Security emphasis at Olympics reassures athletes

David WhartonLos Angeles Times
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall skis the first leg in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall skis the first leg in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Sadie Bjornsen skis in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Sadie Bjornsen skis in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Sadie Bjornsen skis in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall walks from the venue back towards the athlete's village after skiing in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
United States' Sadie Bjornsen competes during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong
United States' Sadie Bjornsen skis with a sleeveless top as temperatures went well over the freezing point during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
United States' Sadie Bjornsen skis with a sleeveless top during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
United States' Sadie Bjornsen skis with a sleeveless top as snow deteriorates during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
Photo by Michael Smith Nina Kemppel holds a Rogers Park Elementary School banner near the Olympic rings in Sochi. Kemppel, a four-time Olympian in nordic skiing, is the aunt of Rogers Park first grader Logan Cuddy, and her banner is signed by some of the first graders and kindergartners at the school. Rogers Park held its own opening ceremony Feb. 6, 2014, and students are participating in various events during their physical education classes.
Photo by Michael Smith
Photo by Michael Smith Nina Kemppel holds a Rogers Park Elementary School banner near the Olympic flame in Sochi. Kemppel, a four-time Olympian in nordic skiing, is the aunt of Rogers Park first grader Logan Cuddy, and her banner is signed by some of the first graders and kindergartners at the school. Rogers Park held its own opening ceremony Feb. 6, 2014, and students are participating in various events during their physical education classes.
Michael Smith
Nina Kemppel and husband Michael Smith hold a Rogers Park Elementary School banner in Sochi. Kemppel, a four-time Olympian in nordic skiing, is the aunt of Rogers Park first grader Logan Cuddy, and the banner is signed by some of the first graders and kindergartners at the school. Rogers Park held its own opening ceremony Feb. 6, 2014, and students are participating in various events during their physical education classes.
Photo courtesy Nina Kemppel
Ann Swisshelm, left, and Jessica Schultz of the United States sweep the ice during the women's curling competition against Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E
Germany's Nicole Fessel, left, and United States' Sadie Bjornsen ski on the finish straight during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
Ida Sargent (left) and Holly Brooks ski in the women's 10 k classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Holly Brooks skis in the women's 10 K classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Holly Brooks skis in the women's 10 K classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Sadie Bjornsen skis in the women's 10 k classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Sadie Bjornsen skis in the women's 10 k classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
United States' Kikkan Randall catches her breath after her women's quarterfinal heat of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
United States' Kikkan Randall competes during the women's qualifications of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Felipe Dana
Ann Swisshelm, left, and Jessica Schultz of the United States sweep the ice during the women's curling competition against Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E
Team USA's Ann Swisshelm, left, and Jessica Schultz, sweep ahead of the rock during women's curling competition against Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
Robert F. Bukaty
Team USA's Jessica Schultz, right, delivers the rock as Allison Pottinger sweeps during the first day of training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty
Team USA skip Erika Brown, right, uses a stopwatch to time the throw from teammate Jessica Schultz during the first day of curling training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News Erik Bjornsen competing in the men's 30-K cross-country pursuit race on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, at the Laura cross-country ski center in the mountains outside of Sochi, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News Erik Bjornsen competing in the men's 30-K cross-country pursuit race on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, at the Laura cross-country ski center in the mountains outside of Sochi, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Ashley Wagner of the United States competes in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Vadim Ghirda
Ashley Wagner of the United States competes in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Bernat Armangue
Ashley Wagner of the United States waits for her results after competing in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)
Darron Cummings
Sara Studebaker of the United States skis during a biathlon training session, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man
Sara Studebaker of the United States shoots during a biathlon training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man
Sara Studebaker, of the United States, center, gets ready to shoot during a Biathlon training session, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man
United States' Ryan Stassel takes a jump during the men's snowboard slopestyle semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Sergei Grits
United States' Sophie Caldwell, left, and Sadie Bjornsen hang jokingly on the Olympic rings during a cross country training session prior to the Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
Erik Bjornsen is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Holly Brooks is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Jessica Schultz is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Kikkan Randall is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Ryan Stassel is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Sadie Bjornsen is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Ashley Wagner of the United States skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ryan Stassel of the United States takes a jump during a snowboard slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Andy Wong
Ryan Stassel of the United States takes a jump during a snowboard slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Andy Wong
Ryan Stassel of the United States takes a jump during a snowboard slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Sergei Grits
