Olympics

Officials reassuring after bombing rekindles Olympic fears

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The Canadian Press
12/30/2013 9:16:02 PM
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The suicide bombings in Russia serve as a chilling reminder of what the Winter Olympics represent to terrorists: A high-profile target with more than 2,500 athletes, some of them world-famous, waving the flags of nearly 90 nations.

Although Canadian athletes are troubled by the 31 lives lost in the two bombings nearly 650 kilometres from Sochi, they are trying to focus on their Olympic goals and are placing their confidence in the security measures enacted by the International Olympic Committee, Russian organizers and government security agencies.

"For the athletes, we feel like we'll be pretty protected over there," said Hayley Wickenheiser, the captain of Canada's women's hockey team, who will compete in her fifth Olympics in February. "But obviously you think about it and you hope that they're going to figure out the security issue by the time we get over there."

Indeed, the Russians vow the athletes will be safe, even though they will be competing in a city just 500 kilometres away from the roots of an Islamist insurgency that has triggered security concerns for the Games, which start Feb. 7.

The country has spent a record US$51 billion preparing for its first Winter Games and has promised to make the Games "the safest in Olympic history."

Olympic chief Alexander Zhukov said the bombings didn't spark a need for additional security measures because "everything necessary already has been done."

The Canadian Olympic Committee issued a statement condemning the attacks and sending its condolences to the families of the victims. COC president Marcel Aubut also said he had confidence in Russia's security measures for the Games.

"We have complete faith in the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee in upholding the appropriate security levels at the Olympic Games," said Aubut. "We also believe in their ability to work collaboratively with other governments and National Olympic Committees to ensure that all necessary measures are in place."

The threat of terrorism at the Olympics has been in the forefront since 1972, when members of a Palestinian terrorist group invaded the Olympic village in Munich, Germany and killed 11 Israeli athletes.

Security rose to a new level at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, which came only five months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Improvements in technology, along with ever-present threats of terrorism, have turned security into a top priority for any country hoping to host the Olympics.

"I think I'll be safe out there," said Regina's Kali Christ, a long-track speedskater who will be making her Olympic debut at the Sochi Games. "The IOC and the COC and everyone have taken precautions and it should be good.

"I'm going to be focused on me so I'm going to try not to worry about any of that, really. I'll be just worrying about my process and it's all there is to it."

Among the security measures Russia has put in place for this year's games is a requirement that all ticketholders obtain and wear "spectator passes" while attending events. To get a spectator pass, fans have to provide passport and contact information to authorities.

On Monday, IOC president Thomas Bach wrote a condolence letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he expressed "our confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure games in Sochi."

Meanwhile, a number of Olympic leaders and federations signalled their confidence in the host country.

"When we come to Sochi, it will be impossible for the terrorists to do anything," Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg said. "The village will be sealed off from the outside world. Security has been our priority No. 1 ever since Sochi got the games."

The U.S. Olympic Committee works closely with the State Department on its security arrangements. A White House spokeswoman said the United States would welcome "closer co-operation" with Russia on security preparations for the Games.

Canadians are also relying on the work of their police and security forces.

"I know that the RCMP is in communications with their local police and the COC is in charge of keeping us safe and it's not one of my worries and that someone is keeping me safe," said Ottawa's Vincent de Haitre, a speedskater who will also be making his Olympic debut. "I think the Olympics are a great international event where everybody performs at their best and hopefully everything goes well."

Since the widespread use of metal detectors was introduced to the Olympics in 2002, every subsequent Olympics has brought its own set of challenges and responses.

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Chinese authorities introduced identity checks for opening and closing ceremonies.

In London last year, there were no identity checks, but combat jets patrolled the city, and surface-to-air missiles were set up on rooftops.

Russia's security effort is greater than those of either of those countries, said Matthew Clements, an analyst at Jane's, in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Three-time Olympic ski jumping champion Thomas Morgenstern of Austria said he remembers seeing sharp shooters roaming the woods in Sochi during a World Cup event last year.

"Of course you're having thoughts about it. But when we are at the Olympic Games, that will be one of the safest places for sure," Morgenstern said. "I think they are in control."

Volgograd (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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