My colleague Ansley O’Neal and I were invited to Lviv, Ukraine in June 2013 to discuss the city’s bid for the 2022 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games. To be honest, we weren’t quite sure what to expect but what we found was a very pleasant surprise. A quaint city square (in 1998, UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site), mobs of hip, happy and optimistic young people (the city has dozens of universities and a huge student population) and some of the most entertaining and eclectic restaurants and bars in Europe. It’s a very cool place full of very cool people.
We met Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi to discuss branding and the bid; he was a progressive man with visions of a westernized Ukraine led by the example of a Western looking and leaning Lviv – even though he was wearing a traditional Ukrainian shirt for the meeting and our photo.
In the end, we agreed to help Lviv 2022 create its brand, its key messages, a new logo and a distinct identity for the campaign. We took a lot of time explaining that the audience for an Olympic bid is an international audience, and that we were not creating a new brand for the city of Lviv, rather, a new brand for the city of Lviv’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games; different message, different target audience. For the most part I think everyone got it – even the politicians.
So we began.
We quickly found out that no one (foreigners) knew what Lviv was, or where Lviv was or even how to pronounce it (similar to the start of the Sochi bid). Then we quickly discovered a country that is quite diverse and multicultural. And, we found out that Ukrainians themselves had a hard time describing their own culture because of their fractured history. It was a pleasant exercise in discovery for all of us…like every bid. Ukraine has been generalized as either Russian-focused (eastern Ukraine) or Europe-focused (Western Ukraine). As we have seen from recent events, Ukraine is not that simple.
The Lviv 2022 bid committee is quite young compared to other bid committees with whom we’ve worked. Led by Sergej Gontcharov (he just turned 30 yet is wise beyond his years), the small team really impressed us with their passion for the Olympics and what the 2022 Winter Games could do for Ukraine. To a person, the team was well educated, intelligent (which is different from being well educated), tireless and above all, that most rare of words in that part of the world – optimistic.
I’ve worked with a lot of bid committees over the years the Lviv 2022 team was probably the most idealistic (in a good way) and willing to listen and learn. Those young, expectant faces that took endless notes and asked endless (good) questions will be Ukraine’s leaders of tomorrow. Which is why the events of this past two weeks have been so devastating.
Ukraine is a country struggling to stand and it is being pulled from every direction by every motivation imaginable. Ukraine is also a country that has truly been independent only 18 years or so of its entire history. They are building the car while they drive it, real time, in front of the world.
Watching the Ukrainian athletes march in Sochi’s Opening Ceremony under one government, then try to focus and compete while their country was falling apart back home, then march back into Closing Ceremony under another government sounds like a movie – but it wasn’t. It was real and it was raw, and it shows once again how the unique prism of the Olympic Games gives the world a window into a country’s people, its culture and history itself.
I saw members of the Lviv 2022 bid team in Sochi on the IOC Observers program. They were putting up a brave face but you could see the strain in their eyes. I saw people far too young with too much ability and hope to be struggling under the weight of their impossible burden. It was impressive and moving.
On Thursday morning the 19th of February, we sat with members of Lviv 2022, the Ukrainian NOC and the great Sergei Bubka as events in Kiev were unfolding. We were trying to help them create Tweets, posts, media statements and releases about the situation, but each time we finished a document, something new transpired.
It was a tense morning but they were not panicking or angry – they were determined that something good would come out of this turmoil for their country, for their home. One of Bubka’s Tweets was taken up by the media and flew around the world – “Dialogue is power, violence is weakness”. He meant every word.
As I write this, I have no idea what will happen in Ukraine tomorrow, or if the Lviv 2022 bid will continue. What I do know is that the members of the Lviv 2022 bid committee and all the Ukrainian athletes who were in Sochi are champions in my eyes. Ukraine is a metaphor for the battle of East and West right now, but the reality is they want to be neither, they want to be a bridge to each – and they want to be themselves.