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall skis the first leg in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall skis the first leg in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Sadie Bjornsen skis in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Sadie Bjornsen skis in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Sadie Bjornsen skis in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall walks from the venue back towards the athlete's village after skiing in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
United States' Sadie Bjornsen competes during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong
United States' Sadie Bjornsen skis with a sleeveless top as temperatures went well over the freezing point during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
United States' Sadie Bjornsen skis with a sleeveless top during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
United States' Sadie Bjornsen skis with a sleeveless top as snow deteriorates during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
Photo by Michael Smith Nina Kemppel holds a Rogers Park Elementary School banner near the Olympic rings in Sochi. Kemppel, a four-time Olympian in nordic skiing, is the aunt of Rogers Park first grader Logan Cuddy, and her banner is signed by some of the first graders and kindergartners at the school. Rogers Park held its own opening ceremony Feb. 6, 2014, and students are participating in various events during their physical education classes.
Photo by Michael Smith
Photo by Michael Smith Nina Kemppel holds a Rogers Park Elementary School banner near the Olympic flame in Sochi. Kemppel, a four-time Olympian in nordic skiing, is the aunt of Rogers Park first grader Logan Cuddy, and her banner is signed by some of the first graders and kindergartners at the school. Rogers Park held its own opening ceremony Feb. 6, 2014, and students are participating in various events during their physical education classes.
Michael Smith
Nina Kemppel and husband Michael Smith hold a Rogers Park Elementary School banner in Sochi. Kemppel, a four-time Olympian in nordic skiing, is the aunt of Rogers Park first grader Logan Cuddy, and the banner is signed by some of the first graders and kindergartners at the school. Rogers Park held its own opening ceremony Feb. 6, 2014, and students are participating in various events during their physical education classes.
Photo courtesy Nina Kemppel
Ann Swisshelm, left, and Jessica Schultz of the United States sweep the ice during the women's curling competition against Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E
Germany's Nicole Fessel, left, and United States' Sadie Bjornsen ski on the finish straight during the women's 10K classical-style cross-country race at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
Ida Sargent (left) and Holly Brooks ski in the women's 10 k classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Holly Brooks skis in the women's 10 K classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Holly Brooks skis in the women's 10 K classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Sadie Bjornsen skis in the women's 10 k classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Sadie Bjornsen skis in the women's 10 k classic individual start race at the Olympics on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at the Laura Cross-Country Ski Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
United States' Kikkan Randall catches her breath after her women's quarterfinal heat of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
United States' Kikkan Randall competes during the women's qualifications of the cross-country sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Felipe Dana
Ann Swisshelm, left, and Jessica Schultz of the United States sweep the ice during the women's curling competition against Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E
Team USA's Ann Swisshelm, left, and Jessica Schultz, sweep ahead of the rock during women's curling competition against Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
Robert F. Bukaty
Team USA's Jessica Schultz, right, delivers the rock as Allison Pottinger sweeps during the first day of training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty
Team USA skip Erika Brown, right, uses a stopwatch to time the throw from teammate Jessica Schultz during the first day of curling training at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News Erik Bjornsen competing in the men's 30-K cross-country pursuit race on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, at the Laura cross-country ski center in the mountains outside of Sochi, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News Erik Bjornsen competing in the men's 30-K cross-country pursuit race on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, at the Laura cross-country ski center in the mountains outside of Sochi, Russia.
Nathaniel Herz
Ashley Wagner of the United States competes in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Vadim Ghirda
Ashley Wagner of the United States competes in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Bernat Armangue
Ashley Wagner of the United States waits for her results after competing in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)
Darron Cummings
Sara Studebaker of the United States skis during a biathlon training session, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man
Sara Studebaker of the United States shoots during a biathlon training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man
Sara Studebaker, of the United States, center, gets ready to shoot during a Biathlon training session, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man
United States' Ryan Stassel takes a jump during the men's snowboard slopestyle semifinal at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Sergei Grits
United States' Sophie Caldwell, left, and Sadie Bjornsen hang jokingly on the Olympic rings during a cross country training session prior to the Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader
Erik Bjornsen is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Holly Brooks is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Jessica Schultz is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Kikkan Randall is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Ryan Stassel is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Sadie Bjornsen is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.
Long Photography, Inc.
Ashley Wagner of the United States skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev
Ryan Stassel of the United States takes a jump during a snowboard slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Andy Wong
Ryan Stassel of the United States takes a jump during a snowboard slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Andy Wong
Ryan Stassel of the United States takes a jump during a snowboard slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Sergei Grits
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall skis the first leg in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz
Nathaniel Herz / Anchorage Daily News / FasterSkier.com Kikkan Randall skis the first leg in the 4x5 relay Saturday, February 15, 2014.
Nathaniel Herz

SOCHI, Russia -- As his plane approached Sochi-Adler International Airport, flying low over the coast, Eric Guay glanced out the window.

