SOCHI, February 12. /ITAR-TASS/. Sochi has improved beyond recognition by the 2014 Olympics, world famous cosmonaut Alexei Leonov told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
"I have been to the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, and the Sarayevo Olympics in 1982. Being here in Sochi one can hardly realize that it's winter now, with air temperatures being 16 degrees Celsius above zero. People who come from Siberia are used to a different winter," Leonov said. He was the first Soviet cosmonaut to make a spacewalk in 1965.
Speaking to Itar-Tass, Leonov said he had not ventured to go to the mountain cluster yet."All the people I know said it is wonderful up there. The downhill ski track deserves a particular high praise. It has a very good structure and actually, it has no analogues in the world at present. Sochi has changed beyond recognition, and changed for the better," Leonov stressed.
His former fellow astronaut Thomas Stafford, who took part in a historic Soviet-US space mission Soyuz Appolo in 1975, said that he enjoyed being in Sochi. "It is wonderful here. I like the city and the atmosphere in it," Stafford said.
"Ice-hockey is my favorite kind of winter sport," Leonov went on to say. He said that he grew up in Siberia and in childhood, he used to ski and skate a great deal, using the skates which were a combination of Russian old-fashioned "valenki" with metallic razors attached. They used to play hockey, using an icicle as a puck.
"The 1960s, when a team of cosmonauts was formed, coincided with the rising boom in the development of ice hockey in the former Soviet Union, which was a symbolic coincidence in my view," Leonov said. The future cosmonauts often used to play hockey together, but heavy injuries they received during such games aroused protests from the management, who finally banned ice hockey games, he said.
Alexei Leonov links his aspirations for the Olympic victory with the Russian national ice-hockey team, which Leonov hopes will regain the status of the Olympic champion.