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How do you say 'volunteer' in Russian? Sochi 2014 Olympics introduces a new concept

Anatoly Maltsev / EPA

Volunteers prepare a ski jumping hill in Sochi, Russia, on Friday.

Updated at 8:24 a.m. ET: SOCHI, Russia -- Representing Russia as a volunteer at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is a matter of national pride for 19-year-old Tatiana Kulagina.

"I want to show foreigners that we are a friendly country and that we're not just drinking vodka!" she said.

Kulagina is one of Russia's chosen, an army of 25,000 volunteers, ready and willing to work long hours without pay. With more than 160,000 applications to date, the competition to become a volunteer is rather Olympian.

The world's attention will turn to the likes of Kulagina and this Black Sea resort when it hosts the Olympic Opening Ceremony one year from Thursday.

With at least $50 billion in public and private cash being spent on the Games, Sochi is expected to surpass Beijing 2008 as the most expensive Olympics in history. That figure is five times the original estimate.

As Russia prepares to welcome guests from around the world for the Winter Olympics next year, NBC's Ben Fogle takes an insider's look at the progress of Sochi's Olympic Park and gets the scoop on a few athletes to look out for next year.

The deluge of applicants is surprising in a country which has no history of volunteering. At the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games there were no volunteers -- people were conscripted into their roles by the Communist regime.

The Russian word for volunteer -- "dobrovolets" -- is so tainted by association with Communist-era mandatory labor that the fashionable word to use now is "voluntyor," which has been borrowed from English. 

"Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was a totalitarian society and volunteer work was ordered and organized by authorities," political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov said. The collapse of Soviet Union brought tremendous change but also resulted in society becoming more individualistic with an "emphasis on survival," he added.

The volunteer spirit may be new to Russia, but it has been embraced with enthusiasm.

Vareriya Zvezdova, 19, believes her Olympic experience will change her life. 

"I just realized this will be one of the greatest things in my life," she said. "I will be a little part of this great action, but I'll represent my country and that's why I think it's great."

Olympic organizers wanted to ensure that the volunteers represented not only the diverse population of this vast nation, but also that they were the best and the brightest. Would-be volunteers were tested on their their ability to cope with pressure and their language skills.

Intensive training has already begun for successful applicants, and including one-on-one Skype sessions learning English, studying local geography and guidance on being friendly.

Sochi has traditionally attracted Russian's most influential figures. It flourished as a resort in Imperial Russia as aristocrats traveled for its subtropical climate. 

In the wake of the 1917 revolution, Sochi was transformed into a state-sponsored worker's paradise, with large spas and sanatoriums built for workers. It later became a favorite holiday destination for Joseph Stalin and his cronies. The landscape of the city bears traces of its history with the occasional neo-classical and Stalinist buildings.

After being neglected and spurned for more fashionable destinations in recent years, Sochi is experiencing a renaissance. Russia's elite, including President Vladimir Putin and wealthy oligarchs, are once again flocking to the city.

Join NBC News' Dmitry Solovyov and Alexei Gordienko as they make the 1,000-mile journey from Moscow to 2014 Olympic host Sochi.

Sochi's proximity to the Caucacus mountains means that winter sports were always possible, but until recently there were few facilities. Still, a summer resort featuring palm tree-lined streets was undoubtedly a unique choice for the Winter Games. 

With the Opening Ceremony exactly a year away, temperatures this week have reach a balmy 60 degrees F in Sochi. Temperatures average about 40 degrees Fahrenheit during February.

The Associated Press noted that weather is among the concerns facing Sochi:

"The snowfall this winter has been abundant, but the Russians have made contingency plans in light of the warm weather and rain that disrupted some of the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The Rosa Khutor resort, which will host the Alpine skiing and other events, has one of the biggest snow-making systems in Europe, according to its managing director, Alexander Belokobylsky. The resort has two water reservoirs and 400 snow generators installed along the slopes. Rosa Khutor also stores snow through the summer, keeping it packed and under a tight insulated cover, and plans to store 150,000 cubic meters (195,000 cubic yards) of snow for the games."

Mikhail Mordasov / AFP - Getty Images

The Winter Olympics arrive in Sochi on Feb. 7, 2014. A look at how the Russian city is shaping up for its moment in the spotlight.


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