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Life’s a beach at the Winter Olympics

By AP - Feb 12,2014 - Last updated at Feb 12,2014

SOCHI, Russia — Forget the parkas and stocking hats. Sunscreen and shades are the must-have items at the Sochi “Winter” Games.

The temperature soared to 17oC on Wednesday, prompting Olympic visitors to grab a nap on a bench outside a venue or hit the nearby beach for some impromptu sunbathing and even a dip in the Black Sea.

“I think it should always be like this,” said Yuri Valyeyev, a resident of Bryansk, between Sochi and Moscow, who came here to work in construction during the Olympics. “We are glad that it is held in Russia. Being a Russian I am very glad because everywhere in Russia is cold and here is warm.”

Organisers say they’re getting exactly what they expected from Sochi’s subtropical climate. Sure, it’s making life difficult for the skiers and snowboarders slushing through their runs on the mountain. But for thousands of fans and workers in this resort town, the warmth has been a welcome getaway from harsh winters elsewhere.

And the heat just keeps on coming

Forecasts call for highs of 17oC on Thursday and Friday and 16oC on Saturday before a gradual cool down on Sunday. While the warm temperatures are making life difficult for the skiers and snowboarders on the mountain in Krasnaya Polyana, they have provided a welcome relief to Russians, Canadians, Americans and other visitors who have endured harsh winters back home.

Just a few hundred metres from Olympic Park, visitors shed their clothes and lounged on the rocky shores of the Black Sea. Fishermen cast their lines into the water and Valyeyev jumped right in.

“The water, you can bear it,” Valyeyev said with a shrug of his shoulders. “And it’s normal for a Russian man.”

For Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Olympic Committee, bringing the Games to the subtropical climes of Sochi was as much an investment in the long-term prospects for this resort village by the sea as it was for any immediate payoff that the influx of visitors, and money, would bring.

They saw it as an opportunity to establish Sochi as an attractive vacation destination for visitors from all over the world, and from the rest of Russia, in particular.

Seeing lush green grass blanket the mountain cluster of events rather than billowy snow may not be advantageous in the short run. But it could get others thinking about heading to Sochi when they need to break from another long, hard winter.

“Yes, the weather is absolutely gorgeous, which is, of course, challenging,” Sochi 2014 spokeswoman Aleksandra Kosterina said. But, she added: “Nothing we are not prepared for.”

In Moscow, it was 2oC on Thursday and has been brutally cold for much of the season.

Sochi was considerably warmer than two cities it beat out for the 2014 Games — Pyeongchang, South Korea (-2oC) and Salzburg, Austria (4oC).

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