Russia bombings spark Olympic concerns

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.

So while many Olympic leaders offered reassurance on the day

after two bombings 400 miles from Sochi killed at least 31 people,

some of those getting ready to compete in the games spoke of a

different reality. They know their security is never a sure

thing.

”I am concerned,” said U.S. speedskater Jilleanne Rookard.

”I’m scared their security may be involved. I don’t know if I

necessarily trust their security forces. But they don’t want a

national embarrassment, either. I use that thought to relieve some

of my worry. I’m sure they want to save their image and their

pride.”

Indeed, the Russians vow the athletes will be safe, even though

they will be competing in a city 300 miles away from the roots of

an Islamic insurgency that has triggered security concerns for the

games, which start Feb. 7.

The country has spent a record $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.”

Swedish hockey player Johan Franzen of the Red Wings sees things

a little differently.

”I’m sure after this, the security will be higher than they

intended from the start,” he said.

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 and killed 11 members of the Israeli

delegation.

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.

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 signaled

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 cooperation” with

Russia on security preparations for the Games.

U.S. figure skater Ross Miner, who won silver at the 2013 U.S.

Championships, is well aware of the vulnerability of major sporting

events. The theme of the New England native’s long program is

”Boston Strong,” about the city’s resilience after the marathon

bombings last spring.

Miner recalled the 2011 world championships in Moscow as ”by

far the most intense security I’ve ever had at a competition,”

with skaters going through metal detectors to enter the venue.

U.S. speedskaters, however, have different memories of Moscow.

They arrived for a 2011 World Cup event the same day a suicide

bomber killed 35 people in an attack on the city’s Domodedovo

Airport.

”It’s terrible we have to live in fear, but that’s just kind of

how it is,” two-time gold and silver medalist Shani Davis

said.

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.”

AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry, Howard Fendrich, Rachel Cohen,

Larry Lage, Stephen Wilson and Stephen Douglas and Associated Press

Writers Karl Ritter and Eric Willemsen contributed to this

report.