Bathers rest on the beach in Sochi, the Russian city soon due to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
President Vladimir Putin has staked his personal and political prestige on the event and if all goes to plan, the costliest Games in history will be a showcase for Russia's achievements under his leadership, the vindication of a six-year, $50-billion vanity project on a truly Soviet scale.
26 Sep 2013. Rosa Khutor, Russia. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
At first glance, Sochi appears far from ready for the more than 120,000 spectators and 5,400 competitors and support staff expected to attend the two weeks of spectacle that begin February 7.
Just months before the Olympics open, cranes still tower over muddy construction sites, freshly laid pipes lie exposed to the weather and walkways are churned up around them. At the ski resort of Rosa Khutor, one of the venues for the Games, huge segments of metal piping lie strewn around on the ground.
Power cuts are frequent, traffic jams block roads because of the construction work and not all the venues can be reached by public transport or road yet, residents say.
22 Sep 2013. SOCHI, Russia. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Yuri, an engineer, stacks stones on the head of his colleague Alexander as they rest on the beach in the Adler district of Sochi. The sunny scene reflects what some see as the folly of turning the palm-lined summer beach resort into a 21st-century winter sports hub.
But for Putin, making the Sochi Games a success is important. As he tries to burnish Russia's diplomatic and economic standing and rally domestic support after protests against his long rule, the President wants to show Russia is a modern state capable of organising events on such a scale and restore national pride.
Yet Putin’s dream could still be shattered if venues on the subtropical Black Sea are not ready on time, if protests break out over a Russian law banning "gay propaganda" or if militants trying to carve out an Islamic state in the North Caucasus attack the Games.