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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Empty Villages Going for the Gold

ReutersOlympic committee chief Leonid Tyagachev, left, and IOC chief inspector Chiharu Igaya touring Sochi on Wednesday.
SOCHI -- Tractors stand motionless. Mounds of dirt lie untouched. Workers straddling a ladder struggle with a giant billboard touting Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Games, their efforts hampered by the sea breeze.

Standing on an open, grassy field, the Black Sea in the distance, you might not guess a low-level war was being waged a few kilometers away in Abkhazia.

And you might have a hard time imagining thousands of figure skaters, speed skaters, curlers, hockey greats and athletes of sundry, international stripe living here for two weeks.

But on Thursday, Sochi officials -- accompanying International Olympic Committee members on their fifth day in town -- will try to make the case that the Olympic Village they envision for the 45-hectare spot is ideal for the Games.

The village, scheduled to open in June 2013, is slated to provide apartment-style accommodations, with one or two athletes per room.

Some of the 3,000 rooms will have private baths. Retail stores and entertainment facilities will line an Olympic Village Plaza.

The Olympic Village is one of two villages Sochi is planning for the Games. A mountain sub-village, roughly 932 meters higher than the coastal village, will include 1,400 rooms and underground parking.

Both villages are to be privately financed: Basic Element is building the coastal village for $72.5 million. Interros will pick up the tab for the mountain sub-village, expected to run $48.4 million.

Sochi is spending less on its Olympic villages than rival city Salzburg -- $120.9 million versus the Austrians' $148.2 million. Pyeongchang, South Korea, the third finalist, is far outspending them both with $300 million.

But it remains to be seen if Sochi's Olympic villages will ever get built. For now, little has been done at the site of the mountain sub-village, and there are few signs of human activity at the coastal village.

While Sochi officials have said they will move forward with construction with or without the Olympics -- the IOC makes its announcement July 4 -- locals worry that the influx of money from Moscow may soon dry up.

On Wednesday, a 5-meter-high red platform stood at the entrance to the site of the coastal village, awaiting the dignitaries who will soon be here.

Vasily, a driver who helped deliver the billboards to the site, said his livelihood depended on Sochi getting the Games. But he's worried. "We've had promises the construction will go ahead regardless of whether we win," he said. "But in this country, you never know."

The natural beauty of the coastal village site notwithstanding, there's the noise pollution problem.

While speaking, Vasily had to raise his voice periodically to make himself heard above the din of planes taking off and landing at nearby Adler Airport.

Sochi officials say the site's proximity to the airport, seven kilometers away, is a boon to the bid. But as air traffic grows, the noise is likely to get louder.

What's more, there's the road linking the airport and the Olympic Village site. The bid committee says the drive takes eight minutes, but the narrow and winding road slows down traffic. A more conservative estimate puts the travel time at 15 minutes.