To promote the event, Russia.Sochi.Park was set up in Kensington Gardens for the duration of London 2012.
‘Where Russia greets the world’
The idea was that this would be ‘where Russia greets the world’. However, for the first week they greeted very few members of the world, as they were charging an entry fee.
Let no one pretend that the Olympics isn’t fundamentally about money, but it’s an unusual decision to charge to find out about your event.
Fortunately the total lack of visitors soon led to a u-turn and the announcement that thanks to the ‘unparalleled generosity’ of Rosneft – one of the Sochi sponsors – entry would now be free.
Impressive, if controlled
Skipedia took advantage to find out more about what Sochi promises to offer.
The answer would appear to be rather like Sochi Park itself: a visually impressive infrastructure that has clearly cost a lot of money to create, but access to which will be strictly controlled.
On arrival, we were required to wait until we could be corralled into a large room and obliged to watch an on-message video about the Games.
The plus side was that once released, the Ikea-like route through the Park was not only well-designed, but the staff were helpful and there were some great interactive features for visitors.
Although these lovely ladies above look as they are are auditioning for Thunderbirds, this is the uniform of the Russian Railways, which were promoted heavily at Sochi Park. If they are representative of the workforce then the Trans-Siberian Express sounds much more appealing.
There were opportunities to go snowboarding or skiing on a Wii-like device, be pictured holding an Olympic torch and enjoy some trippy graphics in a dark room (see above).
Virtual Bobsleigh Ride
The highlight though was the virtual bobsleigh ride created by Dow.
Once seated, a video giving you the point of view of the driver of a bob was projected onto a concave hood lowered over you. As well as the sound and vision the effect was compounded by a jet of cool air that flowed into your face.
The first thing I wanted to do once it had finished was to do it again! If the Sochi experience delivers such thrills in real life, it will be a fantastic Games. The video below shows you the view I had in my virtual experience:
Is attending just for the wealthy?
The fear persists however that money will dominate with access limited to the few.
As I left the first Sochi Park, I was asked if I wanted to attend the ice spectacular that evening – tickets were £50 and £80, and were, unsurprisingly, still available.
Medal target for Team GB
Katie Summerhayes and James ‘Woodsy’ Woods both visited Sochi Park during the Games. If all goes well they will be there in person in 2014, representing Team GB.
Freestyle team coach Pat Sharples confirmed that a medal is the goal – and there is every chance that it can happen. Best of luck guys.
By Iain Martin