Sochi Threats Downplayed, While Several U.S. Athletes Encouraged By Security Presence
IOC President Thomas Bach yesterday in Sochi "played down any potential cause for alarm" regarding Olympic security, but the "stage is rife with tension that threatens to overshadow the achievements on the ice and snow once the competition gets underway Thursday," according to Liz Clarke of the WASHINGTON POST. Bach said, "Every big event is under threat, whether a political summit or another big convention, you name it." Russia President Vladimir Putin has responded to December bombings "by erecting a so-called 'ring of steel' around Sochi for the duration of the Games." The presence of Russian security forces was "as pervasive" yesterday "as the sight of bulldozers and construction workers at a site that’s not quite ready for opening night, however well-fortified" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/4). In Boston, David Filipov writes Sochi organizers "have made a clear effort to give the security force, at least the one visible Monday, a friendly face." Instead of "wearing urban camouflage and toting assault rifles, as Russian police on patrol do in many cities of the restive North Caucasus, security officers in Sochi are wearing purposefully unimposing plum-colored uniforms, their sidearms tucked away in holsters." The question "most often asked has been whether Russia will be able to make Sochi secure enough, not whether the people providing security will be vigilant enough." The "understated police presence was felt elsewhere in Sochi" yesterday afternoon. There were "none of the heavily armed troops manning checkpoints that clog traffic circles in cities throughout Russia, though this could change" before Friday (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/4).
ATHLETES ENCOURAGED: USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside notes security experts are "holding their breath after news reports of Russian forces searching for three 'black widow' suicide bombers." But locals "don't seem scared by such threats; the enormous police presence eases their fears." There are "more than 40,000 troops and police in Sochi, a city of 350,000." Before U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace "brought her two young children to Sochi, she was nervous." But now that "she is here, her worries are gone." Pikus-Pace said, "We've felt very secure, very safe. It's just felt normal. We've been able to drive our cars where we need to go. The security is high, and that makes me feel a lot safer, too. We just haven't had any issues since we've been here" (USA TODAY, 2/4). The AP's Tom Withers reported U.S. bobsledders Dallas Robinson and Johnny Quinn "ventured outside the athlete’s village on bicycles and rode to the media center to get a better grasp of the immense security detail." Robinson said, "I don’t anticipate us being in any more harm’s way than going down the mountain in a bobsled at 85 miles per hour" (AP, 2/3).
ON LOCKDOWN: In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins writes the Olympics "have long been near the top of my career bucket list, and yet almost every conversation in recent weeks has begun with the same question: Are you nervous?" Scoggins: "The honest answer: Yes, a little." Any excitement is "tempered by an uneasiness that comes from daily warnings about potential terrorist attacks." Putin "doesn’t want anything or anyone to disrupt his moment, and the guess here is that he’ll devote as many resources and spend as much money as needed to make sure his Olympics aren’t tainted by violence and bloodshed" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/4).