SOCHI, Russia — When Sven Kramer wins Olympic gold, he likes to celebrate by communing with the Dutch fans who worship him. Four years ago at the Vancouver Games, 3,000 packed a cavernous hall and went wild when Kramer appeared.
At the Sochi Olympics, Kramer again partied with his flock after leading a Dutch sweep of medals in the 5,000 meters. But what was a roiling sea of people cheering him in Vancouver shrank to little more than a pond – although still a very happy and noisy pond – in Sochi.
Although these are early days at Russia’s first Winter Games, indications are that some would-be spectators from overseas have stayed home, seemingly scared off by terrorist bombings, pervasive security, knotty Russian bureaucracy and the big bucks needed to reach President Vladimir Putin’s winter wonderland on the Black Sea.
Some Olympic venues have a very Russian feel. Figure-skating crowds, for example, seem to be almost exclusively Russian. On the first evening of competition, even four women waving a red, white and blue tricolor for France’s skating team turned out to be Russians from Moscow.
Many foreigners who have made it to Sochi fall into three camps: experienced world travelers who aren’t easily spooked, die-hard Olympic regulars who would travel to any host city, and corporate types and wealthier tourists who delegate travel logistics to others.
Organizers say 70 percent of tickets went to Russians, with the rest sold abroad.
“Tickets are nearly sold out in many countries,” organizers said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Japan and Germany have reported that they have sold their quotas. Tickets also sell well in European countries, Canada and the U.S. But there will be spectators from exotic countries like Tanzania, Lebanon, Oman and Namibia.”
Still, some clearly thought twice.
In Vancouver, the beer-and-party hall where Kramer and other Dutch medalists wowed fans held 3,000 people and it was “packed every evening. We had queues of 3-4 hours,” said Mark Bogaerts, global event manager for Dutch brewer Heineken, which runs the venue.
In Sochi, it cut capacity of “Holland House” to just 500, based on its expectation that just 2,500 travelers are coming from the Netherlands.