ATHLETES and their families are becoming increasingly anxious about possible terrorist attacks at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, so much so that some families have decided not to attend and others plan to curtail their activities once they get to the Games in Russia.
No American athletes have yet cancelled plans to compete because of terrorist threats. But with increasing talk about unrest in the region and threats from would-be suicide bombers, some family members say they are reconsidering long-held plans to support the athletes at the Games.
“It’s getting to the point where our lives are on the line if we go there,” said Tim Oshie, whose son is on US hockey team. “They’re talking about terrorizing families. I’d rather stay in the homeland.”
In the most recent in a series of unnerving incidents, the Olympic teams from the United States and some European countries received emails this week warning them that they would be attacked if they took part in the Games. The messages were determined to be hoaxes, but the episode added to the skittishness permeating the mood as the February 7 opening ceremony approaches. Members of Congress have recently expressed concern about the safety of the 10,000 or so Americans planning to travel to Sochi.
“We’re all thinking the atmosphere is not going to be super easygoing when we get there,” said Julia Mancuso, a three-time Olympic medalist in skiing who is competing in Sochi.
This month, the State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans planning to go to Sochi that terrorists had threatened to attack the Winter Games and urging them to “remain vigilant”. On Friday, the Obama administration sought to quell fears, saying it had adequate plans in place to protect the security of athletes, sponsors and American visitors to the Games. “We’ve been working long and hard to liaise with the Russian security forces,” a senior administration official said.
President Vladimir V Putin of Russia, who has staked his international reputation on the success of the Games and for whom a terrorist attack would be as much a personal as a political blow, recently said Russia would “do our best” to keep Sochi secure. In addition to forming a so-called Ring of Steel – a special security cordon for people and vehicles – in the area around Sochi, Russia plans to deploy a security force of 40,000 people and set up six missile-defense systems, among other measures.
A Pentagon official said recently that the United States would station two Navy warships in the Black Sea, next to Sochi, in case any Americans needed to be evacuated after a terrorist attack or other emergency.