Column: Threats by militants highlight security issues in Sochi Olympics

  • Article by: TIM DAHLBERG , AP Sports Columnist
  • Updated: July 6, 2013 - 4:00 PM

Until recently, the most interest about the Black Sea resort of Sochi was the staggering $51 billion tab the Russians are picking up to host the Winter Olympics in President Vladimir Putin's backyard.

It's a pricey party that will go down as the most expensive Olympics in history. It's also a pet project for Putin, whose prestige will be on the line in February when the traveling carnival show that is the Olympics takes place just a snowball's throw from his luxurious presidential palace.

And, despite pledges by Russia to make the games "the safest Olympics in history,'" it's also the biggest target imaginable in a region unsettled by an Islamist insurgency.

If the prospect of going for the gold in Sochi wasn't making Olympians nervous before, it should be now. Anyone planning to watch the show might think twice, too, no matter how often Russian authorities assure everyone that things will be just fine.

That was made clear this week when a top Chechen rebel warlord called on militants to disrupt the Olympics, describing them as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." Doku Umarov told his followers to do everything possible to cause havoc at the games, a particularly chilling statement considering his group is blamed for bombing a Moscow airport, two subway stations and a train in different attacks over the last three years.

The response to the threat was both predictable and quick, with organizers and government officials saying 37,000 police officers and a complex and multilayered security system will protect both athletes and spectators in Sochi and its surrounding mountains.

"We get threats before every Olympics," former Olympian Jean-Claude Killy, who heads the International Olympic Committee coordination commission for Sochi. "This cannot be taken lightly. I think the Russians are well equipped to face the challenge."

They may well be. Olympic security has been an evolving science since Palestinian terrorists massacred Israeli athletes after invading the Olympic village in Munich in 1972. Aside from the bombing in Atlanta in 1996 that killed one person, the games have for the most part been extremely safe.

And, so far at least, U.S. athletes aren't exactly panicking about the prospects of competing in Sochi.

"At this point we haven't had anyone express concern," said Patrick Sandusky, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "Security is always a top concern for us and our athletes and we take it all very seriously."

Still, you have to wonder whose idea it was to plunk an Olympics into a region beset by an insurgency — no matter how much money is spent to protect it. The Russians will undoubtedly pull out all stops to make the games secure — athletes at test events in January and February talked about patrols of guards with assault rifles — but these won't exactly be the laid-back Winter Games of 2010 in Vancouver.

Security questions weren't even at the top of the list when Sochi won the Olympics in 2007, beating out Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Salzburg, Austria, in a secret vote by IOC members. Putin traveled to the meeting in Guatemala to personally lobby the members and lead the final presentation.

But the Islamic insurgency active in the North Caucasus mountains that tower over the seaside resort of Sochi presents a very real challenge, even for a security plan backed by the full weight of the Russian government. The two Chechen brothers charged with the Boston Marathon bombings showed that rudimentary bombs that are relatively easy to make can cause terrible damage even in a tightly secured area.

Big sporting events can make attractive targets, and they don't get any bigger than an Olympics. Thankfully, Sochi has something going for it that Rio won't when Brazil hosts the Summer Olympics in 2016 — a government security apparatus devoted to making the games incident free.

You won't see it while watching on television and, in the end, the Olympics are just one long television show. Assuming there is snow in the mountains — another worry of the games — Sochi should look beautiful on TV and Putin will realize his goal of showcasing the aging resort city to the world.

No, it may not be the wisest place to hold an Olympics. But Olympic officials don't always make the wisest choices.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - M. Pineda 12:07 PM
Toronto - D. Hutchison
Detroit - M. Scherzer 12:10 PM
Chicago WSox - C. Sale
Chicago Cubs - F. Doubront 1:15 PM
St. Louis - J. Masterson
Cincinnati - A. Simon 3:05 PM
Pittsburgh - V. Worley
Minnesota - K. Gibson 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Philadelphia - J. Williams 6:10 PM
NY Mets - B. Colon
Miami - J. Cosart 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Boston - A. Webster 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi
Cleveland - T. Bauer 6:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Detroit - K. Ryan 6:10 PM
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt
Texas - R. Ross Jr. 6:10 PM
Houston - S. Feldman
Colorado - T. Matzek 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada 7:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Gonzales
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 8:05 PM
San Francisco - J. Peavy
Oakland - J. Samardzija 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Washington - S. Strasburg 8:10 PM
Seattle - R. Elias
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 7 1st Qtr 8:56
UAB 0
(7) UCLA 0 1st Qtr 6:52
Virginia 0
Western Mich 0 1st Qtr 6:32
Purdue 7
(5) Ohio State 0 1st Qtr 6:18
Navy 0
Appalachian St 0 1st Qtr 6:21
Michigan 7
Ga Southern 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Colorado 3:00 PM
Seattle
New England 4:00 PM
Toronto FC
Columbus 6:30 PM
Montreal
FC Dallas 7:30 PM
Chicago
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close