Sochi House: Russia’s pavilion strikes gold with fans

Sochi House is among the most pimped-out pavilions at the Games: But is the wait worth it?

While Russia has been lagging sorely behind in the medal count (only one gold after a full week of action), its Sochi 2014 pavilion in downtown Vancouver has been a runaway fan favorite at these Olympics.  Today, I decided to see what all the excitement was about.

It’s never a good sign when you can’t tell where the line starts.  I got to the Russia House about 15 minutes before its noon opening – big mistake.  The queue was already snaking back and forth in giant bends in front of the iconic dome of the Science World building, which Russia has converted into Sochi House.  Total wait time from line-up until entry: 2.5 hours.

Impressive crowds gather outside Sochi House before its noon opening.

But it was a beautiful afternoon, a Russian Christian chorus was up from Seattle belting out feel-good tunes and no one seemed to mind the wait that much.  Inside, Sochi House is easily one of the most pimped out pavilions at the Olympic Games.  The entire interior of Science World has been transformed into a two-story exhibit of Russian culture and sporting dominance.  On the ground floor, I got a comprehensive primer on the charms of 2014 Winter Olympic host, Sochi.  Perched on the shores of the Black Sea, Sochi actually has a subtropical climate, with palm trees and turquoise waters (And you thought Vancouver had snowfall problems!).  Meanwhile, on center stage a group of folkloric dancers serenaded a small crowd with old-timey Russian ballads.

Russian folkloric singers entertain visitors at Sochi House.

A winding ramp leads to the second floor.  There’s some interesting stuff here: an interactive hockey game where you can try to sneak a slapshot past a Russian goalie; a virtual train ride through the Russian countryside; some vintage CCCP jerseys that hockey fans are sure to salivate over.   But, after 150 minutes of waiting, was it really worth it?

Vintage Russian hockey equipment is on display at Sochi House.

Well, yes and no.  It really depends on the fan.  Russia House is one of the flashiest and most elaborate pavilions of the Games.   The exhibits are well-planned, meticulously executed and incorporate impressive technology (in short, everything you’d expect from the Russian Olympic Committee).  But, for me, the House fell short on one critical criterion: the “wait-to-reward ratio.”

A young hockey fan slips one past the virtual Russian goalie.

Just like for the athletes on the slopes and in the rinks, for Olympic fans here in Vancouver, every second counts.  The clock is ticking as each hour brings us closer and closer to Closing Ceremonies.  A mega-queue, under these high-stakes conditions, is a big gamble.  And at Sochi House it may not pay off for everyone.   In other words, the wait may outweigh the reward.  Other houses may not be as impressive inside, but a quick-moving line makes them more satisfying in the end.

Just a theory of mine.  I may be wrong.  I’m sure some fans would gladly wait all day to get a glimpse of the plans for Sochi 2014.  Let me know what you think.   Factoring in wait times and quality of exhibits, which Olympic pavilion out there comes out on top?

Remy Scalza –

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