Athletes, families won’t let security concerns trump Olympic spirit in Sochi

Above: The Canadian Olympic Committee named four-time Olympic medal-winning hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser as this year’s flag-bearer. But at the same time some Olympic athletes are concerned about travelling to the games in Sochi. Vassy Kapelos reports.

The head of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) reaffirmed on Thursday that everything possible is being done to assure the Winter Games in Sochi will be safe for everyone attending.

“I cannot imagine that [Russia]… will not find a way [for] Sochi to be safe,” COC President Marcel Aubut said Thursday. “We have an incredibly good crisis committee at the International Olympic Committee, all of the same members that [were] in London [in 2012]… We are rehearsing for the worst and we are prepared, with the cooperation with the RCMP and the Government of Canada on site, to act very quickly.”
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Shortly after announcing Team Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony will be four-time Olympic medalist Hayley Wickenheiser, COC Chef de Mission and former Olympic downhill skier Steven Podborski said organizers are “confident we’ll be safe in Sochi.”

“We deal with our security services here in Canada who are in constant contact with the security services over there and we’re confident we’ll be safe in Sochi,” Podborski said, adding his wife would be accompanying him to attend the Olympics. “I think it will be safe.”

READ MORE: What you should know about travelling to Sochi

In recent days, some athletes have shared that their family members won’t be heading to the Black Sea city for next month’s Games — including Team Canada men’s hockey player and Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. He said security fears were part of the reason his loved ones won’t be in the stands at Sochi.

Many Olympic athletes say they are well aware of the recent terrorist attacks in Russia and threats made against the Olympics, but they say they have faith in organizers and Russian authorities to ensure their safety.

These athletes include 2010 Olympic speed skater Jamie Gregg and his wife, first-time Olympic speed skater Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg.

“They’re not going to put us into a situation that’s dangerous,” Gregg said. “The COC is doing a good job of keeping it monitored… I know the amount of money Russia is spending to keep people safe.”

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“I sat down with my parents and I said, ‘You know I don’t mind. It’s okay if you don’t come, if you’re worried or stressed…’ and they said, ‘No way. We’re coming.'”

READ MORE: Canadian Sochi Olympics events calendar

But her parents admit, travelling to watch their children compete this time is not quite the same as past experiences.

“You can’t live your life in fear. But having said that, you know I think there’s a different tone this time around,” Sharon Wotherspoon said on Wednesday after the announcement revealing Team Canada’s speed skating squad.

She said they’ve been to all of their son’s events and they had no plans to miss their daughter’s first time at the Olympics.

“It’s your family member and it’s their dream. Maybe we’re crazy, but that’s what we do,” she said.

Wotherspoon-Gregg’s father, Bill Wotherspoon, said the fact that there has been a threat made against the Olympic venue earlier this week was concerning, “but our plans are to go and we’ve done everything we have to do to go.”

READ MORE: Terror threat doesn’t deter Manitoba athlete’s family

The RCMP said late Thursday the security of the Olympic Games is “the responsibility of the Host Nation, the Sochi Organizing Committee and the Russian Authorities.”

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But RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Greg Cox assured the Mounties’ security liaison officers “will monitor security measures and… liaises with the Russian authorities in order to assist with security recommendations to the Canadian Olympic team.

“The security environment of these Games is unlike other recent Games,” Cox said in an email to Global News. “The RCMP has no information about threats specifically targeting Canadians at the Games, in the vicinity of Sochi or elsewhere in Russia. However, the RCMP is aware of the ongoing security instability in Russia and of the elevated threat environment surrounding the Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

*With files from Vassy Kapelos

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