Warships sat anchored on the Black Sea below.

"That's the first sight you get," the Canadian skier said. "In a way, it makes you feel safe."

Security has been a major concern leading up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

These Games are considered particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of their proximity to the North Caucasus, a region where Islamic militants have waged a violent insurgency.

Recent bombings in Volgograd, about 400 miles away, heightened fears, as did media reports that authorities were searching for three potential "black widow" suicide bombers thought to be in the area.

But the athletes who have arrived here over the last few days say they feel safe, in large part because of a very obvious military and security presence.

"From the moment you step off the plane, you're showing credentials," American short-track speedskater Jessica Smith said. "Everybody's checking you at each stop you enter and you exit."

It was just last summer that Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov posted a video calling for militants to take action against the Olympics. He decried the notion of sports events held "on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried on our land by the Black Sea."

Then came the Volgograd bombings, which killed 34 people. A militant group from the Dagestan region claimed responsibility.

"This is no war zone but not the safest environment," said bobsledder Chris Fogt, who took time off from competing after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to serve with the U.S. military in Iraq. "We kind of feel like something could happen."

Heading into the Games, the U.S. Olympic Committee issued a memo to athletes, passing along State Department advice that they refrain from wearing conspicuous team clothing outside of secured areas.

The Australian Olympic Committee went a step further, restricting athletes to venues, the village and the official transport system. Ian Chesterman, the team's chef de mission, said this week: "We take it seriously and it's a good practice to define what degree of caution is required."

All along, the International Olympic Committee and local organizers have insisted they can keep athletes and spectators safe. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made these Games his pet project, hoping they will be a showcase for his country.

No corners have been cut with an estimated $50 billion-plus spent on venues and surrounding infrastructure. Alexey Lavrishev, the head of Olympic security, said 40,000 policemen have been deployed in this city of about 400,000.

"What you see is designed to create a feeling of security," said Scott J. White, an associate professor of homeland security at Drexel University. "What you're not seeing is the (Russian security service) working behind the scenes."

Speaking to reporters, IOC President Thomas Bach made a point of saying that safety concerns are nothing new to the Games.

Olympic officials dealt with terrorism in 1972 when 11 Israeli team members were taken hostage by Palestinians in Munich and ultimately killed during a rescue attempt. There was a bombing in Atlanta in 1996 and post-9/11 security concerns at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

"Every big event nowadays is under threat and therefore we have to address this," Bach said.

In Sochi, purple-jacketed security staff can be seen throughout the area. On Tuesday morning, cars and trucks lined up for a full block, waiting to pass through one of the checkpoints to the Olympic Park.

Guards inspected each vehicle, using mirrors to peer underneath. Again, this has been standard procedure in recent Games, but competitors seemed to appreciate the effort.

"We feel very confident that our team is well-guarded and secure," said Seiko Hashimoto, the chef de mission for the Japanese contingent. "The Olympic Village is very well-protected."

Not all precautions have been left up to Russian authorities. Some teams employ private security companies and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police briefed their country's delegation.

The U.S. government says it has an emergency plan in place, with warships and transport planes standing at the ready should athletes and officials require evacuation.

Skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace felt confident enough to bring her husband and two small children, who usually travel with her. "Of course we had concerns leading up to the Games," she said. "But once we got here and to the place where we were staying, we felt very safe and there haven't been any issues."

Although visible security may offer comfort, it also presents a potential downside. The airport-style metal detectors and troops riding in the backs of trucks -- which have been seen around town -- could dampen the Olympics' traditionally festive spirit.

Bach did not seem overly concerned, saying: "I think the atmosphere can really flourish."

Athletes agreed that, at least so far, the Russians have found a reasonable balance.

When the short-track speedskaters competed here last year they encountered delays in getting through checkpoints. Speedskater Emily Scott said things are running more smoothly now. "I think they've got the kinks out," she said. "They're prepared to keep it a happy and a fun Games."

The area around Olympic Park has a casual feel, with visitors and residents walking along the streets from morning until late at night.

The vibe might change in coming days as security personnel faces an onslaught of fans arriving for the start of competition. But for now, the athletes seem content.

"Honestly, everyone's been so nice, so polite," Scott said. "I haven't felt unsafe in any sort of way."

 


By DAVID WHARTON
Los Angeles Times