Sochi chief: No need to use stored snow _ yet

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Sochi Olympic organizers see no need to bring in stored snow to cope with the warm temperatures in the mountains — but are ready to do so if necessary.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the local organizing committee, said Tuesday that contingency plans are in place for covering slopes with snow preserved in reservoirs from previous winters. Organizers have stored about 700,000 cubic meters (25 million cubic feet) of snow near the mountain venues above Sochi.

"In case we will need some snow, we can use it from our reservoirs," Chernyshenko said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We don't need it now. We didn't start our backup plan yet." Temperatures in Sochi on the Black Sea coast have been rising, raising concerns about snow conditions. On Tuesday, temperatures reached 11 C (52 F) along the coast and 5 C (41 F) in the Alpine cluster in Krasnaya Polyana.

"It's not a big surprise for us," Chernyshenko said. "We're a sub-tropical city. We tested our mountain venues for the couple of previous winter seasons. We faced some abnormal warm weather." Conditions at the halfpipe venue have been under particular scrutiny, with riders complaining about sand and mush at the bottom. Organizers said they would use chemicals to keep the ice frozen at higher temperatures.

"The weather is very unpredictable," Chernyshenko said. "Our forecast says the temperature will go down in a couple of days. We hope that no extra measures are needed." Sochi also boasts Europe's largest snow-making system, which can even make snow at temperatures up to 15 C (60 F). Chernyshenko said snow-making was being used at the ski jump of the Nordic combined venue.

Meanwhile, Chernyshenko said he was relieved the focus has turned to the athletes and the competitions after the buildup to the games was dominated by security and political concerns. "When the battle goes to the venues and the competition, everybody starts to discuss the achievements of the athletes rather than some political issues," he said.

Organizers have also come under fire for unfinished hotel rooms, empty seats and lack of atmosphere. "Everything was predictable," Chernyshenko said. "Sometimes we were under the criticism, we were fixing some issues. I know the majority of the coverage is (now) positive and we really appreciate it."

Chernyshenko said empty seats at some venues were the result of fans going in and out during long sessions, not from lack of turnout. "We're absolutely happy with attendance, now that we're very close to sold out," he said. "We can create atmosphere in the games which is electric now, with a crowd of people gathering at all venues."

He said 77,000 people turned out Monday night to watch the Russian figure skating team receive their gold medals. Crowds and enthusiasm will grow now that the NHL players have arrived for the men's hockey tournament, he said. Hockey is hugely popular in Russia and a gold medal would be the ultimate prize for the country.

The overall success of Russian athletes in the medals race is crucial to the atmosphere of the games, Chernyshenko said. "Without athletes on the podium, the games will not be that successful," he said. "We really enjoy the atmosphere and support of Russian fans."

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