Olympics terrorism threat worries, but won't deter, Idaho athlete

Posted by William Douglas, Lesley Clark and Chip Alexander on January 27, 2014 

TRAVEL WLT-SOCHI 1 LA

The Laura ski complex, in the Sochi mountain sports area of Krasnaya Polyana, will host many 2014 Olympic events in February.

CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS — Los Angeles Times/MCT

— Deadly suicide bombings and terrorist threats aren't going to keep Idaho resident Jasmine Campbell from participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month.

Campbell, a 22-year-old giant slalom and slalom skier from Ketchum, Idaho, is pumped about carrying the flag of her native U.S. Virgin Islands into Fisht Olympic Stadium for the Winter games' opening ceremonies. 

But her jubilation is tinged with unease about security surrounding the games, worries that are making some of the relatives and friends of Olympic athletes consider staying home or limiting their public activities in this city along the Black Sea during the Feb. 7-23 sporting event. 

"I have my reservations, to be sure," Campbell said by phone Sunday after an afternoon of training on the Idaho slopes. "But I'm also trying not to focus on it because it's not what the Olympics are all about and I don't want it to take away from experience of what the Olympics should and does represent."

Campbell's father, John, plans to accompany his daughter to Sochi next week. He admires her determination for not letting anything interfere with her participating in the games. But he also shares her worries about safety.

"There's an uncertainty with respect to the fact that Chechnya is so close, there's been some terrorist activity in the last week or two, and there are other concerns," said Campbell, who skied for the U.S. Virgin Islands at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. "But I don't think they're great enough to deter Jasmine's dreams and aspirations. But there's a little bit of anxiety there. You never know what the bad guys might do. You hope that they'll be stymied by the security and professionalism of the (games') organizers. But, yeah, there's anxiety."

That anxiety level grew last week when U.S. and European Olympic  teams received emailed threats in Russian and English, vowing strikes if athletes and supporters participate in the games that Russian President Vladimir Putin has pushed to demonstrate Russia's re-emergence as a regional and world power.

International Olympic Committee officials said the emails were a hoax. But other potentially serious threats remain that could overshadow the athletic competitions and embarrass Putin.

Last month, suicide bombers attacked a crowded bus and a railroad station in Volgograd, a city about 400 miles north of Sochi, killing 32 people. Last July, Doku Umarov, a Chechen rebel leader, released a video calling for an attack during the Winter Olympics.

More than 300 miles separate the main Olympic venues from Chechnya, the site of two civil wars, home of anti-Putin rebels, and the homeland of the family of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans heading to Sochi about terrorist threats and urging them to be vigilant while there.

In the wake of what U.S. government officials say is in an uptick in threats against the games, the U.S. Olympic team's security coordinator urged U.S. athletes not to wear their official red, white, and blue uniforms outside accredited events in Sochi because of security concerns.

"I think it's just common sense that perhaps if you're an American Olympic athlete, you perhaps don't want to advertise that so much directly outside of - or far outside of - the venues," a senior State Department official told reporters in Washington last Friday.

A Pentagon official said the Navy would anchor two warships in the Black Sea near Sochi just in case Americans needed to be evacuated because of a terrorist attack.

Justin Faulk, a defenseman for the U.S. Olympic hockey team and the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, said he’s not worried about security in Sochi. But his mother, brother and another guest going to Russia to watch him play are “more worried about it than I am.”

“But they’re going to be pretty close, too, about 10 minutes from us,” Faulk said. “I think it’s within the secure area. They’ll be OK, I think. They’re a little more worried but they’re still coming. They thought about it for a day or two and decided to stick with their plans.”

Andrej Sekera, a Hurricanes defenseman who’s playing for Slovakia at the Winter games, said concerns about security are “always going to be in your head but there’s nothing you can prevent.”

“Some things are meant to happen but hopefully nothing will happen,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the (Russian) government and all the countries that are sending Olympians out there will make sure everything goes smoothly and nothing will happen.”

Sekera said he isn’t taking any family or friends to Sochi, but not because of security fears. Once in Sochi, Sekera said he plans to take in Olympic experience, and not just be sequestered.

“I will walk around the village, see the area,” he said. “I will try to go out and see as many things as I can because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

John Campbell, who moved his family from St. John’s, V.I., to Idaho when his daughter was nine, hopes all the precautions being taken or suggested won’t be needed and that the spirit of the Olympics takes over.

"My guess is that it will be a happy gathering," he said. "I remember from my (Olympic) experience being struck by the extent, and this may sound a little corny, but by the extent to which you really get into this 'One World' vibe, if you will."

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