Background to the Games

The 2014 Games were awarded to Sochi in 2007 which had been unsuccessful in bidding for the 2002 Games. They beat rivals South Korea by 4 votes at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee delegates in Guatemala. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, addressed delegates in English, Spanish and French, and it is believed this is the first time the Russian leader has been heard speaking English at a public ceremony. 

The 2014 Games had a significant impact on Russia’s attitude towards the disabled. In 1980, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had declined the opportunity to host the Paralympics, stating that there was no one with a disability in the country. Following Sochi’s selection as host city in 2007, new legislation was passed, and the 2014 Organising Committee was able to ensure that everything built for the Games was accessible. Russia’s deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Kozak said:

It shows what people from different countries and nationalities, culture and traditions are capable of when they are united by a single goal and an inspired dream.

Other cities across Russia now use what was created for the 2014 Games as a blueprint to improve accessibility. 

There were concerns that the Ukrainian team would boycott the Games after Russia occupied Crimea. It was only on the morning of the opening ceremony that the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee President, Valeriy Suskevich, confirmed the team would be competing.

The build-up to the Games

Logo

Logo for the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics

Slogan

'Hot.Cool.Yours.'

Sochi organisers said,

The slogan was intended to reflect the national character of Russia and the values of the Sochi 2014 brand, as well as Sochi 2014’s progressive and innovative approach to the organisation and staging of the Games.

Referring to the period between each word they said

These draw a parallel with high technologies (.ru) and the emblem of the Winter Games in Sochi.

In Russian, the slogan is 'Zharkie.Zimniye.Yours'. One translation of 'zharkie' is 'heated', as in heated competition, and the organisers said that it reflected the intensity of sporting battle and the passion of the spectators. 'Zimniye' translates as 'wintry', and 'yours' has the same meaning in both English and Russian. 

Changes to Events

Snowboarding was introduced at the Sochi Games as a discipline under International Paralympic Committe (IPC) Alpine Skiing.

Venues

A humid and subtropical resort on the Black Sea, Sochi seems an unusual location for a Paralympic Winter Games. However, an hour away, in the Krasnaya Polyana mountains, Rosa Khutor, known for its tulips and honey, was transformed in to the Olympic and Paralympic skiing venue. 

Snowfall in the area is unpredictable so the Organising Committee installed one of Europe’s largest snowmaking systems with two very large reservoirs to feed 400 snow cannons on the slopes and collected 710,000 cubic metres of snow in the years leading up to the Games.

The Olympic Park, located in Sochi, was built specifically for the Games, the first time this had been done for a Winter Games. Many of the arenas held World Cup events in the run up to the Games, allowing the organisers to test operations. It was designed so it could also be used to host the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix. 

The Olympic Park (referred to as the 'Coastal Cluster') comprised 5 purpose-built arenas and the Fisht Olympic Stadium. Two of the venues were used for Paralympics sporting events:

  • Fisht Olympic Stadium
    The design was inspired by a Faberge Egg and followed international best practices in accessibility for people with an impairment. It was the first large-scale structure in Russia with a translucent polycarbonate roof, allowing spectators to enjoy views of both the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea from the comfort of their seats. No sporting events took place here.
    Spectator capacity – 40,000.
    Used for the opening and closing ceremonies.
  • Shayba Arena
    Built in 2012, its outer appearance incorporated the shape of a snow whirlwind or a puck in motion.
    Spectator capacity – 7,000.
    Used for ice sledge hockey.
  • Ice Cube Curling Centre
    The inspiration for the design was the shape of a curling stone and there are four playing lanes. The surfaces are prepared using a technique called pebbling, where small drops of water are frozen across the surface between matches, as the friction from flat ice would quickly stop the stone from moving.
    Spectator capacity – 3,000.
    Used for wheelchair curling.

About 40 minutes from Sochi, in the Western Caucasus Mountains, was the 'Mountain Cluster'. Two venues were used for the Paralympics:

  • Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Centre
    This venue was unique on the winter sports circuit because it had two separate stadiums with their own start and finish zones, two separate tracks for cross-country skiing and biathlon, a shooting range, and a warm-up zone for the athletes.
    Spectator capacity - 18,000.
    Used for cross-country and biathlon.
  • Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre
    Spectator capacity - 7,500.
    Used for alpine skiing and snowboard cross events.

Mascots

Mascots for the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics

© IPC (International Paralympic Committee)

The mascots for the 2014 Sochi Games were Ray of Light and Snowflake. Both come from different planets (one which is perpetually hot, and one which is perpetually cold) and soon discover that, although they are different, they have a lot in common with the people of Earth. They become friends and invent ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling. They both remain on Earth and acknowledge that, through sport, they are not as different from humans as they thought.

The Paralympic Flame

Caz Walton at the Paralympic flame lighting ceremony for Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games

Caz Walton OBE, Paralympian, lights the torch during the Paralympic Heritage Flame lighting ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, before the start of the Sochi 2014 Games in March © Getty Images

The Sochi Paralympic torch was sky-blue. It combined motifs from Russian folklore with ideas of innovation and technological breakthroughs. The shape was similar to the feather of the mythical firebird from Russian folklore which is seen as a symbol of wealth and happiness. 

It was designed and developed by a Russian creative team led by Vladimir Pirozhkov and Andrei Vodyanik. The design ensured that the flame would burn in difficult conditions and would survive whatever the Russian winter threw at it. 

Weighing nearly 1.8kg, the torch is 95cm tall, 14.5cm wide at the widest point and 54cm deep. It was designed to make it as comfortable as possible to carry while running.

