Security concerns revolve around 2014 Winter Olympics

Heather Centurioni is staying home for what could be the biggest moment of her brother’s life.

She fears that it’s just not safe enough to take her two daughters to Russia to watch her brother, Chris Del Bosco, compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

So she’ll watch from Texas as he represents Canada on the ski cross team, trying to bring home a gold medal.

“The threats are there,” said Centurioni, 38, of Plano, who watched her brother compete in person for years, including four years ago in Vancouver. “And are we really being told everything?”

Government warnings continue to alert athletes and tourists to possible terrorist attacks at the Winter Games, which formally open Friday and wrap up Feb. 23. And observers say fears of violence are running higher than they have in years.

Some relatives and sports enthusiasts decided to stay home not just because of the warnings but also because of the high costs and hassles associated with trying to book accommodations and travel around Russia without knowing the language.

Even the athletes are concerned.

But not deterred.

“Of course we’ve talked about [security] and it has been addressed between us,” said Jordan Malone, a Denton speedskater who has overcome a series of injuries to earn his second trip to the Olympics.

He said the athletes must focus on the competition before them.

“I’m at the final stages of … an opportunity to represent my country and Texas on the biggest stage of all,” Malone said. “Distractions like that are on my radar but not in my focus.

“Of course I hope for the best for my family [and] friends … but we can have security threats anywhere,” he said. “The difference is that this is a showcase for all that is Russia, and I trust that they will do their absolute best to make sure we are all safe.”

U.S. concerns

After bombings and threats of terrorist attacks by insurgents, the State Department issued a travel warning last month for those going to Sochi.

“Large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists, and the U.S. government continues to monitor reported threats of potential terrorist attacks,” the warning said. “Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region.

“There is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. institutions or citizens, but U.S. citizens should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices.”

U.S. Olympic Committee officials have said they are working to make sure athletes and other visitors are safe. The Obama administration has said it has plans in place to protect Americans who make it to the Games.

Last week, the head of the Sochi Olympics promised that they will be safe and well-run.

Organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said the area is the “most secure venue at the moment on the planet.”

“You will see thousands of [security] people around, but it’s important to understand that the Olympics is a global event and the security is also a global multinational event and state authorities are doing [their] utmost to deliver Sochi as safest for everyone,” he recently told the media.

Congressional leaders have said they hope the threats don’t dissuade people from attending.

“If we do not support our team and show up, I think the terrorists are winning and I think that’s what they’re trying to do here,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, told the media recently. “Having said that, I would say that the security threat to the Olympics, this particular Olympics, is the greatest I’ve ever seen.”

Mixed feelings

With the security threats, it may be an especially good time for Jonathon Smith and a crew working through the Outreach Bible Project to attend the Olympics.

When they arrive in a few days, they will distribute Bibles wrapped in souvenir covers, translated into more than 20 languages, to as many people as possible.

“We are going over there and sharing the love of Christ, giving people hope in this world,” said Smith, 44, the youth pastor at Sublett Road Baptist Church in Arlington.

They also have trading pins — which are about the size of a half-dollar and feature the Christian fish symbol, the Russian flag, mountains and two dolphins — ready to hand out and spark more conversations.

This will be the ninth Olympics that Smith has attended with the Outreach Bible Project. So he knew to download a Russian app on his phone to help overcome the language barrier.

The security concerns — which he doesn’t expect to be greater than when he attended the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics after 9-11 — aren’t enough to deter him or the half-dozen people going with him from the Arlington church.

“I hope there is nothing bad that happens,” Smith said. “But my biggest hope is that there will be somebody I’ll be able to share the love of Christ with.”

Glen Hutson wasn’t as optimistic about making the journey.

He deeply regretted missing the Vancouver Games in 2010 and attended the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

So the 36-year-old from Richardson planned to attend the Sochi Games by himself and had even bought a Rosetta Stone course in Russian to learn the language.

But less than a year ago, when he was about to commit a chunk of money to lock in tickets for the trip, he saw human-rights issues — such as laws restricting gay-rights activity — arise in Russia.

“More details were coming out about how venues would be safe as long as you were in the Olympic Village but anything beyond that probably won’t be as safe,” he said. “I had to make the decision on whether to make the investment, and I made the decision not to go.

“I’ll definitely go to the 2016 Olympics in Rio,” he said. “It’s a much friendlier area.”

‘Moment of a lifetime’

Centurioni said she didn’t even know whether her brother — a former world champion and X Games medal holder — was going to the Olympics until last week.

That’s when the Canadian Olympic Committee announced which athletes had made the Games.

For Del Bosco, these Olympics offer a do-over.

In Vancouver, he was safely in third place but made an unsuccessful pass near the end of the race and finished fourth.

“All three of us on the men’s team are heading into Sochi looking for redemption,” Del Bosco told the media recently. “We all feel like we have a second chance.”

Unfortunately, Centurioni won’t see it in person.

But after electing not to head to Sochi with her husband and two young daughters, she decided to pay Del Bosco a surprise visit in Colorado, where their parents live, to wish him luck.

“We are surprising him in Vail … before he heads out,” Centurioni said last week, shortly after arriving in Colorado with her daughters. “We’re really, really happy for him and happy he’s going.”

She acknowledged being a little concerned that her parents are going and said it was hard for them to book their trip because of the language barrier. They ended up booking lodging on a cruise ship in the Sochi port.

“It’s a sensitive situation. But anywhere we live in the world today, anything could happen,” she said. “You just have to go about the day and hope the spirit of the Olympic Games will be more powerful than those trying to destroy it.”

‘Here to make a bang’

Malone, the Denton speedskater, won a bronze medal in the 2010 Olympics but felt he hadn’t yet done everything he wanted to. He will be joined in Sochi by his wife, his mother, and other family and friends.

He has overcome a variety of injuries in recent years, from a torn ACL to patellar tendinitis to advanced Achilles’ tendinitis.

And he said he won’t let security concerns slow him down.

“The butterflies are gone,” said the 29-year-old, who arrived in Sochi just days ago. “I’m laser-focus now. I’m here to make a bang, not just soak it all in.

“I’m really just honored and humbled to be here,” he said. “This is the moment of a lifetime — and I get to live it twice.