SOCHI Ė Organizing Olympic ice hockey tournaments with 20 teams involves a lot of work with different parties to make the venues ready for world-class hockey.
IIHF.com sat down with Vladimir Cherkasov, 40, who started as Sochi 2014ís Sport & Venue Manager for the Ice Hockey Complex and is now the Venue General Manager of the Bolshoy Ice Dome, the main hockey arena in Sochi.
Tell us something about your career in and outside of sports before joining Sochi 2014.
I grew up in Moscow and started to play hockey when I was six until I was 24. I played in the CSKA Moscow hockey school and then I became a student of physical culture and sport at the university. I continued my education in the Russian University of International Relationships and studied economics.
Where did you work before joining the organizing committee?
I worked for a construction and real estate development company and was involved in some projects in Moscow and Montenegro like hotels and apartments, and before that I worked in the steel trade. But all this time I continued to play hockey in amateur teams. I like hockey, hockey is a way of life, thatís why this job has become a dream job.
Did you play with later Olympians in the CSKA youth organization?
I played in junior teams with Sergei Brylin, who won three Stanley Cups, and also with [two-time Olympian] Valeri Bure, the younger brother of Pavel Bure. But I wasnít as good so I played in minor leagues and started to work.
How has the job in Sochi been for you?
Itís a dream job for me. Having the Olympics in your own country is like a miracle and if youíre involved in the organizing process itís really a dream job. I like hockey, I know hockey, I know what the venue should be, what the dressing room should be so it was very interesting for me to create something, give advice to the construction company and to the guys who are responsible for the construction of the venue. This process lasted three years.
When did you join?
I started to work in the organizing committee in June 2010. When I started to work I was the only one responsible for the hockey complex with the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Shayba Arena and the practice venue. Then I invited a good team to share the responsibilities for the arenas. Last year we had several events like the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in April and I was happy to work with this team.
When you heard many years ago that Russia would apply for the Olympic Winter Games with Sochi, what did you think? It was probably not the most typical venue for hockey you had heard of as a player.
I thought at that moment that I would maybe have the opportunity to see the games. I didnít think about the possibility of working for the Olympics and now Iím having the best time of my life.
What can you say about the arenas?
When I came here I was only able to see the walls where the Bolshoy Ice Dome is and nothing at the place where you can see the Shayba Arena now. I had only the papers. These two arenas are like my babies for me. I spent a lot of time on the corridors and to plan where the dressing rooms should be, how far from the ice, where to locate the warm-up area, the laundry and so on. Just like everybody loves their babies so I love the arenas. The Bolshoy Ice Dome is the best hockey arena in Russia right now, thatís for sure.
What characterizes the arenas that look so special and shiny from outside?
The Bolshoy Ice Dome is very beautiful, it looks like a drop near the sea. If you compare this arena with other arenas in Russia you can say itís very huge, it has a lot of space, we have a road wide like a real road within the arena for the buses so all athletes can go inside the arena by bus. The length of the road is around 700 metres. Certainly there are a lot of new technical devices that were used.
How was hockey as a new sport in this city received by the local population?
Hockey is really a new kind of sport for the region, thatís why it was important for the local people to invite them for hockey so that they understand what is hockey and what is a hockey arena. During the U18 Worlds I was shocked a little bit because after the first game when Russia won against the United States 4-3 we had thousands of people who wanted to buy tickets. So by the end of the tournament we had like 7,000 people for each Russian game. The people started to become hockey-crazy and they like the arena.
What can you say about the second hockey venue, Shayba Arena?
Itís smaller but itís specially built for hockey while the Bolshoy Ice Dome is a multifunctional venue you can use for concerts or other sports.
Can you say something about ticket sales for the ice hockey tournaments?
Certainly ice hockey is the most popular winter sport in Russia and second overall after football. All Russia is waiting for the game between Russia and Canada, thatís no secret. After Vancouver 2010 all Russia wants to see this game. I can say we have no problem with selling tickets for hockey. If you want to buy tickets, theyíll be very tough to find.
How about the womenís hockey tournament?
Itís going well. Russia won the bronze medal at the last IIHF Ice Hockey Womenís World Championship. That was a real success for Russian womenís hockey. Everybody was surprised about the progress the team has made and people are really interested. I think the arena will be full too during the womenís tournament for Russiaís games and they would like to see Canada and the United States too.
What does the event mean for Russian people?
We didnít have such an event like this for many years. The last Olympics were the Summer Games in 1980 in the Soviet Union. Itís something very special for all Russia. There are many people who donít know much about the Olympics and want to see it.
What will the Olympic Park be like for fans?
The concept is very good and comfortable for spectators because you can come to the park for a whole day and see a variety of events in the costal cluster because the venues are in walking distance from each other. If you have tickets for figure skating, short track, speed skating, curling or hockey you can see many events in one day. Itís very comfortable for spectators. If you want to go to the mountains it will take you 40 minutes to get to Krasnaya Polyana by train.
