As events at the Olympic Park in east London approach the final lap,a large clock on the other side of town is already ticking down to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in southwest Russia.
With bobsleigh simulators,ice skating shows and a “4D” cinema,Sochi Park has turned a corner of London’s Kensington Gardens into a “high-tech,digital winter wonderland” that organisers hope will draw fans to the next Olympics.
The touristy Black Sea summer resort was a surprise winner in the race to host the Games in 2007,following intensive campaigning by Russia’s sports-mad President Vladimir Putin,when Pyeongchang in South Korea had been the favourite.
Dogged by concerns over corruption and delays,Sochi organisers have swooped on a chance to promote the next Olympic host in London as a glitzy,high-tech destination that will most definitely be ready on time.
Visitors to their pavillion in west London can try ice hockey and curling — albeit on plastic flooring — drive a simulated train from Sochi Airport to the Olympic Park,and sample Russian cuisine,from beef stroganoff to blini.
Staff are on hand to explain the free telephone translation service that will operate during the Olympics,while others demonstrate a mobile app that will allow visitors to turn appliances on and off remotely,via text message.
In the cinema,puffs of smoke rise from the floor as the viewer soars in 3D over snowy peaks.
“I’m quite impressed by what they’ve done here,” said Maria Aleksandrova,keeping an eye on her small son as he ran around the oversized chess sets at Russia Park,the outdoor area near the Sochi pavillion.
“We think it’s a great park,and we’re really appreciative that it’s free,” added the businesswoman,who moved to London from Moscow five years ago.
Inside,endless touchscreens and posters hammer home the message that the Sochi is on track for the Olympics opening ceremony on February 7,2014.
Russia’s chief financial watchdog filed a report last week listing numerous problems with the construction of the resort’s new 40,000-seat Olympic Stadium,which will also be used for the 2018 football World Cup.
In January,Russia’s then president Dmitry Medvedev personally intervened amid reports that several Olympic venues were behind schedule.
And last year Taimuraz Bolloyev,the head of Olympstroy,the company responsible for Sochi’s $12 billion (9.7 billion euro) construction programme,resigned amid claims of corruption.
The Russian government has relied on donations from the country’s richest tycoons to fund a large part of the construction,but the private financing has led to an apparent lack of organisation at the many construction sites.
In London,however,visitors to Sochi Park were in no rush — many sprawled in the sunshine on beanbags around a giant TV screen showing the Olympic wrestling. “It’s good here because we can see Russian competitors on the screen,” explained 29-year-old singer Kazbech,whose Caucasian folk band is playing at the park.
“We’ve been watching English television,and it only shows Great British Olympians!”
But the Russian outpost has also proved popular with an international crowd,particularly among Olympic spectators watching events in neighbouring Hyde Park.
“It’s really neat that they’re introducing the next site at the current Games,because I don’t know that everyone’s familiar with Sochi,” said Californian Stephanie Smith,after posing for photos in a bobsleigh.
“We’ve been looking at all the technology they’ll be implementing and it seems very cool,” added Smith,who decided to fly over for the London Olympics last week on a whim.
Her friend Margaret Tovar added: “It seems very high-tech,which is very important when you have people coming from so many countries.”
But the pair were not sufficiently impressed by Russia’s wintry London pavillion to convince them to swap balmy California for Sochi.
“We think Russia in the winter might be a bit cold for us. We might die if we go to Russia!” Tovar shivered.