Russia has changed immeasurably since it last hosted the Olympic Games in the summer of 1980. Or has it? The transformation of Sochi—a subtropical playground on the Black Sea once frequented by Joseph Stalin—into a gargantuan palace of winter sports is just the sort of absurd feat that might have made the Soviets proud.
The Coastal Cluster, a close-knit circle of shiny, undulating arenas and rinks master-planned by Populous, is architectural bling blown up to an Olympian scale. (So is the budget: even the government’s official estimate, $51 billion, surpasses the $40 billion China spent on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.) A woodsier aesthetic prevails 30 miles away in Krasnaya Polyana, the mountain village where the skiing events will take place. But on the shoreline of the Black Sea, Sochi’s ring of sports arenas glints like a set of oversize baubles bedazzled with LEDs.