I am happiest man in the world: Sochi Games chief
PARIS (AFP) –
Being in charge of organising an Olympic Games is normally akin to a nightmare but the head of the 2014 Games in Sochi Dmitry Chernyshenko goes against the grain by admitting to AFP in an exclusive interview he is the happiest man in the world.
The former advertising mogul – who was the driving force of the successful bid to give Russia their first Winter Olympic Games when they stunned favourites Pyeongchang in the vote in Guatemala City in 2007 – added that part of the reason for his happiness was the way attitudes had changed towards those less fortunate in life.
“I have no regrets about taking this job,” he told AFP by phone while travelling back from a trip to Sochi with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.
“I am the happiest man in the world. It is a very interesting job. It is because the rewards go far beyond the creation of the venues and the roads, it is that we are creating an historical legacy for the country.
“We are creating a new accessible environment for people with disabilities. giving them a better life in society.
“There are new attitudes towards them, first in changing the mentality of the Russian people by getting them to recognise in giving them (people with a disability) equal opportunities.
“Secondly it has also created a better environment for them in terms of facilities as now there are ramps and traffic lights with audible signals.”
Chernyshenko added the Sochi project would give people outside Russia a different and more positive view of the country which has been bedevilled by negative headlines this year over their support of the Syrian regime, the Pussy Riot trial and President Vladimir Putin’s suppression of any public criticism.
“Sochi will be the gateway for the new Russia,” said Chernyshenko on the eve of the first of 22 international test events to be held at Sochi in the winter sports season.
“It will be the model city for the rest of Russia.”
On that note the urbane and charismatic Chernyshenko said that Putin’s personal support of the Games – he has a dacha there – had been crucial in keeping the project on time and on budget.
“Every country preparing an Olympic Games needs high level support from a government,” he said.
“This has been a very personal project for President Putin. He was actively involved in the bid (he gave a star turn at the final presentation before the vote surprising many by delivering it in impeccable English) and he saw it as a way of changing life in Russia.
“To create a blueprint in the region and now we have also in Russia the World Cup finals (2018), the Formula One Grand Prix.
“Our government recognises that we can redevelop the infrastructure and concentrate our efforts in creating confidence and engaging the nation.”
Chernyshenko, who says he does not even think about life post the Games and being able to devote himself to his family once again, said that the people of Sochi has shown great patience with the enormous amount of disruption to their lives with the amount of construction work but added they would reap the benefits.
“It is probably the biggest construction site in the world with 60,000 workers and 3,000 huge trucks as they beautify and purify the city,” he said.
“It is very exciting and I am very proud of what we have achieved so far. For me this is nearly 10 years of my life and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It is extra special for me as my parents live in Sochi.
“Every bridge that goes up, every sporting facility that is finished makes me very proud.
“Sochi according to Forbes magazine is the number one city in Russia in terms of investment.
“The level of unemployment is close to 0% and we have created 560,000 jobs.
“Our intention is to become the cultural, sporting and pleasure capital of Russia.”
Chernyshenko may even avail himself of trying out one of the venues – the bobsleigh run.
“I did the Cresta Run in St Moritz once. I was the meat in the sandwich!” he laughed.
“I have been speaking to Prince Albert of Monaco this week and we have agreed to do the run in Sochi. He will be the pilot and I once again will be the meat in the sandwich!”