It isn’t often we see history play out before our eyes, but it is happening in Ukraine right now. Let’s hope they find the self-determination and national identity they crave, as well as the peace that they deserve.
Godspeed my dear friends, Sergei, Sergej, Valeriy, Dima, Oleksandr, Ksenia, Ira, Serhiy, Arsen, Oleg and to those I’ve omitted.
In January of 2005, our team began prepping the Moscow 2012 bid committee for the upcoming visit of the IOC Evaluation Commission. In those days we had a very thin advisory team and my forte was not and is not technical planning. It was too late to “adjust” the Moscow bid books, written locally by non Olympic-experienced advisors – that’s another story. And, we had to get ready for the IOC EC visit in just two months.
Bob Stiles, an old friend, had just finished his consulting stint with Leipzig 2012. Bob was quite vocal in the media about Leipzig being cut and Moscow passing through. And if you remember Bob, he could be fairly direct. A few years before, Bob hired my former partner George Hirthler and me to work on the US bid for San Francisco 2012 (a great bid…too bad) and also for the US Equestrian Federation’s re-branding. As we do in our business, I felt obliged to return the favor to Bob as soon as I had an opportunity.
Bob had extensive experience in planning, implementing, managing and consulting to major world-class sports events, including six Olympic Games, three FIFA World Cups and numerous other international competitions.
Bob knew his proverbial stuff.
In January 2005, Bob agreed to come to Moscow. He immediately fell in love with the city and its people, and as we shall see, Russia became the consuming passion for the rest of his too-short life.
Bob was a brilliant man – kind of off the charts brilliant, having earned both his BA and MA at Stanford in education and German. In truth, you could drop Bob anywhere on the planet and he could speak the language in about two weeks. He learned Russian as an undergrad (in his spare time) at Stanford and actually visited Moscow on a student trip in 1966 (yes he was busted for selling Levi’s blue jeans out of his backpack on the street). He was fluent in Russian when he was 18, but not when he returned to Russia for the second time of his life in 2005, at the age of 57.
As I said, it didn’t take Bob long to figure it out. I remember walking all over Moscow with Bob – he loved to walk. It was a Rip Van Winkle moment. The Moscow of 2005 was literally a different planet from the Moscow of 1966. Bob was speechless and observant as always. As we sat drinking a glass of good red wine (Bob loved red wine), overlooking Red Square and the new GUM, tears filled his eyes and he said “God I am so happy to be back here and see this…they made it through the nightmare.” Frankly, I’d never seen this side of Bob.
The very first mention I can recall of the word “Sochi” came at lunch one day, in an nondescript little Russian restaurant around the corner from the bid office – just the kind of place that Bob sought out and loved. He and I were having soup and some lovely dark Russian bread, and as usual drinking one of the dozens of flavored tea offerings with Dmitry Svatkovksy.
Dima was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist for Russia in the Modern Pentathlon, and he won a Silver medal in the same discipline competing for the “Unified Team” in Barcelona. Dima served on the leadership team of the Moscow 2012 bid as Sport Director and he was already thinking ahead. He said, “the leadership (a vague term in Russia that could mean anyone from the Sports Minister – then Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov – up to Putin himself) is thinking about a winter bid for Sochi for 2014…”.
Bob and I were silent, as neither of us knew where Sochi was, and frankly we working hard to keep the Moscow bid afloat. In classic Russian style Dima leaned in, inches from our faces, and with an upturn in his chin, he narrowed his piercing blue eyes and said “Sochi…vhat you think…?” To this day I can’t recall what we actually said, but I don’t remember either of us jumping on it as a “great idea”. Like I said, we didn’t even know where it was. I do remember Dima looking a bit disheartened.
So the Moscow 2012 bid marched on to Singapore. We did our best, but were voted out in the first round with 16 votes behind New York, Madrid, Paris and London.
