Watch Nine Years of Olympic Preparation in Six Seconds

With the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics less than three weeks away, here's a look back at how the city has changed since Russia began its bid for the Games

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The site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia


Before July 2005, when Russia bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi was one of the country’s largest resort towns, sitting on the Black Sea just 27 miles north of Georgia. These DigitalGlobe satellite images provided to TIME—snapped between April 2005 and January 2014—show what happens when $50 billion is suddenly invested to transform into an Olympic host city.

Sochi now boasts world-class arenas, high-speed trains and glamorous housing. Six thousand athletes from 85 countries (in addition to 1,650 Paralympians from 45 countries) are due in town, and will be outnumbered by the tens of thousands of spectators, tourists and journalists who will capture their triumph or defeat. The competition is on track to become the most expensive—and warmest-ever Winter games—in history.

(MORE: Fortress Sochi: Russia’s Security Plan Risks Killing the Olympic Spirit)

But more than half a decade of preparation hasn’t come without consequence: A $635 million highway on the edge of town sits next to crumbling apartments, cutting longtime residents off from the city center; some dwellers now live next to an illegal dumping ground for construction waste; and promises to improve electricity amid chronic power cuts haven’t been fulfilled. And in the wake of of the recent bombings in Volgograd, Russia has strengthened its “ring of steel” around Sochi—about 40,000 security personnel will be in town—to prevent attacks on the Games or tourists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised a safe Olympics after the bombings, but even with the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 23, the impact of the transformation is likely what will worry residents the most.