MOSCOW -- The Russian capital offers much of what Athens had
eight years ago when it was bidding for the Olympics -- dirty air,
infuriating traffic, an overtaxed international airport and a
history of terrorist attacks.
But Moscow also has an inventive and compact plan for staging
the 2012 Summer Games, a recent record of well-run major sports
events and an energetic determination to reassert Russia's status
as one of the world's major sports powers.
"It is a great opportunity to show the world how Russia has
changed," said Dmitry Svatkovsky, deputy executive director of the
Moscow 2012 bid committee. "We have a new world, new country. It's
very important for us."
Moscow is seen as a long shot in the race against Paris, London,
New York and Madrid. The International Olympic Committee will
select the host city in Singapore on July 6.
Moscow's selection as one of the five finalists was a surprise
to many -- even perhaps to some members of the IOC, whose evaluation
report in May cited a "lack of detailed planning" in the Moscow
Moscow, however, has shown an enormous capacity for change over
the past decade. The dismal, fun-challenged Moscow that hosted the
boycott-damaged 1980 Olympics has given way to a city throbbing
with new construction, partying at all hours and a growing
reputation for fine dining.
The bid committee's slogan, "Imagine It Now," seems more than
just hyperbole -- even though IOC members on an inspection visit in
March had to use all their imagination to picture the Summer
Olympics in a city covered with snow.
The inspection trip coincided with a spectacular assassination
attempt on the head of Russia's electricity monopoly, underlining
the key concern about Moscow: security. Politicians and businessmen
have been killed by bombs and gunfire; the city has been hit by
suicide bombings and the 2002 taking of hundreds of hostages by
Chechen rebels at a theater. At the end of the IOC visit, delegates
said security was their top issue.
Moscow's main strength is its "Olympic River" concept, in
which most of the venues would be along or near the Moscow River,
with an armada of water taxis to transport visitors. Not only would
that reduce the need to use traffic-clogged roads and crowded
subways, it also would offer visitors sweeping views of the
Kremlin, Stalinist Gothic skyscrapers and gold-domed churches.
All competitions except equestrian and sailing would be held
within the city limits. The bid committee says it's the most
compact plan in modern Olympic history.
Two-thirds of the venues already are in use, including a pool
for diving, water polo and synchronized swimming events, a cycling
track, a rowing basin and the equestrian complex, all built for the
1980 Olympics. That's a strong suit amid growing concerns that the
Olympics saddle host cities with costly facilities that get little
use after the games.
Other concerns include whether Sheremetyevo airport, the city's
main international gateway, can be modernized in time for the
games. Projects to improve the airport, despised for its dinginess
and hour-long lines at immigration control, often have been
proposed -- but with no visible progress.
The bid also is hampered by Russia's notorious visa hassles, in
which potential visitors have to fill out detailed travel plans,
confirm hotel reservations and go through other bureaucratic red
The federal and city governments have given financial guarantees
for the games, but public support is hard to gauge. Although no
significant opposition has surfaced, there's no sense of a popular
groundswell -- a bid committee promotion to have supporters push a
button in support of the games recorded about 1.4 million "yes"
votes in the city of 10 million by early June. There was no button
for registering opposition.
Some of the strongest support for the bid has come from noted
Russian athletes and cultural figures who actually spend little
time in Russia, including U.S.-based tennis star Maria Sharapova
and boxer Kostya Tszyu, who lives in Australia.
"Moscow is becoming one of the truly great world capitals,
having shed all the negative characteristics of the Soviet era,"
said another bid proponent, pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy -- who became
an Icelandic citizen some 30 years ago.