Four important things happened during that Moscow 2012 bid:
I reconnected with Russia (I’d worked there briefly in 1992 with Delta Air Lines as their country manager) and learned to love and appreciate it and its people – it’s tough for most foreigners but worth the effort;
I learned a lot about Olympic bidding from the bottom up;
I reconnected with Bob Stiles. Although I initially hired him as a consultant to our firm, we always had a partnership relationship. We had different but complimentary skills – but I am sure that I learned a lot more from him that he did from me.
The final important thing that happened as a result of the Moscow 2012 bid experience was that the Russians called, right after the loss in Singapore and asked us to help them on the Sochi 2014 Winter Games bid. They appreciated our grit, our ability to work hard and frankly, they liked us, trusted us and we liked them.
I called Bob and asked if he was “in” but with a twist. Going forward, we wanted him on our team as part of our company, not a consultant. The world of the independent consultant is a tenuous one. Contrary to common belief, the money is not that great and it is certainly not steady, working from event to event.
To our delight, Bob said yes and joined us full time. We immediately got to work on closing the Sochi deal.
The then head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachev, was the former sports minister. He was rumored to be a close friend of Putin’s and also his ski instructor. Tyagachev tasked the “three men left standing” after the Moscow bid, Dmitry Svatkovksy, Alexey Sorokin and Alexander Chernov to get the Sochi bid rolling. They immediately called me and I agreed. To this day people still ask me why I agreed to Sochi and all I can say is that I knew the Russians would not do two bids in a row and lose. They were determined – it was a very different feeling from the Moscow bid. And, I’d never been to Sochi!
Bob and I took a team including David Woodward of North Design, Charlie Battle and David Ficklin representing Jerry Anderson of then-HOK, and Catherine St. Laurent to Sochi in August 2005 for our initial look around. There was no bid committee, no money, no contract – nothing. All we had was the word of Russia via our three friends Svatkovksy, Sorokin and Chernov. But we believed in Russia and we knew, as it always does there, “it will happen”.
Bob and the HOK team, along with other Russian colleagues such as the late Andrei Serpilin of BDO and Dima Mosin, also ex-Moscow 2012 team member went to work on an initial sports and venue plan and budgets, while I went to work on the branding, messaging and the answer to “Why Sochi?” I am not sure which was more difficult at that point. I remember the deputy mayor’s office literally covered in maps. Bob looked at the place where the Olympic Park now resides and said, “what is here…?” After a few exchanges in Russian with his colleagues, the deputy mayor looked at us and said “nothing…we can use it all – what do you want to put there?”
It was an “ah ha” moment and one that frankly only Bob, among us, truly understood in terms of what it could really mean for this bid and for the long term legacy for the city of Sochi. Bob said, and I am paraphrasing from memory, “gentlemen I think we can do something historic for the Olympics here – and for Sochi…we have go over there and look around and measure the place but I think we can offer the Olympic Movement the first ever totally enclosed Winter Olympic Park for all the city/ice venues…including the Village, hotels, lounges, sponsor showcasing – all of it in one place! Do you realize what this means?”
I have to admit I did not know what it truly meant, and I really didn’t understand the true genius behind Bob’s revelation until it began to take shape on paper and in our narrative. Then it was clear: a built from scratch, tailor made plan for the Winter Games – state-of-the-art, brand new and in a region desperately in need not only of the sports infrastructure, but the accompanying city infrastructure needed to host a Winter Games and to serve its citizens for generations to come.
We would also re-introduce a new, vibrant and democratic Russia to the world, and host the Winter Olympic Games for the first time in one of the world’s greatest winter sports nations. Oh, and did we mention it will take place in a summer resort on the Black Sea? This bid had it all, and then some. Most of all, it had Bob.
Bob had a vision in his mind that people around the world are now seeing every night on the Olympic broadcast – he could really see those beautiful, incredible new venues in a glorious park in what was then a vast, empty, unused and frankly blighted area. And he was right – he was right more right than he would ever know. I know a lot of adjustments have been made since the Application File and Bid Books were written, but the foundation is essentially the same. And it was Bob who conceived it and drove it.