If youíre not fortunate enough to have tickets there will be public viewing and a food court in the Olympic Park and many activities for the fans.
What can the players expect from the hockey venues?
The first special feature is that the Bolshoy Ice Dome is maybe one of very few in the world with 12 permanent dressing rooms near the ice. Usually organizers have to create temporary dressing rooms because normal venues have six to eight dressing rooms and here they have 12 for all teams who participate in the menís tournament and there are 10 dressing rooms at Shayba Arena for the womenís teams. We also have the practice arena at Bolshoy Ice Dome just 15 metres away from the dressing room. Itís not always that comfortable for players but here it is.
All the necessary zones for the athletes are very close to each other like the dressing rooms, sport zone, athletesí lounge, information room, medical centre, anti-doping centre, rooms for skate sharpening and uniform repair and a big gym and warm-up area.
I think we have everything we need. The press zone is really huge, the mixed zone was designed especially for the Olympics, like with the whole venue. The location is very comfortable. Players donít have to go long ways to the media and then to the dressing room while at the same time the ways for the media are short too.
Can you say something about the athletesí village?
The athletes will live 500 metres from the arena at the sea. They can basically walk or take a bicycle. Everything is very close Ė thatís the concept.
There were many site visits. How was that for you?
Itís always very useful for us to have the IIHF and other partners here who give us very good advices and show us what to change, adjust and how to make everything better for the athletes, media and everybody. Itís really important to have good relationships, get inputs and be ready for questions. We certainly identified some operational issues and had enough time to make adjustments. I think at the Olympics everybody will be happy.
Did anything change since the tests event like the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship last April?
The level of operation is very different. There was not so many media and broadcasters there so we had to build a special compound in both arenas for the Olympics, we needed additional storage, increased electricity capacity. But in the sport zone the adjustments were minor details. But itís very important to have such test events for the Olympics to identify possible issues which you canít identify during the planning stage.
What will be different is the additional practice surfaces with a third building.
Right now we have five ice surfaces within 200 metres from each other. No team will have a problem with the practice schedule. This is also something that will be very comfortable for the teams.
What were the last things that were being worked on around the hockey rink and in general in the last few weeks?
The majority of the things were already done. In the Olympic Park there were workers who cleaned the venues, planted trees and grass. Mostly itís preparing for operating the venues like dividing the zones. The venue owner normally doesnít use the venue the same way the organizing committee will use it during the Olympics. We needed to mark zones, put signage and fences, separate client groups, create dedicated entrances. Thatís the final preparation. Around the Olympic Park the final roads were built although most of them have been ready for a while.
In June the agreement with the NHL and NHLPA was signed. What did this change for you and your team?
Iím really happy that this decision was made in summer. I really appreciate all the partners who made this decision. It was the main goal of the Games to have the best athletes from the world play for their countries. I want to say thank you to all the people who worked on this. I know the decision wasnít easy but they found an agreement.
Some things changed but from the very beginning we were ready for the NHL players to participate in the Games. This didnít create any organizational issues. We just had to say thank you and sit together with them to know their needs and to deliver.
What do you think about the tournaments? Who will win?
(Laughs.) The only thing I can say is that we really welcome all the teams who participate in the menís and womenís ice hockey tournaments. We are waiting for all the teams but of course the majority of the Russians wait for the game between Russia and Canada.
Whatís the plan with the arenas after the Olympics?
The plan is right now that Shayba Arena and the two practice rinks will be used for ice hockey and camps for teams from all over the country and local teams. And the Bolshoy Ice Dome will be used as a multifunctional venue for different kinds of sports also tennis, basketball, boxing or concerts. After the Games there will be a Formula 1 race and I guess all buildings will be used in some way and the central stadium will be a venue for the Football World Cup in 2018.
There are also rumours a KHL team with the name ďDelfinĒ (Dolphin) could play here next season.
That would be the best solution. The local people start to understand what hockey is and they love it as we saw during the U18 World Championship. They like the game and the passion and Iím sure if we have a KHL team here the tribunes will be full. I donít know whether it will happen and itís not so easy to build a team. Maybe somebody will make the decision to relocate a team.
During the Olympics you will have people from Korea, the next host country for the Olympic Winter Games, here. What would you recommend them in terms of ice hockey since they will also need to build new venues from scratch in PyeongChang?
I can work for them as an advisor and share all my knowledge (laughs). Seriously, I know some people from Korea will come. We are very open for them and itís very important to understand what games are, to feel it and create something with your own hands because the majority of our team in the organizing committee didnít know all the sports. We were observers of the previous Games and these will be our first Games we organize ourselves. Iíll be really glad to show the organizers from Korea what we do here. I can tell them everything about mistakes we did so they wonít do them.