- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2014

When it comes to security at the Olympics, freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell figures it’s best to let someone else do the worrying.

She insists she is not.

“I guess maybe if I had more time on my hands, I would be,” said Caldwell, who is from Ashburn, Va. “But I’m trying to go do three flips in the air, and that’s scary enough.”

While the reasons may be different, the Olympians with local ties seem to be taking Caldwell’s approach to the security issue. It’s for someone else to handle.

In Putin, they seem to trust.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who will represent Russia in the Olympic hockey tournament, is proud that his country is hosting the games and is confident that Russian President Vladimir Putin will keep Sochi safe.

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“Because I think our President Putin said we have some secret stuff up there,” Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin’s Capitals teammate Nicklas Backstrom will be playing for Sweden at the Olympics. His girlfriend, Liza Berg, and infant daughter, Haley, will watch from Sweden but not because of security concerns. Haley is simply not at a good age for that kind of travel. Backstrom’s parents and brother will be in Sochi.

“Every [Olympics] is a target, a lot of people in the same place. But I don’t think Putin will let that happen,” Backstrom said.

That there might be some concern is not just idle worrying.

Three years ago, the U.S. speedskating team and support personnel flew into Moscow the same day Domodedovo, one of the city’s busiest airports, was attacked by a suicide bomber. The incident resulted in more than 30 deaths. The speedskating team was flying into another airport, 40 miles away.

“We didn’t find out about anything until we landed,” U.S. team coach Ryan Shimabukuro said at the time, according to the U.S. speedskating’s website, as reported by ABCnews.com. “I was watching the Russian news broadcasts. The pictures they showed were graphic: People dead on the ground. Bloody floors. Bodies being brought on stretchers. Crews trying to assist the wounded. It was a chilling experience.”

Sochi is a resort town on the Black Sea. Like all other Olympic venues, it presents a tempting target for domestic and international terrorists. On Dec. 29 and 30, a pair of train and bus bombings killed 34 people in the Russian city of Volgograd, 600 miles north of Sochi.

The Olympic city is about that same distance from the turbulent Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in the Caucasus region to the east. Insurgent groups based there have used terrorism to help fuel instability and push for independent Islamic states.

The Associated Press reports that Russian officials are looking for a trio of “black widows,” women who may seek to avenge their husbands’ deaths with suicide bombings. One is believed to be in Sochi.

“We know some of them got through the perimeter,” Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the AP. “What we don’t know is how many more black widows are out there. How many potential cells could be in Sochi and the Olympic Village?”

“We will try to make sure that the security measures taken aren’t too intrusive or visible and that they won’t put pressure on the athletes, guests and journalists,” Mr. Putin told the AP.

He has vowed that the games will be safe for athletes, officials and spectators.

That the athletes seem less worried than some others shouldn’t be a surprise.

“One of the reasons for that is the athletes are going to be the most well-protected people there,” said Carrie LeCrom, director of the Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Ms. LeCrom’s research focuses on global sports issues on an international stage.

“While anything can happen, there will be security around the athletes,” she said. “They’ve been very well briefed on what precautions are being taken to protect them.

“The second and maybe bigger reason is the focus. These athletes have trained not only for four years, but for their whole lives for this moment. The mental capacity needed to be an athlete at this level lets them focus so directly on what they’re there for. This is, for a lot of them, their only chance. Their mind has to be on competing. They just know and are able to sort of turn the switch on and off. This issue is one of the things they’re having to do it with.”

American hockey player Derek Stepan, who plays in the NHL for the New York Rangers, said USA Hockey and the NHL Players’ Association have indeed given their athletes detailed briefings on the security situation in Russia. Stepan said his family will be at the games.

The same goes for Rangers and Team USA teammate Ryan McDonagh, who noted that most of the prominent hockey players who have said publicly that they don’t want their families to attend have participated in previous Olympics.

Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo, Swedish forward Daniel Sedin and American forward Zach Parise have expressed concern this month about the risk of terrorism in Sochi. But their stand appears less common than those of athletes who say preparing for competition gives them enough to worry about.

“I don’t think security is going to be an issue over there,” Backstrom said. “I heard it’s between 30,000 and 75,000 soldiers, military people, security, whatever you want to call them. I think we’ll be on the safe side. Every [Olympics] is a target, a lot of people in the same place. But I don’t think Putin will let that happen.”

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