Sochi Olympics exactly 1 year away

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We are officially one year out from the 22nd Winter Olympic Games, which will take place from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Here's some background on the host city, new events, Canada's outlook, and more.

Host Country

Russia, and especially the former Soviet Union, have racked up medals at a rate second only to the United States in Olympic history, but this will be just the second time the country is serving as host. It is the first time a Winter Games are being staged in Russia; 1980's Summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted by 65 countries.

Host city

The awarding of the Games to a lesser-known Russian outpost in 2007 might have inspired visions from Westerners of grim winter scenes and spectators bundled in parkas with ushankas atop their heads. But Sochi, located in southwest Russia on the Black Sea, is replete with palm trees and will actually become the first subtropical city to host the Winter Games.

In what may be the first mention of Sochi in the West with respect to an athletic endeavour, a 1935 news item heralded a new long-distance swimming record set by Nicolai Malin, who covered 50 kilometres in just under 18 hours along the coastal area.

Sochi would increasingly be mentioned in news stories not long after, as Joseph Stalin spent summers in the resort town.

Located 1,300 kilometres souch of Moscow, the local population is estimated at about 340,000. Greater Sochi is an expansive area, stretching approximately 140 kilometres in length.

Sochi represents a nine-hour time difference for Canadians in the Eastern time zone.

Weather

As with Vancouver in 2010, there are worries ahead of the Sochi Games about not getting optimal winter conditions for the athletes. The average temperature in Sochi for February is about nine degrees Celsius, but it is colder in the Caucasus Mountains about 50 kilometres away, site of the skiing and sliding events.

Recent slopestyle skiing and snowboarding competitions in Sochi were cancelled due to a lack of snow, and Nordic combined events were delayed several days. There have been temperature readings in the mid-teens.

Valery Lukyanov, the chief meteorologist for the Olympics, insisted to CBC News that this year's conditions were an anomaly.

Power brokers

Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi organizing committee, has also tried to allay concerns about the weather. He has talked at nearly every opportunity about the "guaranteed snow system," demonstrated to journalists in December, with previous snowfall stored in underground freezers.

Chernyshenko may head the Sochi group, but looming above all is Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Games are a showcase event designed to demonstrate Russian prosperity and progress. Putin has been intimately involved with many aspects of planning, according to reports.

Sochi has been a mass of cranes, bulldozers and construction equipment. Many of the venues will be brand new, contributing to an overall price tag for the Games that could run $50-60 billion US, the most expensive ever. According to The Associated Press, at least half the money is coming from state coffers, with most of the rest being put forward by state-controlled companies and Russian tycoons.

Security

Cross-country skier Noah Hoffman recently told the AP he's never been to a place with more security checks, an eye-opening statement coming from an American.

Sochi is closer, relatively, to insurgents located in the regions of Dagestan and Chechnya than Moscow, and not terribly far from Georgia, whose relations with Russia have been fraught in the last two decades.

In addition to the breakaway nations of the former Soviet Republic, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq are located in the Eurasian vicinity.

Putin made a show of force in October, as the government announced the killing of about 50 so-called insurgents and the capture of others in a counterterrorism operation.

The Games

The Sochi Olympics take place between Feb. 7 and Feb. 23, with the opening ceremony and closing ceremony to be held at Fisht Olympic Stadium, which will also be put to use when Russia hosts the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Olympic torch relay will begin on Oct. 7 of this year, hitting all 83 of Russia's regions. About 15,000 people will serve as torchbearers for the Olympics and Paralympics, which take place from Feb. 26 to March 7, 2013.

Athletic venues

Venues are located in the coastal and mountain clusters, linked by railway line, with organizers heralding it as the most compact Winter Games ever.

In addition to the aforementioned Fisht stadium, the coastal cluster of venues includes the Bolshoy Ice Dome (hockey), Iceberg Skating Palace (figure skating) and the Ice Cube curling centre.

The mountain cluster includes the Rosa Khutor alpine resort, Sanki Sliding Center (bobsleigh, skeleton, luge) and Gorki Jumping Center (ski jumping).

Competition

There will be a total of 98 medal events, encompassing 15 disciplines in seven sports.

There are a dozen new medal events: slopestyle skiing, slopestyle snowboarding, parallel special slalom snowboarding and ski halfpipe, all of which include men's and women's competitions. In addition, these competitions will debut: women's ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, luge team relay and the figure skating team event.

Canadian expectations

At the 2010 Vancouver Games, Canada took home 14 gold medals, the most by any country at a single Winter Games, and double the country's previous best total. Canada finished third in overall medals with 26, behind only the United States (nine gold, 15 silver, three bronze) and Germany (10-13-17).

Russia finished with three gold, five silver and seven bronze. It was a signficant drop from their 2006 total in Turin, where they finished with one more gold than Canada and nearly as many total medals (it was 24-22 in favour of Canada).

In the 2010 Paralympics, Canada was third among nations with 10 gold and 19 medals overall.

Through the Own the Podium initiative, Canada is striving to finish first in the overall and gold medal counts. The federal goverment recently announced it was dedicating approximately $38 million to Canadian winter sport organizations and athletes.

Are the expectations realistic?

Canada is loaded with winter stars. Top medal contenders include bobsleigh powerhouse Kaillie Humphries, plus Christine Nesbitt and other long track speedskaters, Charles Hamelin and the short track speedskaters, figure skaters led by Patrick Chan and ice dance champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the men's and women's hockey and curling teams, and snowboarders Spencer O'Brien and Mark McMorris.

The NHL hasn't officially announced its participation in the Sochi Games, but given the crossover popularity of the 2010 tournament, along with the presence of about two-dozen Russians in the league, it appears to be a given.

CBC coverage

The CBC won the Canadian media rights for the 2014 Winter Games and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, returning the Olympics to the company that has broadcast them on 19 different occasions, most recently during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Stay up to date with the latest news, video, athlete profiles and more on CBC's Road to the Olympics site.