MOSCOW - Luzhniki Stadium witnessed the fantastic race between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe at the 1980 Olympics, it hosted the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson in the 1990s and it watched Usain Bolt run in 2013. It is not just another stadium.
On July 15, following renovations that cost 405 million dollars, it will attract the attention of the whole planet. The World Cup final is set to start at 6 pm local time. Every goal will shake the stadium, and it will shake Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the late Soviet leader who is better known as Lenin.
A few meters outside the stadium, there is a statue of the father of the Russian Revolution. The bronze monument is several meters tall and shows a stern, thoughtful Lenin holding his cape, facing away from the sports venue.
The leader of the 1917 Revolution and global symbol of communism will watch over the 2018 World Cup’s main stadium. He will get to see the hype around the opening game and the final of a capitalist event if there ever was one. The venue that was originally called Lenin Central Stadium when it was first built, in 1956, will now be covered in posters for Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonalds, sponsors for that money-making machine called FIFA.
When Luzhniki Stadium was built, Russia led the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin had just died. The venue had its heyday in 1980, with the Olympics. Just two years after that, it endured a huge tragedy, when almost 350 people died on October 20, 1982, in a stampede during a UEFA Cup game. Official Soviet sources put the number of dead at 66.
A statue of Lenin photographed in front of the Luzhniki Olympic Stadium taken in Moscow, Russia, 29 Aug 2017. (MARIUS BECKER / DPA)
That stadium, which later hosted the 2008 Champions League final and the 2013 Athletics World Championships, has now been stripped to the bone, keeping only its impressive facade and columns. Everything else is new.
"The historic structure restricted our options in terms of height and width. We needed to use cranes to bring in materials over the facade," says Murat Ahmadiev, the architect in charge of renovation works.
The facade was cleaned up, the columns were restored.
"But everything behind the gates is completely new," Ahmadiev notes.
Beyond the building’s outer features, everything inside it shines. Its southern entrance, for example, looks like the lobby of a top hotel. There is lots of glass, plenty of light and very large open spaces. A large spiral staircase goes up several levels to the VIP area.
From the seating area, observers see that the Olympic track is now gone, to bring the stands closer to the field. Even the grass has changed.
"We dug two metres into the ground and filled it up with several layers of sand and gravel," Ahmadiev explains.
There is perfect drainage.
"Even if we had tropical rain, you would not see one puddle on the field, I promise," the expert said.
The Russia 2018 World Cup is set to be played in 11 cities and 12 stadiums, all of them in the country's western regions. (DPA GRAPHICS)
Recent renovations, in which 1,500 workers were active, expanded capacity to 80,000 people. In total, the sports complex stretches over an area of 221,000 square kilometers. In Russian, Luzhniki means "the meadows," as the stadium rises on the backs of the Moskva River.
Beyond the World Cup’s opening game and the final, Luzhniki Stadium is set to host three group-round games, one of the quarter-finals and one semi-final. More than half-a-million fans are set to go through Luzhniki during the tournament. Thousands of them will take selfies with Lenin, the symbol of the Russian Revolution who is set to guard football’s great party.