disgorged from the plane and into a chaotic, temporary facility where the baggage carousel is not in a loop, but meets an abrupt end where bags simply drop to the floor. It is especially odd because there is a brand new (real) terminal right next to it.

But that seems to be Sochi: a mix of the temporary and permanent, complete and incomplete, smooth and

The image seen by millions around the world, however, will look good. The venues are done and they are spectacular. The mountains are extraordinarily beautiful.

CBC's David Common reports from the Sochi Winter Olympics. (Marc Cormier/CBC)

And for all the talk of security threats, the police presence is barely noticeable inside the "Ring of Steel." It's what's outside you won't see unless you must experience it.

The roads to the mountains, for instance, are one lane in either direction. If there is an accident, the already slow-moving traffic will come to a grinding halt. Arriving tourists are finding their hotels incomplete. Media hotels (more like dorms) are in better shape (mine has exposed pipes and a zip-on curtain covering wires but otherwise is fine).

But so many roads here are new, bus and taxi drivers don't know where many buildings are. One bus driver asked my
colleagues today where they were when he pulled the bus up at a stop.

I don't want to overstate it; the predictions of mayhem are thus far, unfounded. Yes, Russia has imposed strict anti-gay laws, stifled protest, engaged in epic corruption, colluded with criminals and engaged in shoddy construction all in pursuit of these Games. The spending is so over the top, it is offensive. This is the narrative that will not change regardless of how great the show becomes.

The wild card remains terrorism- CBC's David Common

Remember Beijing? It, too, stifled protest, forced mass evictions with little compensation and shut down industry in an unprecedented attempt to control pollution. Beijing also had a stunning opening ceremonies. People remember both — and they will for Sochi as well.

The wild card remains terrorism. The panic and certainty of a strike somewhere here seems to have subsided. Athletes, journalists and officials are comforted by extensive ID checks and reassurances from the Russians. The president, Vladimir Putin, is now here in Sochi and once again insisting there is nothing to worry about.

Something to remember about this region. You hear a lot about its volatility, and that is usually equated with the separatist movement in the North Caucasus. But Russia's biggest crime bosses have traditionally come from the same region, contributing to that instability.

The opening ceremony has gone through its first full dress rehearsal. Competition though begins Thursday — a day before the official opening. And the excitement is clearly building. All the fears and controversies remain, but they are increasingly taking a backseat to the excitement that makes up the Olympics.


David Common covers a wide range of stories for CBC News, from war to disrupting scams. He is a host with the investigative consumer affairs program Marketplace, and a correspondent with The National. David has travelled to more than 85 countries for his work, has lived in cities across Canada, and been based as a foreign correspondent in the U.S. and Europe. He has won a number of awards, but a big career highlight remains an interview with Elmo. You can reach David at, Twitter: @davidcommon.