When Russia decided in 2005 to propose the Black Sea resort of Sochi in the Caucasus as the site for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the century-old resort had been for some years the unofficial summer capital of Russia.
Once Josef Stalin's favorite city, Sochi is also much frequented by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Now, $50 billion in new construction (and much alleged corruption) later, it is ready to welcome the first contests of the Winter Olympics with a formal opening ceremony on Feb. 7, followed by 16 more days of competition. President Putin has supposedly planned the grandest Winter Olympics in history as a showcase for his Russia.
But there is a terrorist cloud over these Olympics, though experts disagree on how dangerous it is.
About 140 years ago, following Russia's final conquest of the Muslim mountaineer inhabitants of the Caucasus, the remaining local population was for the most part killed or expelled.
There have been periodic outbreaks of fighting between their descendants and the Russians ever since. The current centers of conflict in Chechnya and Dagestan are only a day's drive from the newly spiffed-up resort of Sochi, and anti-Russian fighters trained by al-Qaida have threatened to disrupt the Winter Olympics.
Last summer, Doku Umarov, a top Chechen rebel leader, called on his followers to "do their utmost to derail" the games, which he described as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." In October, and again in December, suicide bombers attacked buses and other public sites in Volgograd, killing over 41 and injuring over 80.
The December bombers released a video saying, "If you hold the Olympics, you'll get a present from us for all the Muslim blood that's been spilled." Volgograd is slightly farther from the center of unrest than Sochi, although in a different direction.
In response, Russia has called out more than 50,000 police and military personnel to make a cordon around Sochi in which all auto traffic is closely searched. Russian authorities report they are looking for three female suicide bombers, one of whom may already be in Sochi. The women are known as the Black Widows because their husbands or lovers were killed by Russian security forces.
The U.S. government is taking the security situation so seriously that it is sending two Navy ships to the Black Sea to be ready to evacuate Americans if a terrorist attack does occur.
And last week, the State Department advised the U.S. Olympic Committee to tell its athletes that "wearing conspicuous Team USA clothing in non-accredited areas" may put them at higher risk of being attacked.
Such a restriction can only undercut the nationalist pride that is a large part of Olympics competition. These threats, warnings and precautions have understandably gotten on the nerves of the athletes and their families.
The father of St. Louis Blues hockey player T.J. Oshie, who is on the U.S. Olympic hockey squad, said, "It's getting to the point where our lives are on the line if we go there. They're talking about terrorizing families. I'd rather stay in the homeland."
On the other hand, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, says he is "sleeping very well" because he has "full confidence" in President Putin's ability to deliver a safe Olympics.
Let's hope Mr. Bach is right.
Let's also hope that at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, American athletes won't have to be warned not to wear their Team USA attire.
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