Sochi 2014 will provide the most difficult biathlon circuit in Olympic history, and the competitors of the Russian Cup were first to be tested by the newly opened track.
“With two years to go before the Olympics we are confident the Games will go smoothly,” Jean-Claude Killy, Chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for Sochi 2014, said. “But to make it happen, we need to create all the necessary conditions. I’m not saying there are any burning issues, but preparing for the Olympics is always difficult, no matter where they take place. Transport, accommodation, security and infrastructure need to be looked at.”
The latest venue of the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi to be unveiled was the biathlon and ski complex, called Laura after a local mythical heroine.
It’s one of the most ambitious projects of the Games, located on the Psekhako Ridge, near Krasnaya Polyana, at a height of one thousand five hundred meters above sea level.
At this height, the lack of oxygen makes the competitors breathe harder, increasing their efficiency and boost their results.
Complex Laura is supposed to put Sochi on the biathlon map and become one of the best in the world, while the track with its ascents and slopes is already considered to be one of the toughest in the sport.
“This is the hardest track in the world,” Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian Biathlon Union’s President, said. “With 60-metre ascents and slopes, with temperatures varying by as much as four degrees, it's absolutely unique. This is our country and we have every opportunity to succeed.”
The complex includes two stadiums, each with their own start and finish zones, a shooting area and warm-up zones.
The designers of the venue tried to make the competition interesting for athletes and spectators alike.
The track is very demanding with numerous turns, which make it hard to pause and rest on the slopes.
And the biathletes taking part in the Russian Cup became the first competitors to appreciate Laura's facilities.
“The track is very challenging,” Daria Novikova, women’s Russian Cup winner, said. “Lots of turns, lots of slopes. If an athlete has some alpine skiing skills to turn on these slopes, they can win back some vital seconds.”
2008 biathlon World Champion, Dmitry Yaroshenko, also experienced problems during the race, coming in only fourth.
“An average time on European tracks is around 25 minutes,” he said. “Here it's over 30. The nature of the course is very hard."
The complex is still under construction, and will be finished in June 2013. However, the weather in the mountains is unpredictable and, while wind is not a problem here, fog can alter the game plan of any competition.
“We have a proverb: When the weather is getting worse, it's time for biathlon,” Vadim Melikhov, Russian Biathlon’s Union Vice-President, stressed. “And when it's foggy here, it reminds us of the famous German venue in Oberhof, except for the wind. The same situation could arise at the Olympics. But it's good that we've got different weather conditions here.”
Russia is one of the leading nations in biathlon and the country's skiers and biathletes will be based at Laura to prepare for the Olympics in Sochi with the hope of increasing their medal chances at their home Games.