Bob worked tirelessly on the Sochi bid – it consumed him. We were in Moscow once a month, every month for at least one week, and often two-plus in Bob’s case. We were, by this time working with the new bid committee team brought in December 2005 by new bid CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko, whose talented leadership led the bid to victory in Guatemala City.
We also had help from new colleagues such Jon Tibbs and his team, IMG, Weber Shandwick, film makers Caroline Rowland and Rupert Wainwright, Andrew Craig and Emma Newbery, speech coach Martin Newman and others I am certain I’ve omitted (forgive me – let me know and I will update this post!).
Bob’s greatest pride was the Olympic Park – that was a never-been-done-before accomplishment and those are hard to come by in Olympic venue planning. To be sure we had a team of people, foreign and Russian consultants, architects, and analysts working on the bid by now – but it truly was Bob’s inspiration for the Sochi Olympic Park that led to what we see today.
I watched Bob literally become a different, happier more fulfilled person in Russia. “A New Bob.” Yes he could still call down the hammer of Thor when displeased with someone or something (if you ever worked with Bob closely, you’ve been singed a time or two from the accompanying lightening bolt).
But Bob was also a man at peace with himself. Russia gave him that gift and it was a beautiful transformation to watch. The photo at the top of this page was taken when we were leaving Moscow for what we thought was the last time – July 2005 on our way to Singapore for the Moscow 2012 Final Presentation. Little did we know we’d be back constantly over the next several years, and in Bob’s case finally, to stay and call it “home”.
Bob left our firm in 2008, after the Beijing Games and joined the Sochi Organizing Committee as a Vice President. I was sad to see Bob go but also understood it was the best move for him. Bob of course re-learned the Russian language; he also fell in love with a Russian lady, Olga, and got married. Frankly, I think he’d always wanted to end his career with an Organizing Committee.
Tragically, almost one year into his new life in Russia, Bob passed away on a trip back to Atlanta. His loss was devastating to his family, friends and the new Sochi Organizing Committee.
Bob touched everyone with whom he worked in a very special, personal way. Bob was tireless, visionary, relentless, complex and always kind. He was a true professional. And he was my friend.
Rest well my friend, and know that your vision, your dream for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games not only came true, but exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“Terrorism and Tension for Sochi, Not Sports and Joy” – New York Times
“Sochi’s Already a Mess, for Journalists at Least” – Newsweek
“An Olympic Shame: Vladimir Putin Plays Host To Winter Games” – NPR
I don’t know if I qualify as a true Olympic expert, but I have been around and involved with enough Games, both in front of and behind the magic Olympic curtain, to recognize certain patterns.
For example, virtually every Olympic Games has issues with transport, accommodation, ticketing and yes even security, in the days leading up to and during the first days of the Games. None of this is observed on the broadcast, thankfully, but those in this business have grown accustomed to it and know full well it is normal. But, by about 7 days into the 17-day event, it all gets figured out and everything works mostly perfectly. I am looking forward to everyone’s attention turning to the performances of the world’s greatest athletes instead of stories about lost luggage, funny menu translations or vodka.
Which brings me to my point.
Why is everyone “hating on” Sochi?
Do people just not like Russia? Not like Putin? Not like Sochi?
Maybe people believe that Sochi and the Russians lied about what they said they were going to do in their bid for the Games. So, I went back and looked at the Sochi 2014 bid books (which I was honored to help write). And guess what? The Sochi bid committee (Russians) did everything they said they were going to do for sport.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the Olympic Games have sport at their heart?
Now, it seems fashionable for every sanctimonious, seasoned sports and Olympic watcher to ask the same question: How in the world did the IOC give the Games to Putin? (Note the lack of mention for Sochi, let alone Russia – it is Putin, they decry.) I understand some of that sentiment. I don’t think the Russians have handled every issue, from LGBT rights, to corruption, to cost overruns to the environment the way others would have handled it. But…the 2014 Winter Games are not in other countries. They are in Russia.
So how exactly did the Russians do it?
They put a solid bid together, answering the questions and following guidelines of the IOC’s bid process. Did they trick everyone? Deceive the world? Pull the wool over the Olympic-loving public’s eyes? Let’s take a look at what they said (Sochi 2014 bid book content in italics below):
The people of Russia invite the world to Sochi to share and celebrate the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Russians have a special passion for winter, for winter sport and for the Olympic Movement.
Well, that seems reasonable and believable. It is very cold in Russia after all, and Russia and the former USSR won a lot of Olympic medals over the years.
The plans in this Candidature File reflect a unique and historical fusion of the long-term development needs of the Sochi region and the winter sports development needs of the Olympic Movement. Both sets of objectives fit perfectly within the Sochi 2014 Games plan…Sochi and the Olympic Movement will be beneficiaries of one of the strongest, most wide-ranging legacies ever to result from an Olympic Winter Games.
The Government of the Russian Federation has fully guaranteed and committed – and work has already begun – to deliver all venue, transport, technology, environmental and sport infrastructure necessary to host the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The US$ 12 billion “Federal Target Programme for the Development of Sochi” is the key foundation to the plans, which will provide the Olympic Movement with the certainty that all necessary infrastructures for the 2014 Winter Games will be completed on time and on budget.
Ah-ha! They (Russians) said it would cost $12b and it ended up costing $50b! They (Russians) lied to “us” (whoever “us” is…).
To this I would simply say that I was a member of that team that came up with the $12b budget for the Sochi Games; in fact I hired or recommended most of them. Where we certain of the number? Well, not totally, so we padded it a little to make sure (yes, you read that right). Neither our Russian colleagues nor we had any benchmarks to use or any examples to follow for such an undertaking. Nothing like Sochi 2014 had ever been attempted before…ever.
Looking back seven years later, should we have used more precise projections, better models to arrive at the $12b figure? The obvious answer seems to be yes. But often the obvious answer is not always a feasible one – we used the only information we had at the time.
The point is the $12b figure was vetted and approved by a raft of Olympic facilities, transport, sport, finance and venue and other experts. So how did $12b become $50b? Obviously, many people think they know. Here is my question: How much does it cost to build an entire city when one has to bring virtually everything in via a broken, barely existing infrastructure system? I have no idea if it cost $20b, $30b or $50b, but I do know it cost a lot more than anyone, even the experts, thought that it would. And hey, it’s their money.
The Sochi region will be transformed into a modern, world-class, year-round destination for sport, tourism and commerce, and Russia will develop its first world-class, elite alpine sports training and competition infrastructure – a complete winter sports centre that will benefit athletes from the entire Middle East and central Asian region.
That is an admirable goal for a bidding nation. This was a foundation of Sochi’s messaging and positioning. Sochi 2014 met the needs of Russia, of the region of central Asia and offered the Olympic Movement the ability to develop sport in an underserved region. That seems fully aligned with the Olympic Charter and the IOC’s stated objectives for bid cities. The same could not be said for the bid of our magical, and fully developed winter sports competitor, Salzburg.
The bid committee has listened to and incorporated the guidance of the IOC, International Federations, National Olympic Committees and the Russian winter sports federations in developing the plans in this Candidature File. The plans focus on the needs of the athletes as the cornerstone for the Sochi 2014 vision and Games concept:
Imagine walking or traveling by shuttle from the Olympic Village to any of the new ice venues in less than 5 minutes – all within the protected security zone of the innovative Sochi Olympic Park.
Imagine needing only 40 minutes of travel time from the ice venue cluster to the mountain venue cluster – all via dedicated-Olympic lanes, dedicated-Olympic roads and rail.
Imagine being less than 18 minutes travel time to any mountain venue from the mountain Sub-Village.
Imagine an Olympic Village placed along the magnificent Black Sea shore in 4-star resort hotels or a Mountain Village nestled among the peaceful forests in 4-star lodges and chalets, all designed to provide the ultimate opportunities for preparation and focus.
Imagine competing in new, state-of-the-art venues that offer ideal conditions for every athlete.
Well, you don’t have to imagine it any longer – the Russians built these things. And they built all of them for the comfort and convenience of the athletes – and the Olympic Family. As they said they would.
To me, the recent news coverage about Sochi seems a lot like piling on. “Look – two toilets side by side!” “Elevators not working in brand new hotel!” “Delays at airport!” “No sheets on my bed!” “My bus was late!” “First order in the Village McDonald’s was wrong!” “I don’t have a shower curtain!”
Here is the reality: in seven years, Russia has built about 100 new hotels in Sochi and the surrounding area, four new Alpine Resorts, five new power plants for the city and a new sewer system, upgraded the airport and improved or built close to a million of square feet of new roads and sidewalks. Oh, and they also built eleven state-of-the-art sports venues for the Winter Games. Eleven (11). See them here http://www.olympic.org/news/all-about-the-sochi-2014-venues/219150
The legacy of the XXII Olympic Winter Games will endure for decades, forever changing and enhancing the lives of its citizens, as well as profoundly affecting the youth of Russia. Key legacy components of the Sochi 2014 plans include:
The development of the critically-needed alpine, sliding and ski-jumping facilities, which will:
Help to broaden the interest and participation of Russian youth in these popular winter sports
Provide world-training facilities for Russian elite-level athletes;
Provide for the first time venues for national and international alpine competitions in Russia;
Create a year-round tourism industry to expand upon existing summer tourism. This expansion will improve economic conditions for the local population and sustain employment levels year-round;
The development of modern entertainment, exhibition, retail and accommodation facilities along the coast, which will ensure that Sochi becomes a world-class resort destination;
Time will tell if this legacy holds true, but you cannot argue they don’t have the hardware in the ground now to do it.
Finally, to the foreign visitors in Sochi who have seemingly never been out of their home state or village: yes, Russia is different. Your hundreds of daily, naïve tweets and posts about it do nothing but prove that you may not even have basic cable at home. Russia is unique. It is not like America, or Japan, or Australia, or France or frankly anywhere else one has ever been; that is why it is interesting. Russia is its own continent. Enjoy the differences instead of denigrating them – you might learn something.
First in 1998, then in 2003, 2005, 2007 and in 2009 we conducted research in Russia about the Olympic brand, or about bids we were working on in Russia. We learned something fascinating from older Russians. Time in Russia is like the country itself – it is vast, it can seem eternal (which it is) and it is relentless.
Many of the older Russians we interviewed told us that they thought Glasnost and Perestroika began with the 1980 Games in Moscow. They drew a clear, straight line from 1980 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 from the Olympic experience. They believed that the influx of foreigners into Moscow, even with a boycotted Olympic Games, started an inexorable movement of change and progress that they believe continues to this day.
I remember writing First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Alexander Zhukov’s speech for Sochi 2014’s presentation in Guatemala. I asked him what he knew about the Olympic Games. He said “not much, but I do remember the Moscow Games…it was a different time and a Russia was a different place…I was a student volunteer, mixing and pouring concrete to help build Olympic venues”. Mr. Zhukov is now an IOC member. A lot has happened in seven years.
So, I’d like to visit the Russia of 2048, 34 years from now, to see if Sochi 2014 had an impact similar to Moscow 1980. Maybe the 2014 Games’ influence will be faster – it almost has to, given technology and the Russia of today versus 1980.
Let’s give Sochi and the people of Russia a chance. They asked for the Games. They’ve done their absolute best to get ready, and achieved what I believe no other country on earth could achieve in seven years. And again, they did it with their own money.
Let’s also hope, wish, pray or whatever it is you do when you really want something – that the 2014 Winter Games begin and conclude peacefully.