Sochi and the ‘Ring of Steal’
These are the final days when athletes from all over the world are putting the finishing touches on their routines, sharpening their blades, packing up the snowboards, the skis and the bobsleds. These Olympians should be thinking about nothing else but doing their best, representing their countries proudly, and maybe even bringing home a medal. They are doing interviews with local television, print and digital media. And they are all getting the same question.
Will you feel safe going over there?
This is not the time for the best winter athletes in the world to be worrying about terrorism. They should be visualizing the Opening Ceremonies, competing on the world’s biggest stage, and perhaps standing on a podium. Instead, they see or hear about the headlines every day that question Olympic security.
Some athletes, like the Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron have said that unlike last time in Vancouver, his wife and family are staying home. I am sure Bergeron is not alone.
Now we have learned that Russian President Vladimi Putin has installed his security system called the “ring of steel.”
I found the “ring” analogy interesting given that the Olympic rings are the true symbol of this event. Now we have a ring of security.
Security personnel will total 100,000 people, including 40,000 police and 30,000 military. Putin said it will also include drones and six anti-missile systems.
That must really make the athletes and visitors feel safe. There is talk of suicide bombers, chemical weapons and a U.S. emergency plan to bring in war ships “just in case” there is need for evacuation.
Six months ago we were all making fun of Putin’s ridiculous “anti-gay” legislation. The Russian leader was worried about public displays of homosexual affection as suicide bombers lined up outside a train station in Volograd- a mere 400 miles from Sochi.
I remember the security when I competed in the 76 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. It was the first Games held after the Munich massacre, where Israeli athletes were held hostage and killed inside the Olympic village.
When I arrived at the athletes village with my teamates, it had the appearance of a prison camp. For those who remember the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes” I remember somebody saying that it looked like “Stalag 13.” There were German shephard dogs pacing around tall brick walls topped with bobbed wire. There were Austrian soldiers keeping watch with machine guns on their shoulders.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of Olympic memory anyone wants to have.
This is the time for athletes to shine. Unfortunately, the Olympic Games also creates the perfect stage for political and violent theatre. These athletes have come too far, worked too hard, and sweated too much for anyone to spoil their Olympic dream.
Nothing should steal away what these athletes have earned. Let’s hope the “ring of steel” is unnecessary- if not, bullet proof.
Alice Cook and Olympic Figure Skating Team in Innsbruck, Austria. Olympic Village, 1976.