Grumbles drowned out as Sochi party gets under way

Sun Feb 9, 2014 3:49pm EST
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By Timothy Heritage

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - After putting up for years with dust, noise and traffic jams while their drab Russian resort was transformed into a modern sports hub, the people of Sochi can finally judge for themselves whether it was worth it.

As the $51-billion Winter Olympics got into full swing on Sunday, the answer from spectators, seeing the Olympic Park up and running for the first time, was a resounding "Yes".

"It's just fantastic," Sergei Klyuyev, from the Adler area where the park was built, said as he walked through with his family, admiring the state-of-the-art stadiums and enjoying the party atmosphere.

"There's been building work here for five years but look at all this around us. We regret nothing, not even the cost."

Some Sochi residents are still angry that hosting the Games meant turning the city into what even President Vladimir Putin described as the world's biggest construction site, and have set up a website - - to vent their spleen.

In the heart of the sub-tropical city on the western edge of the Caucasus mountains, cranes still tower over half-finished apartment blocs.

But the critics were nowhere to be seen at the venues far from central Sochi as the Games began, partly because some have been barred from travelling to Sochi and partly because of the good impression created by the new stadiums.

Putin hopes the Games will portray Russia as a successful and thriving modern state, and protests would threaten that.   Continued...

Germany's Andi Langenhan speeds down the track during a men luge training at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics near Sochi, February 7, 2014. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann