Athletes bemused by Sochi haters

SOCHI, Russia Fri Feb 7, 2014 9:54pm IST

People wave as they arrive for the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

People wave as they arrive for the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The potshots and constant stream of criticism of the Sochi Olympics is starting to wear thin on some of the athletes at the Games, who can't understand what all the fuss is about.

While Sochi has largely been portrayed as a shambles, athletes and even visitors to the Games are painting a very different picture.

One American speedskater described Sochi as "Disney World" while a New Zealand freestyle skier said the criticism was fuelled by jealousy.

"There's so much hate online from anybody who's not here, just like 'Sochi sucks', and this and that," said skier Jossi Wells.

"But half the people are jealous because they didn't make it here and the other half are just hating because it's cool to hate.

"It's just like, 'Yo, you're not here. You don't even know how sweet it is'."

Social media has been buzzing with jokes about Sochi's provisions, including a widely-publicized photograph of twin toilets, but the athletes have been praising the facilities.

"REALLY IMPRESSED"

"I'm really impressed with the venues, the villages, everything," said American speedskater Heather Richardson. "To me, it feels like Disney World."

While security remains one of the biggest talking points of the Games, the competitors say they are not worried at all, with many encouraging their families to come over.

The American freestyle skier David Wise said his wife and their two-year-old had made the trip to Russia and he had no fears for their safety.

"I can't say enough good things about the organizers here. We had a really smooth process getting into the country," he said.

"I don't think anybody has felt any danger since we've got here."

With the first medals to be decided on Saturday, the athletes are already feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev said he can't wait for the competition to start after spending the past day scrolling through his phone after displaying his telephone number on his helmet during qualifiers.

FEMALE ADMIRERS

Sobolev said he had already received more than 2,000 messages, mostly from female admirers, but he would not reveal their contents.

"Some of the messages are not appropriate to read aloud," he joked.

Daniel Harrison and Sue Squillace are visiting Sochi from Australia and bought tickets to the opening ceremony.

They said they had had some glitches at their hotel in the mountains overlooking Sochi, but were otherwise impressed by everything.

"Our hotel opened, I think, yesterday, so they've rushed things through. There are some minor issues in there, I don't think there's anything that's unbearable, Harrison said.

"(There's) very limited water pressure, let's put it that way. There is a little bit of hot water there, I think it'll be OK though.

"I think it's going to be fantastic, the place looks beautiful. We're just here to enjoy a wonderful event."

It has become standard practice for host cities to be heavily criticized in the lead up to an Olympics only to be later lavished with praise and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said he expected the same for Sochi.

"If you speak with the athletes in the Olympic Village they all feel very comfortable, the atmosphere is very good in the village," he said.

"I'm absolutely sure that this Olympic atmosphere will spill over from the Olympic Village to the audience and the Games."

(Editing by Ossian Shine)