The four Aspen-area athletes competing in the Winter Olympics arrive in Russia this week as the country prepares for opening ceremonies on Friday. Security in Sochi has been closely scrutinized after two suicide bombings killed 34 people in another Russian town in late December. And, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory last month for Americans traveling to the Games. Still, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee says security is being handled well by Russian authorities. For local athletes and family members traveling to Russia, safety is something they’re thinking about. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
"We fly to Instanbul and then, there’s only one flight that goes to Sochi every other day from Instanbul. It’s actually the closest airport to Sochi," says Ruthie Brown.
Brown is an Aspen resident who's itenerary reads like a complex directions manual. It will take she and her husband three days to reach Sochi, where her son Simi Hamilton will race in cross country skiing. She says safety is on her radar, but she’s planning to travel smart.
"I feel like if we’re just smart about what we do and are cognitive and aware of where we are and how we’re presenting ourselves, I don’t think it’s any more risky than traveling anywhere else in the world."
The United States is monitoring reported threats of potential terrorist attacks in Sochi. Terrorist acts, like bombings, continue to happen in Russia and Sochi is surrounded by areas that have experienced extremist violence, like Abkhazia to the south.
The country seems to be taking safety seriously. Russian warships, drone aircraft and tens of thousands of military and police personnel have been deployed to protect the games.
FLINTOFF: "But to get onto the train, passengers will need to undergo a security check that’s as rigorous as any airport inspection, including a full body pat down by police."
And, the State Department says there is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. citizens.
Still, security concerns are keeping some family members home. Cost and the complexity of travel - remember Ruthie Brown’s itenerary? - also factor into choosing staying stateside.
"I don’t really know if I’m too concerned about security. I mean, I’ve read a lot of stuff online and it’s a little bit scary, but I know they’ll be doing everything humanly possible to make sure we’re safe over there," says Torin Yater-Wallace.
The Aspen freeskier is competing in skier halfpipe in Sochi. It’s his first Olympics and he’s mostly focused on preparing for his event.
"All I can really do is follow the orders of the people above me on the U.S. Olympic Team and do what they say, and I’m sure they’ll be keeping us as safe as possible. I’m just going over there with the mindset of competing and trying not to focus on that."
Noah Hoffman is a cross country ski racer from Aspen. He's also competing in Sochi.
"I have not felt very nervous about my own personal safety," he says.
Reached in Italy last week, he said the athlete village where he’ll stay in Russia is very secure. The issue of security, he says, is not worth worrying about because it’s out of his control.
"There’s so many things happening at the Olympics, that it’s really important from an athletic standpoint to focus on what I can control and going out and executing my race plan, my training plan, my mental plan and my recovery plan between races, so that I can be as fit and ready to go as possible."
For Ruthie Brown, participating in an Olympics is nothing new. The mother of skier Simi Hamilton, says she’s been to the Salt Lake City games and then to Vancouver. Salt Lake happened shortly after 9-11, so she says, there was plenty of security there. For this trip, she’s confident her family will be safe.
"In this Olympics, I know the Russians are certainly very attentive to their safety and military and so I think they’ll handle it well and we’ll all feel very safe," she says.
The Olympics start on Friday, although television coverage in the United States begins Thursday. Besides Simi Hamilton, Noah Hoffman and Torin Yater-Wallace, Aspen is also sending figure skater Jeremy Abbott to the games.