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      The Weird Olympics

      June 1, 2011

      By Rob Hornstra


      Each year, Mikhail Pavelivich Karabelnikov (77) makes the approximately 2,000-mile trip from Novokuznetsk, Russia, to summer in Sochi. During the Soviet era, millions of workers were sent annually to the city’s famed sanatoriums, in hopes of reviving their spirits and strengthening their bodies. Today, they remain booked year-round and are mostly filled with elderly or disabled Russians. By 2014, almost all of these historic buildings will have been converted into luxury hotels to house Olympic athletes, officials, and spectators.

      Situated on the shore of the Black Sea, Sochi is Russia’s largest resort destination. It’s a place so beautiful that Josef Stalin kept a dacha there during the golden years. The region’s charm will soon be forced down the throats of a worldwide audience when Sochi hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics.

      Contrasting its seemingly sunny and laidback atmosphere, Sochi’s past is tarnished by conflict. Russia has tried—with varying degrees of success—to control the area for more than 200 years. Today the city is an amalgam of ethniticites, all with competing histories and claims to independence.

      When Sochi won the Olympic bid in 2008, the city lacked world-class athletic facilities (which made its selection all the more peculiar). The Russian government has since pledged $12 billion to refurbish the city—by some estimates, the most that has ever been spent to bring a site up to Olympic standards.

      Photographer Rob Hornstra and writer/filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen have rigorously documented the region’s extraordinary changes for a multimedia enterprise they call the Sochi Project, which will continue through the closing ceremony of the games. Rob was kind enough to provide us with a few images that capture a type of socioeconomic flux unique to the region.

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