From Idaho to Sochi Olympics — no serious safety concerns, yet

The athletes with Idaho connections plan on being cautious in Sochi, but aren't overly worried about security.

ccripe@idahostatesman.com © 2014 Idaho StatesmanFebruary 4, 2014 

Boise ski judge Josh Loubek, who is working the Sochi Games, took this picture of Russian security during a test event in the country last year.

PROVIDED BY JOSH LOUBEK

Olympic downhill skier Erik Fisher of Boise told his mom not to go to Sochi.

She insisted.

Shelly Fisher will be in Russia on Sunday when her son is expected to make his Olympic racing debut, despite a rash of security concerns surrounding the Sochi Games.

"I'm more worried about her than I am about myself," Fisher said. "… She's worked just as hard as I have for me to make the Olympics, so I can't deny her the opportunity to come if she really wants to."

Shelly is the only member of the family making the trip. Fisher's parents and two sisters made the much shorter trip to Vancouver in 2010, when he was unable to race because of injury. Shelly, who lives in Middleton, will travel with downhill racer Steven Nyman's mother. Nyman is from Sundance, Utah, and the two moms are longtime friends.

"It should be an adventure," said Shelly, who leaves Wednesday and returns Feb. 18. "Unless I felt like it was just seriously dangerous, then of course I would not go. But I'm not too worried about it at this point. It would be really difficult for me to stay home."

U.S. government officials have made it clear that travel to this Olympics carries an unusual amount of risk.

Vice President Joe Biden said on "Today" he'd send his family to the Olympics "with some caveats," including guidelines to stay safe. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., former chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" he would not attend as a spectator. And Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the Homeland Security Committee chairman, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that "the security threat to ... this particular Olympics is the greatest I've ever seen."

In December, suicide bombers attacked a crowded bus and a railroad station in Volgograd, 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 Olympics.

More than 300 miles separate the main Olympic sites from Chechnya, the site of two civil wars, home of Islamic rebels and the homeland of the family of the two Boston Marathon suspects.

Among the security measures implemented by the U.S.: Athletes have been encouraged not to wear their team gear outside of secure areas and the Navy plans to anchor two warships in the Black Sea to evacuate Americans in case of a terror attack.

"A friend of mine with a former CIA father says that Russia does do a great job with security, so I'm banking on that," said Josh Loubek, a Boisean who is the head judge for the new ski slopestyle and halfpipe events, "though it is weird that I'm getting warnings about possible evacuations and the U.S. will have Navy ships nearby for escape if needed. I suppose that's the nature of big events these days, and especially the Olympics."

U.S. women's hockey player Hilary Knight of Sun Valley usually worries "about everything," she said. But she has tried to remove safety concerns from her thoughts about the Olympics.

"I kind of leave the worrying up to my family," she said. "I see the stuff on the news and it's terrible, but part of my job is to be able to separate it."

Knight's parents and three brothers will make the trip to Russia. Her parents, Jim and Cynthia Knight, have discussed their concerns.

"For two weeks in February, probably one of the safest places on Earth is going to be in the athletes' village," Jim said. "Outside the Olympic venues, I think there's reason to be concerned. It's a volatile area. The way Cynthia and I think about it is there may be an incident - there may be more than one incident - but the chance that you will be in that place at that time when it occurs, if it occurs, is pretty infinitesimal.

"You can't allow them to get the better of you. … We're all there to support the athletes and support the Olympic movement. It's an exciting time for them and we owe it to the athletes to give them our support."

Slalom skier Jasmine Campbell of Sun Valley said she doesn't want to dwell on security issues because they're "the antithesis of what the Olympics actually stand for."

"To me," she said, "the Olympics are a chance to generate international camaraderie and get this eclectic group of people from all walks of life in the same space, sharing experiences and culture and just enriching the lives of everyone - spectators and athletes alike. It's really disappointing what's going on."

The Olympics begin Thursday with some preliminary action, including Rigby's Jessika Jenson in the snowboard slopestyle qualification round. The Opening Ceremony is Friday.

Early-arriving American athletes told The Associated Press that Russia has assembled such an overwhelming security presence that they feel safe. An estimated 100,000 police, agents and army troops are in the area.

Fisher competed in a World Cup race in Sochi two years ago.

"The place was on lockdown," he said. "We had to go through metal detectors to even get on the ski lifts. There were snipers all over the place. As long as the snipers don't turn at us, I think we'll be OK."

The McClatchy Washington Bureaucontributed to this report.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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