So, Sochi, Just What Is That Place?

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So, Sochi, Just What Is That Place?

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Pajiba Storytellers | February 13, 2014 | Comments ()


The moment most Americans learned that the Winter Olympics this year would be in Russia, their first reaction was likely that such a thing made sense. Americans tend to know three things about Russia, if they know anything: it’s cold, it was communist, and they get invaded by everybody. The first of those is the one that mattered here. If you’re going to do winter, where better than Russia for the full beyond the wall, dodging White Walkers experience, right?

The second reaction was to the actual place. As in, where the hell is Sochi? Moscow, people would understand. Most would understand St. Petersburg. Sochi though? I imagine, “must be in Siberia” was the logical follow up to hearing the name. And that would have been fantastic. I couldn’t care less about the Olympics, and yes I’ve already been assured at eloquent length that this means I’m a terrible human being, but I might just tune in if they staged them in real Russian winter. I want to see ice hockey outside at negative fifty degrees. I want to see snowboarding through a hurricane of ice. Speed skating down the frozen rivers, cross-country skiing across a continent of tundra.

But Sochi? It’s on the Black Sea. It’s a resort town. The average high for the Olympics is in the mid-fifties, and Thursday it should reach a balmy sixty degrees. The lows aren’t even getting within ten degrees of freezing. That’s about as winter as April in Tallahassee.

People hear about this, and they wonder, why in the world there? Why this more or less dinky town in the outskirts of Russia, vaguely near Chechnya and all those other wild mountain places that we only hear about when a sufficient number of people blow up?

So, Sochi, just what is that place?

In the beginning, there was nature. Then human beings showed up, as they are wont to do. Technically, they were natural too, but they tend to get offended when told so and think both that it implies their grandmothers were chimpanzees, and that such a comment would be a downgrading of what we really think about their grandmothers. The first hundred thousand years were relatively boring, the evidence being that no one wrote down a single thing that happened. Epic societal writer’s block. So consumed were they by ennui, that they failed to even note when the world was created in 4000 BC. The human beings in question were Turkic of a sort, which is what we more or less call everybody between China and Europe who isn’t Russian.

Various empires invaded at one point or another, this little picturesque strand of land running along the Black Sea. Murder, wars, death. Pretty standard fare, really. Then the Mongols. But then, having half your people used to make pyramids of skulls by horsemen from the East was practically a rite of passage for anyone who was anyone in the thirteenth century.

Eventually the area settled on the name Circassia, which in some yet undiscovered language probably means “Land Where Russians and Turks Fight.” Something like twenty major wars over five hundred years, as the Russians and Turks swung back and forth over what we’d now call Caucasia or southern Russia more generally. As the Russians gradually pushed southwards, there was a final series of wars in the 19th century, highlighted by neither side having any inclination towards taking prisoners and a rather famous historical leader named Shamil who led a dashing resistance against the Russians, and filled entire books with legendary exploits.

The new lands were problematic for the Russians, largely because they were filled with people who weren’t Russians. We shouldn’t judge too harshly outside of historical context. It was a generation later when the British invented concentration camps, so while the step the Russians took was certainly not progressive, it was understandable, especially to the other countries of the time. The Russians lit upon the idea of solving the problem of Circassia being filled with Turks, by just kicking them all out and shipping them to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans themselves were initially in cautious favor of the idea, after all people were useful for drafting into armies, which did things like fight the Russians.

Implementation fell slightly short of expectation, if you were still in the camp that thought this might go well. See, somewhere around six hundred thousand of the Circassians died, since the Russians gave little thought towards things like: food, water, and not packing the population into ships in ways that made the Atlantic slave trade look like sedate vacation cruises. A whole lot of the Circassians did in fact make it to Turkey proper, but only about ten percent of the original population was left behind, and enough died that calls to classify it as a genocide still sound in some corners of the world.

Russian development flooded in, especially into Sochi, which was the historical capital of the now depopulated area. In the true spirit of historical conquest, the capital of the vanquished enemy was turned into a seaside spa and vacation spot. Stalin built his favorite dacha there, because the best views tend to be the ones on top of mass graves. And except for a timeout during World War II when the city was used as a mass military hospital for the entire Eastern front of the war, it continued to grow and settle into a role as Russian South Beach.

See, the five million tourists per year dropped off by ninety percent when the Soviet Union fell and its economy disintegrated. If only, Putin undoubtedly thought on one of his many vacations to Sochi, if only this area could be made attractive again, draw in Western tourists and the like. And so the Olympic bidding began.

