The XXII Olympic Winter Games (the official title) will be held in Sochi, Russia, a resort on the Black Sea in the southern part of Russia, a little east of the Crimean Peninsula. Much has been made of Sochi as a Winter Olympic site, with critics saying it is too warm, too far south, and more a summer resort than a winter one. So let’s look at some numbers – after all, that’s what I do.
Is Sochi the southernmost site for a Winter Olympics? Nope, in fact, four other sites have been located at more southerly latitudes than Sochi, as follows:
Year City NOC Latitude (N)
1998 Nagano JPN 36°-38′
1960 Squaw Valley USA 39°-11′
2002 Salt Lake City USA 40°-45′
1972 Sapporo JPN 43°-04′
2014 Sochi RUS 43°-35′
Lillehammer (1994) was the northernmost Winter Olympic host city, at 61°-07′, followed by Oslo (1952) at 59°-57′.
Is Sochi at the lowest altitude of any Winter Olympic host city? Not really, although this depends on your approach to defining altitude. Most cities have a “base” altitude, and using this, Sochi is higher up than Vancouver was in 2010 – Vancouver’s base altitude on the Pacific Ocean was 0. Here are the lowest base altitudes for Olympic Winter host cities:
Year City NOC Altitude (m)
2010 Vancouver CAN 0
1972 Sapporo JPN 19
1952 Oslo NOR 23
2014 Sochi RUS 65
1994 Lillehammer NOR 208
The highest elevations for Winter Olympic hosts were Squaw Valley, California (USA) (1960) at 1,900 metres (6,235 feet) and Saint Moritz (SUI) (1928/48) at 1,822 metres (5,980 feet).
Remember, however, that Sochi has two separate sets of sites – the Coastal Cluster, by the Black Sea, and the Mountain Cluster, in the western Caucasus Mountains, near Krasnaya Polyana. Krasnaya Polyana has a base elevation of 560 metres (1,840 feet), with the mountains rising to 2,320 metres (7,610 feet).
So is Sochi the warmest site ever for a Winter Olympics. Basically, yes, but not by all that much, and for those of you who remember the Spring Olympics in Vancouver (so-called by Shaun White), Sochi’s temperature, down by the Black Sea, is about the same.
Year City NOC Feb Mean Temp (C° / F°)
2014 Sochi RUS 6° / 43°
2010 Vancouver CAN 5° / 41°
1992 Albertville FRA 5° / 41°
2006 Torino ITA 4° / 39°
1924 Chamonix FRA 4° / 39°
1968 Grenoble FRA 3° / 37°
The coldest sites for Winter Olympics were Lillehammer (NOR) (1994) and Lake Placid, New York (USA) (1932/80) where the average February temperature is about -9° C. or 17° F. So its safe to say Sochi will not be the coolest ever Winter Olympic site.
Other critics of Sochi have said that the site is too small for a modern Winter Olympics, and that too much of it has had to be built from scratch. While it is true that huge amounts of infrastructure has been required to make Sochi an Olympic city, as a host site, its not that small. Here are the populations of Winter Olympic host cities currently, and in the year in which they hosted:
Year City NOC Pop (2013) Pop (OlyYr)
1972 Sapporo JPN 1,918,000 1,150,000
2006 Torino ITA 912,000 857,000
1988 Calgary CAN 1,097,000 650,000
2010 Vancouver CAN 603,500 603,500
1984 Sarajevo BIH 438,000 448,000
1952 Oslo NOR 629,000 447,000
1998 Nagano JPN 387,000 356,000
2014 Sochi RUS 343,000 343,000
And nothing compares to the two United States’ host cities. Lake Placid, New York had a population of 2,950 in 1932 and 2,490 in 1980, while Squaw Valley, California barely existed in 1960, with a population for that site generously estimated at 300, by David Antonucci, author of a book on the 1960 Winter Olympics (Snowball’s Chance: The Story of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games).
And if you think Sochi needs to build infrastructure when Squaw Valley was selected as host city in June 1955, it didn’t exist. Antonucci thinks only two families actually lived in what was to become Squaw Valley. But it was a different time.
Rumors abound that Sochi is costing $51 billion (US) for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Is that a record? Stay tuned – more to come.