Thu, Feb 06, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Athletes’ digs basic, pistes ‘perfect’

AFP, ROSA KHUTOR, Russia

Racks of skis and bundles of blue and red slalom poles litter the entrance to the Austrian ski team’s basic accommodation in Rosa Khutor — the location for Alpine events at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The Austrians’ base is in a new building, vaguely finished in a generic traditional Alpine style, with walls covered by posters of candidates standing for election for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) athletes’ commission. A handful of volunteers are on hand to help with any queries.

“The accommodation in Vancouver was better, but Turin was not so good,” Austrian downhill specialist Klaus Kroell said on a tour of his humble digs.

There are two single beds in each room, student-like housing that is clean, but basic, a shower and toilet off a small reception space.

Each bed is covered with a blanket featuring the ubiquitous, psychedelic harlequin design of the Sochi Games and the polar bear mascot offers a jolly smile from its framed picture overhead.

Further up the street, luger Lien Te-an of the Taiwan team poses for a photograph at the Olympic rings, an eager Russian volunteer taking the shot.

US athletes looking slick in their upmarket Ralph Lauren line of clothing stroll alongside the nearby accommodation block, which is bedecked with Australian flags and paraphernalia, and a handful of Iranians walk past on the way to the canteen.

“So far, it’s just been the accommodation block and the eating hall,” said Romed Baumann, a contender for Austrian gold in the men’s super-combined.

“There are not so many coffee shops to hang out in. The food is average. There’s a choice of Italian and Asian food. We don’t bring our own chefs, so we make do,” he said.

As hordes of blue-suited workers painted railings or swept the dusty road that meanders down through the newly created mountain village, Austrian Ski Federation sports director Hans Pum offered a longer-term view.

“The village is good,” Pum said. “Look, it’s the Olympic Games. It’s always the same wherever you go. We had complaints in Turin and in Vancouver. They’ve done a lot of work in a short time and not all the things are ready. They’ve had no time to finish it nicely.”

“It’s all new. I was here in the summer and I didn’t believe at the time that there’d be anything here. But the food is perfect and you can have everything 24 hours, no problem,” he added.

“It is different from European resorts like Wengen and Kitzbuehel, with long skiing traditions and good hotels. But for the athletes, access to the slopes is easy and the hill is perfect, seemingly mirroring all the sports venues in use for these Games, and that has to be the most important factor,” Pum said.

As for life beyond the Games, Pum said: “Maybe it’ll work for them, maybe in a few years there’ll be more atmosphere.”

Baumann is not sure the accommodation will be good enough to entice tourists used to more plush accommodation.

“It’s great to see such a fantastic hill getting cable cars, but I don’t know whether people will be willing to pay for those rooms. But importantly, the snow is amazing and looks set to make up for all the crappy weather we’ve had this season,” he said.

As for nightlife, Baumann kept his cards close to his chest.

“There are no bars I’ve seen,” he said.

Austrian team attache Markus Aichner said that there are no free condoms on offer for athletes, as has often been the case in previous Olympics.

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