Each of the 230 athletes who have been chosen to represent Team USA at the Sochi Olympics has been preparing for this pinnacle sporting event their entire lives. Through years of conditioning, practicing, and competing, they have been trained on fulfilling their Olympic dreams and landing a spot on the coveted podium.
Yet, what they had not been planning for are the rising tensions and anxieties about the extreme dangers at the Sochi Olympics which have ratcheted upwards in recent weeks. The United States has long been a target of terrorists who could once more seize the chance to strike again.
Having just survived the grueling and stressful U.S. Olympic qualifications which ended earlier this week, these world class athletes are now switching gears to ready themselves for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to excel on the world stage.
All of these skaters, skiers, snowboarders, curlers and hockey players, who have just begun traveling to these Winter Games, have already been advised by the protective U.S. Olympic Committee to take prudent precautions.
“There’s no question that it’s heightened everyone’s awareness. We take security very seriously,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun in a NBC Today Show segment. This organization has already arranged for athletes to be escorted by security while at the Sochi Olympics.
This large American contingent has recently been briefed about the actions required in the event of an attack. Directions about evacuating, scurrying to safe zones, and communicating among each other have been instilled in these athletes’ already burdened minds. Despite this advice, intended to be assuring, certain athletes are still anxious.
For instance, the 29-year-old NHL player Zach Parise said in a Star Tribune interview, “I know they say they have evacuation stuff for us and all, but you just never know. I'm actually really concerned about it.”
Parise is among several athletes who have asked their family members not to travel to Sochi - not only for safety reasons, but so that they will not have to worry about their relatives’ well-being on-site.
Still others, particularly the younger, adventurous action sport athletes, are taking these scary conditions all in stride – at least on the surface.
"I try not to worry about anything when I'm skiing. That's kind of part of my personality, attributes that I have that I take into my sport," said freestyle skier Nick Goepper in a Denver Post interview.
This single-minded focus on just competing is a rare talent that few can master – throughout years of preparation or even at the starting line. Often, these matter-of-fact direct statements are ingrained - the product of public speaking coaching lessons led by the sport’s federation.
Yet quite possibly, his myopic viewpoint is bolstered by his USSA federation’s hiring of Global Rescue, a private crisis, rescue, and evacuation company. After all, this federation is responsible for the safety of such world-renowned athletes as Shaun White, Kelly Clark, Bode Miller, and Julia Mancuso.
For many athletes the Sochi Olympics will be their one and only chance to race to a victory, throw down the best run, or score the championship winning point. Therefore, concentration is paramount, and they must block out all these distractions, worries and even fears about all the controversies that are swirling around them.
Otherwise, it’s a long four-year journey to the 2018 Winter Olympics.