Clip The Apex
23rd February 2014.
The Russian team marches into the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, having equalled the Soviet Union's record of 13 gold medals at a single Winter Olympic Games, top of the medal table. The organisers even found the time to self-deprecate the technical failure at the Opening Ceremony when one of the Olympic rings did not open.
Four years later, Russia would officially be banned from the Winter Olympics. Its tally of golds is down to eleven.
7th July 2018
Igor Akinfeev is captain of Russia's national football team, who have got much further than anyone expected in the World Cup. He is facing up to a penalty from Ivan Rakitic of Croatia and Barcelona at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. If Rakitic scores, Croatia will face England in a semi-final in Moscow. Otherwise, Russia still have a chance.
This time, even as Akinfeev dives the wrong way, Russia have made friends in defeat.
So Sochi has hosted two events guaranteed to make your city (and surely thus your country) a sporting centre of the world - the Olympics and the World Cup. And the third item on that list...
Vladimir Putin is, in many ways, a show-off. It is important to him to show that he is a strong man, and by extension that the nation that he most certainly rules is a strong nation. And what do those internationally recognised strong nations do? They host events. Which are the most visible events? Sporting ones.
The Soviet Union hosted the Olympics, of course, in 1980. The Olympics were, until the fall of Eastern Communism, amateur. However, the World Cup was just too professional for the USSR to host, and Formula One was thus right out. A sport for the wealthy, requiring sponsors and capital? Where one of the drivers would eventually become the 7th Earl of Bute?
Putin's Russia has no such inhibitions. It is entirely comfortable with certain people making huge sums of money, particularly those who would support the government. It is entirely comfortable with Mercedes, Ferrari and Rolex turning up, for it is comfortable with the people who'd buy those products. Whether Putin has Red Bull for breakfast is unknown, however.
It does seem that he doesn't actually want to watch any sport he's holding. Is this why he tends to turn up with 20 laps remaining, or is that so the cameras get a chance to linger as he presses the flesh and enters the main stand? He was there for the opener and the final of the World Cup only, and one would have thought he'd have brought an umbrella for the presidents of France and Croatia during the trophy presentation. He probably thought the fact that only was dry made him seem the most important. In fact, it simply looked like Macron and Grabar-Kitarovic actually wanted to be there.
So, Sochi. Is it worth visiting? Well, the Wikipedia page does not state the height of the spire of St. Michael's Cathedral but it has certainly been worth a visit for the Mercedes drivers over the four years it has held a Grand Prix. They are yet to lose, although Sebastian Vettel was on pole position last year. It would be ironic if this was the race at which Ferrari regained composure.
Has this Grand Prix contributed to the image of Russia as a legitimate player? I suspect your answer will be decided by whose news you're watching.