Major security concerns in Sochi

Jan 20, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; General view of Adler Arena in Olympic Park prior to 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Image by Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Major security concerns in Sochi

By Jessie Garcia. CREATED Jan 20, 2014 - UPDATED: Jan 20, 2014

It's time to talk about a serious concern: security in Sochi.

Any Olympic Games present a major problem for those tasked to protect thousands of visitors, but Russia has officials especially nervous.

Why? Geographic location and the emergence of threats already.

A Chechen rebel leader is urging Islamist fighters to set their sights on Sochi. Now, U.S. officials are expressing concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not sharing enough information.

A video recently emerged of two young men, believed to be behind a recent bombing, who said they have something planned for all tourists who come over.

Putin went on a weekly news program to assure viewers Russia would do “whatever it takes” to keep everyone safe. In this world we all know anywhere you have a large gathering of people, or public transportation, you have a potential target and the Olympics are rife with both.

Putin has deployed a huge security operation but until the closing ceremonies extinguish the flame and everyone departs safely, will any of us breathe easily?

Gary D’Amato is a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter who is headed over to cover the Games. I asked him for his thoughts on Sochi security.

"Security and the safety of athletes and spectators has been a topic of conversation before every Olympic Games since Munich," said Gary.

"But it feels a little more 'real' going into the Sochi Games because of the recent terrorist attacks in Russia and the volatility in the region. I'm confident that the Olympic zones will be safe but I do have concerns about what might happen in outlying areas during the Games. I do think Russia is as prepared as it can be."

The British government is sending its own forces to protect UK athletes, although that’s not unique to these Games.

The U.S. confirmed that, as the New York Times put it, "several FBI officials will be in Sochi to attend to the security of the U.S. team."

Adding to the general anxiety is the fact that this will all play out literally on the other side of the world and no one knows quite what to expect in a number of ways. I attached an excellent piece from “The Week” magazine talking about numerous issues with the games, from the security to the cost to the balmy weather.

My husband was in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and I vividly remember the shock and dismay after the bombing there.

Looking back now, through the context of 9/11, the events of that summer day in the outdoor plaza were small. But it was the sad start of the era that proved that anyone, anywhere, can have a backpack and a sinister plan. We saw that so horrifically displayed at the Boston Marathon.

If Olympic history shows us anything it’s that political ambition can be the ugliest of forces, even at an event supposedly built on goodwill. Just see Munich, 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed.

I would say fingers crossed for these Olympics, but that terminology seems too trite. Prayers, hopes, whatever you believe in. Strength to those protecting this XXII Winter Olympiad. A deep belief that February will bring nothing but amazing athletes on a world stage and an audience of billions cheering them on.  To turn it into anything else would be a global tragedy.

Jessie Garcia

Jessie Garcia

Jessie joined TODAY'S TMJ4 in June of 1994, after two years at WISC-TV in Madison. She's been the sideline reporter for preseason Packers games on TODAY'S TMJ4 since 2003.