But, you know, Bob Costas’ eye infection is important too.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Chicken Lips

    I watched the segment on Bryant Gumble's HBO sports show about Sochi being in the warmest spot in Russia (there's palm trees for goodness sakes!). I admit - some of the only things I know about Russia is "It's cold, they were communist and they aren't great alone in wars", so I wondered why they didn't know for the summer Olympics to show the world that "it's cold" doesn't apply to the entire country? Now hindsight is 20/20, but I'm betting that there wouldn't be all the bad press and negativity if they had done the summer Olympics.

    I'm not saying there wouldn't have been corruption and greed, but you probably wouldn't have heard about unsuitable venues due to melting.

  • Martin Holterman

    "they aren't great alone in wars"??? I think they did allright, unless you're thinking of a war I overlooked. They certainly didn't need any help against Napoleon or Hitler.

  • e jerry powell

    But 1980!

  • Chicken Lips

    Doesn't count! There was nothing good in communist Russia - didn't you get that memo?

  • TheOriginalMRod

    The other day I said "Russia is like the Dollar General of First World countries." except that it is not a First World country. It is a Second World country... but you get the idea.

  • cox

    Nowdays, culturally, Sochi is basically our Florida.

    and i was born in a minus 40 climate, i absolutely love the idea of people trying to do outdoor activities in that. any activity really, like walking. why go to winter olimpics? lets have the real one there! synchronized divers, thrashing against the ice. i would watch.

    every spring when the snow melted we would find blocks of ice with several alcoholics that were lost in the previous 7 months or so. good times.

  • Bert_McGurt

    " I want to see ice hockey outside at negative fifty degrees."

    Come up to balmy Winnipeg in two years for the Heritage Classic and you just might!

  • kaizee

    Ahh Winnipeg. Where we complain to each other daily about the freezing cold, and then turn around and brag about it to outsiders. Home sweet home.

  • e jerry powell

    Tonight, a drunk chick from Winnipeg dances.
    A girl from Winnipeg, or somewhere like Winnipeg, dances, drunk and alone.
    She's not the mayor of Winnipeg.
    She's not Winnipeg Fast Eddie.
    She's just a sweet chick from Winnipeg with a futon apartment, who tonight dances alone with her head in a PA column.
    Soon the song will end.
    She'll stop smiling and shaking.
    But then, like a mighty river, another song will start.
    Sweet drunk chick from Winnipeg.
    There she is, watch her go.

  • oilybohunk7

    I sat outside for six hours in Ann Arbor for the Winter Classic this year when it was 13 degrees and snowed six inches or so throughout the game. That was bad enough for me.

  • Mrs. Julien

    This is not a good thing nor something to be proud of.

  • BWeaves

    Sochi just proves that the Olympic committee takes massive bribes to host the games.

    Didn't they use to award the games to places that already had the facilities and info structure in place? Or am I imagining that?

  • Coolg82

    I am not sure specifically, but the Olympics have a history of host nations dropping an obscene amount of money on hosting it and almost never recouping the cost or ever finding use for the facilities gain. Atlanta more or less did little with their Olympic structures and Beijing tried to turn its stadiums into malls. Its more or less a publicity thing than a money making scheme. This could screw up things for Sochi if it does inspire interest in the town, but everyone shows up with skis and find out that they should have brought the water variety.

  • Tinkerville

    It's frustrating because then we see the Olympics being hosted in either the same countries over and over again, or countries that are morally questionable because they could afford the massive bribes.

  • Stephen Nein

    You are - by all rights, the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter games in California didn't have the facilities before and after the Olympics. What it did have was a con-man/dreamer/grifter/entrepreneur named Alexander Cushing that single-handedly convinced everyone in the American government, and finally Avery Brundage and his International Olympic Committee toadies, that they all would profit off of a California games.

    Since Squaw Valley, which was so bad no one will even say it's name, hosts have to demonstrate that they can get their shit together and have existing facilities renovated & new facilities built. That's more or less where much of the corruption thrives and is kabuki theater. The IOC is mostly making sure that only the biggest grifters (ones whom usually can deliver), are the ones making the deals.

  • cox

    depends how old you are :)
    i don't think any of big sporting events are awarded to countries that can afford them anymore. brazil had no facilities for world cup, and i think is still not ready now.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin


  • e jerry powell

    See, somebody over at AVC was trying to force nuclear physics into a Coven episode review a few weeks ago...

  • zeke_the_pig

    Oh man, Steve, sorry, mate, but you shouldn't have started with the Siberian Olympics. I can't read the rest of the article now. I need to go storyboard that, or film it, or live it, or something first!

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