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Departing Northwest Olympians Confident They'll Be Safe In Sochi


The 2014 Winter Olympics begin next week amid persistent concerns about security.

Recent bombings in Russia have stoked worries, but local athletes and coaches are expressing confidence they'll be safe in Sochi. Not a single member of this year's U.S. Olympic Team has changed his or her mind about going to Sochi because of the terrorism threat. 

Still, as American athletes leave for Russia this weekend, some are leaving their families behind.

Cross-country ski coach J.D. Downing of Bend, Oregon is guiding the Olympic team from Dominica. He says he doesn't fear for his safety.

"Russia has a lot of work to do to get themselves to be as safe as we feel day-to-day in the U.S.," said Downing. "But honestly, in the city of Sochi and particularly at the venues, there won't be any safer place."

The current situation reminds Downing of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, which he also attended. Those took place soon after the Sept. 11 attacks under similar high security.

The manager of snowmaking at the Mission Ridge ski area near Wenatchee, Washington has just returned from a two-month assignment to make snow in Sochi. Before he left the Olympic venue, Jon Wax described from his mountainside perch the "very strong" police and military presence on scene.

"From here all the way down to the Black Sea, which is where Sochi is located, there is a pretty tight security perimeter," he says. "So we don't feel any security threat within the zone."

That said, Wax added this week that "It was the biggest relief of my life to land" back on U.S. soil.

Peruvian-American cross country ski racer Roberto Carcelen of Seattle says he had long discussions with his wife about whether she and their young daughter should cheer him on in person. They decided he should go to Russia alone.

"I don't think you can concentrate or be in a nice balanced state if you are training at the mountain and your family is down in the village," said Carcelen. "You never know."

Alpine skier Jasmine Campbell of Sun Valley, Idaho says she's disappointed that security issues are such a big component of these Olympics. Campbell says she'll be "cautious" over in Russia, but is trying not to obsess.

"It takes away from what the Olympics [are] about," she said.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.