Sochi's Already a Mess, for Journalists at Least

A reporter was warned about the tap water by hotel staff. "Do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous" Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters

Will Sochi be ready for the Winter Olympics by the time of the opening ceremony on Friday?

Tweets from reporters newly arrived in Sochi illustrate a haphazard, darkly funny debacle.

Stacy St. Clair, of the Chicago Tribune, found golden-brown water in her Sochi hotel when she turned on the tap.

Water restored, sorta. On the bright side, I now know what very dangerous face water looks like. #Sochi #unfiltered

— Stacy St. Clair (@StacyStClair) February 4, 2014

My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says, "do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous." #Sochi2014

— Stacy St. Clair (@StacyStClair) February 4, 2014

Mark MacKinnon, a senior correspondent for the Globe and Mail, found no lobby in his hotel.

For those of you asking, when there's no lobby in your hotel, you go to the owner's bedroom to check in. #Sochi2014

— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) February 4, 2014

Vocativ came across a letter to Sochi volunteers explaining that due to a pillow shortage, their pillows will be transferred to Olympic athletes.


Due to an extreme shortage of pillows for athletes who unexpectedly arrived to Olympic Village in the mountains, there will be a transfer of pillows from all apartments to the storehouse on 2 February 2014. Please be understanding. We have to help the athletes out of this bind.

Shaun Walker, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, found his hotel's elevator broken and the stairwell firedoor locked.

Got back to hotel. Lift broken after half day in use. Trekked up stairs. Door to my floor (that'd be the fire door) locked. Utter farce.

— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) February 4, 2014

National Post sports columnist Bruce Arthur found a stairway that sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

In the Ekaterininsky Kvartal hotel, the elevator is broken and the stairway is unlit, with stairs of varying and unpredictable heights.

Harry Reekie, CNN sports producer, arrived in Sochi to find that only one of the 11 rooms he said CNN booked "five months ago" was ready. Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee President Dmitry Chernyshenko initially suggested Reekie needed to just "turn back and to look at the mountains ;)" but later Chernyshenko Tweeted that media hotels are opened and "undergoing final testing."

@DChernyshenko Our media hotel is not ready Dmitry....11 rooms booked five months ago, only one ready. Please help.

— Harry Reekie (@HarryESPN) February 4, 2014

@HarryCNN media hotels are opened, undergoing final testing.Apologize for inconvenience.Pls contact press operations or accomodation service

— Dmitry Chernyshenko (@DChernyshenko) February 4, 2014

Detroit Free Press sportswriter Jo-Ann Barnas found hazards in the sidewalks.

Watch your step @Sochi2014 -- I've noticed on walkway and on sidewalks that not all man holes are always covered.

— Jo-Ann Barnas (@JoAnnBarnas) February 1, 2014

Photographer Joerg Reuter's saga of searching for an acceptable hotel room was full of misadventure.

"The outdoor area and floors/staircase/elevator inside were still under construction and completely dirty," Reuter wrote, adding that the room he was shown "had no light in the main room, the water out of the tap was yellow/brown, the air conditioning, TV, kitchenware were all not working ... Beside this the room was totally dirty and everywhere covered with dust."

The next room was worse.

"In some rooms you actually saw that there are still the construction workers sleeping and living," he wrote.

Seeing the dog walk out of the third room he was shown was a step too far.

"When I came out of the elevator, there was the dog. I said, 'Right, that's it,'" Reuter told The Associated Press.

According to a New York Times reporter in Sochi, the Olympic landmarks are still under construction and the scene is a "peculiar mix of grandiosity and bungling," where a lit-up Christmas tree still adorns a hotel lobby, and an employee shrugs and offers "It's Russia!" as an explanation.

"There are unfinished hotels, half-finished stores and a mall where the only shop that is open and thriving is a Cinnabon," the reporter writes.

Julian Finney/Getty

The Sochi Games are the most expensive Olympics ever staged. Government watchdog Alexey Navalny pegs their total cost at $46 billion (and others project up to $5 billion more). That surpasses even the $43 billion spent on the 2008 summer Games in Beijing, a far larger production that itself broke the Olympic spending record.

The Sochi Games have been plagued from the start. There are accusations of embezzlement on a massive scale. Now, just days before the first athletes start competing, it is clear the facilities are not finished.

Gary Hershorn/Reuters

The Times reporter lists the glitches. He inadvertently pulled off the handles of two doors in the poorly finished Bolshoy Ice Dome. A man walked into his hotel room at three in the morning, because he has been assigned the same room. The bus ride to the main media center offers little more than a vista of "a lot of dirt fields, dotted with newly planted trees, kept upright with twine."

Some errors are comic. A BBC reporter posted an image of a double toilet--two toilet bowls in one stall--at the Olympic Biathlon Center. After that image went viral, the bowls were quickly replaced by three free-standing cabinets. Later, a second double toilet bowl was discovered by an Associated Press reporter in the Olympic media center. A photo of a (possibly third?) pair of double toilets in action recently surfaced.

Lars Baron/Getty

A series of photos taken January 23 show Sochi strewn with trash, huge piles of construction debris a mile from the Olympic park, and a half-finished hotel with metal studs bristling vertically out of its concrete walls.

With the opening ceremonies just two days away, the world waits to see whether the Russian organizers can fix their glitches in time.