The torch started its journey at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium in Aylesbury, UK, the first time there had been an international leg to a Paralympic torch relay. This will now be a feature of every Paralympic Summer and Winter Games to celebrate the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement. 

Starting on the 26th February and finishing on the 7th March the relay had over 1,500 runners, over 20% of whom had an impairment. After starting at Cape Dezhnev in the Chukchi Peninsula, the easternmost point in Russia, the flame was lit each day in the eight Russian federal districts. Each time it was lit by a different method, a hammer and an anvil made from a metal firebird feather, a horseshoe and gold ingot, from the northern lights, the symbolic heart of a jet engine, a laser beam and during shaman rituals and folklore pageants. 

The flames were brought together in a Paralympic Flame Unification Ceremony in preparation for the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony

The opening ceremony took place at the Fisht Stadium and included more than 2,500 volunteer performers. The theme of the ceremony was 'Breaking the Ice' and evoked the spirit of Russia and importance of breaking down barriers and stereotypes. This was symbolised by a giant icebreaker ship passing through the stadium, upon which performed IPC Honorary Board member and opera singer Maria Guleghina. The Paralympic cauldron was lit by two-time Paralympic swimming champion Olesya Vladykina and six-time Paralympic cross-country skiing champion Sergey Shilov. 

The Games were officially opened by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

During the Games

There were two Paralympic villages in use during the Sochi Games. Usadba Paralympic Village was designed for 350 athletes and delegation members and was located close to the Coastal Cluster venues. The Mountain Paralympic Village was designed for 700 guests and was located near the ski centre and snowboard park. Transport was available 24 hours a day throughout the competition, both within the villages and from the villages to competition venues. There were also two cable car stations within walking distance of the Mountain Village. The villages featured games, entertainment, arts and crafts, and traditional Russian food. 

Historically, Russian spectators would only cheer for their own athletes but the Paralympic Spirit in Sochi saw them vocally supporting all the competitors. 

The Games set a new record with 316,200 ticket sales.

The Medals

Medals from the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games

© IPC (International Paralympic Committee)

The medals for the Sochi Games featured translucent sections, engraved with Russian folklore designs. The technique made the medals look as though ice crystals had been worked into the medal. 

They featured the IPC logo, the discipline in which the medal was won and the word 'Sochi 2014' written in braille. They also featured the words 'XI Paralympic Winter Games' written in Cyrillic and English. 

They were the heaviest Paralympic medals to date; the gold medal weighed 712g.

Medal statistics

540 athletes from 46 countries, competing in 72 events in 7 sports. The GB team consisted of 6 men and 6 women, competing in alpine skiing and wheelchair curling, they had a successful games, winning a total of 1 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals.

British Paralympic athletes

  • Jade Etherington
    Jade won the most medals of any British athlete at the 2014 Games, 3 silver and 1 bronze. Jade was born with Axenfield’s Syndrome and had six eye operations before she was 12. She began to lose her sight at the age of 17 and has less than 4% vision in each eye. Her silver medal in the Women’s Downhill event made her the first female British athlete to win a Paralympic medal on snow. Jade was ParalympicsGB’s flag bearer at the closing ceremony in 2014.
  • Kelly Gallagher
    Kelly was the only British athlete to win gold at the 2014 Games, when she won the Women’s Super-G visually impaired (alpine skiing) event. Her success in this event makes her the first British athlete to win a Winter Games gold medal on snow (both Olympic and Paralympic). Away from the Paralympics, Kelly has had numerous World Cup and Europe Cup victories and has won six World Championship medals, more than any other British athlete.
    Kelly has received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast, made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s birthday honours list, and was nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. She has a degree in Mathematics from the University of Bath and works as a statistician for the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Kelly Gallagher competing in alpine skiing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics  Kirsty Gallagher celebrating her gold medal win in Super-G at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics

Kelly Gallagher winning gold in the Women's Super-G event © Getty Images

Media coverage at the event

The Sochi 2014 Games were watched by a cumulative TV audience of 2.1 billion people, making it the most watched Games in history. The Games were broadcast on 125 channels in more than 55 countries and territories worldwide. In Russia, 180 hours of coverage were shown across three broadcasting channels. In the USA, NBC showed Paralympic coverage for the first time. 

Growth was also seen across the IPC’s online channels; over 350 hours of coverage was showing on www.paralympic.org, the IPC’s YouTube channel recorded almost 2.5 million views, and their Facebook and Twitter pages increased their followers by approximately 13 percent. While the Games were running, over 73,000 tweets used #Paralympics and the word ‘Paralympics’ was mentioned over 92,000 times. 

There were over 100 behind-the-scenes video blogs with 30 world-leading winter athletes, through the Samsung Paralympic Bloggers project run by the IPC and Samsung.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony symbolised the theme of 'Reaching the Impossible' through strength and passion. It featured abstract artwork, brought to life by 462 performers who, dressed in bright colours, formed geometric shapes to create images including depictions of winter sports. 

A man in a wheelchair accepted the challenge of climbing a 15m rope and when he reached the top, between the letters ‘I’ and ‘M’ in ‘IMPOSSIBLE’, he became a flying apostrophe to transform the word to ‘I’M POSSIBLE’. 

The Games volunteers were recognised for their contribution when performers in red, blue, and green transformed the Paralympic Agitos into a giant heart, with 51 volunteers at the centre. 

The Whang Youn Dai Award was presented to Australian alpine skier Toby Kane and Dutch snowboarder Bibian Mentel-Spee for their sporting excellence and exemplifying the spirit of the Games. 

The finale was a dance sequence supported by the voices of Jose Carreras, Nafset Chenib, Diana Gurtskaya and Valeriy Kozlovsky before the closing firework display across the Olympic Park.

References

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