SOCHI, Russia (AP) — After a 10-year journey to bring Sochi to the world stage, Dmitry Chernyshenko is feeling a mix of pride, relief and sadness as the Winter Olympics draw to a close.
Chernyshenko led Sochi's winning bid for the games and stayed on to head the organizing committee overseeing Russia's first Winter Olympics — in his hometown on the Black Sea coast.
As he strolled through the Olympic Park, shaking hands and chatting with Russian fans near the Olympic flame, surrounded by six gleaming new sports arenas, Chernyshenko said organizers had accomplished what they set out to do.
"We feel from our side, everything we planned, we delivered, and what we promised, we kept," the 45-year-old businessman said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. "From another side, everything is coming to the end, and now we feel it."
Sochi started from scratch, building all new facilities and transforming the area into what Russia hopes will be a year-round tourist destination. It has come at a massive cost of $51 billion, though much of the money has been invested in roads, railways, hotels and other long-term infrastructure projects.
"Can you imagine, for me the Sochi native, I remember there was just a bush, the wetland, literally nothing here — some coast, or birds, nothing," Chernyshenko said.
Russia and Sochi, of course, have faced criticism on various levels. Early concerns at the games centered on unfinished hotel rooms, empty seats and stray dogs.
But Chernyshenko hailed the fact that there were no serious logistical issues during the games, with sports events running smoothly and the vast transportation system working on time and on schedule.
"This chance to demonstrate to the world that Sochi was a display and showcase of new modern Russia was just incredible," Chernyshenko said. "Now everybody can see that we are different from the stereotypes. We're modern, we're efficient and we welcome the world."
On the downside for Chernyshenko and other Russians was the flop of the men's hockey team, which failed to make the quarterfinals after losing to Finland. A gold medal in hockey from the Alexander Ovechkin-led team was the prize Russia wanted most of all.
"They were expecting the Russian team in the final," Chernyshenko said. "It was really the desirable scenario. But sport is sport, and the Finnish team played much better. They were more professional and they deserve to be the winner."
He praised Russian fans for not demanding refunds.
"That means that they've got the big heart and they will continue to have fun and support the teams at this brilliant games," Chernyshenko said.
He has been growing wistful as the games near their conclusion. Chernyshenko spoke to the AP just before traveling up to the mountains to close down two venues — the ski jump for Nordic combined and the extreme park for half pipe, aerials and moguls. They won't be needed for next month's Paralympics.
"That's it, over, and we will close this venue," he said. "I'm going to meet my venue team to congratulate them. It's the end, for good."
The final judgment on the Sochi Games will be delivered by IOC President Thomas Bach at Sunday night's closing ceremony, so Chernyshenko is reluctant to give his own assessment.
"It's not up to me to decide," he said. "We will listen to the president of the IOC. What I've heard from the athletes, they're happy. What else can we expect? The athletes will call the games impeccable. That would prove the point that we really set up a new standard in organizing the games."
Longtime Olympic officials, he said, have told him that Sochi could be the "blueprint" for future organizers.
"The Russian experience will be like a brand," he said. "We were a good pupil listening and learning for many years. We transformed the Olympic experience into a very solid product that deserves to be considered a good example."
As for the closing ceremony, whose details remain under wraps, Chernyshenko said the world will not be disappointed.
"We will fit your expectations," he said. "The ceremony will be exceptional. We've prepared some secrets to share with the world."
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