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MORRISSEY: Threat of violence at Sochi Olympics is real, but what can be done about it?

12-4-2009 PhoRick Morrissey new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist.  Phoby Dom NajoliChicago Sun-Times

12-4-2009 Photo of Rick Morrissey, new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist. Photo by Dom Najolia, Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: February 6, 2014 6:27AM

The TV news was grim, the imagery sickening.

Thirty-four people had been killed in two bombings in Volgograd, Russia. An explosion at a railway station was caught on video, the doors and windows looking like dragons belching fire. Footage of the aftermath of the bombing of a trolley bus showed its roof and sides blown off.

I looked over at my wife, who was doing a newspaper puzzle on another couch. No reaction. Good, I thought, she hasn’t been paying attention.

The Winter Olympics will take place next month in Sochi, Russia, about 400 miles southwest of where the bombings took place. No one has claimed responsibility for the butchery. But vowing to attack Sochi, the leader of a Chechen terrorist group has called the Olympics ‘‘satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.’’ That description probably comes as a surprise to those of you who thought they were only games.

Four hundred miles is a lot of ground, but bombings have a way of shrinking distance. That’s the whole idea for terrorists, who, if they can’t disrupt the Games directly, hope to cripple them through fear.

This will be my eighth Olympics. I didn’t give much thought to security issues at the previous seven, though the toxic-gas detector inside the media center in Salt Lake City did give me pause. Those 2002 Winter Games came five months after 9/11, and there was so much security in and around the competition venues that a chipmunk with an explosive vest couldn’t have gotten inside.

During the 2012 Olympics, I visited a London apartment tower that had British military missiles on the roof in case of an air attack on the city, but I didn’t feel threatened there. If anything, I felt like the safest man in the world.

This is different.

Am I scared? No. I’m somewhere between very much aware and concerned, with an option to be freaked, if necessary.

But what can you do? You do your job and hope others do theirs.

The Sochi Olympics are the pet project of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who seems more afraid of homosexuals than of terrorists. The chances of bombers getting inside the Games appear to be almost nil, given the amount of money (an estimated $51 billion) Russia is devoting to the event and given Putin’s burning desire to elevate the international profile of his country.

Which brings me back to my wife. The day after the TV report about the Russian bombings, she brought up the attacks. She had been paying attention to the news as she did her puzzle but didn’t want to discuss it at the time.

The Olympic venues will be the safest places on the planet, I told her. What about when you’re not at those places? she asked. What about when you’re en route to Sochi? Or inside a restaurant?

Great questions. Questions for which I didn’t have great answers.

The so-called ‘‘softer’’ targets in Russia, the ones away from the Olympics, might be vulnerable, experts have said. Buses. Shops. Busy streets. Places where visitors might be to and from Sochi and the athletic events. The thought of it is enough to make anyone uneasy.

These Olympics have an element of danger that wasn’t there for the others. Athens was considered vulnerable because of the shaky infrastructure in Greece. But with Sochi on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains, not so far from the radical Islamic uprising in the North Caucasus region, including Chechnya, the threat seems more real.

Last year, two brothers with roots in Chechnya carried out the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured 264. My daughter happened to be visiting friends in Boston at the time and was near the finish line of the marathon 30 minutes before the bombs went off. Funny how tragedy hits closer to home when loved ones are in the vicinity of it.

Innocence lost? There’s no innocence to lose anymore — for anyone. What wasn’t lost in the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes, went away for good with the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center. The world can be a bad place, and bad people want to hurt as many people as they can on the biggest stage they can find. We know that.

But, again, what can you do? Be smart. Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. And maybe say a prayer or two. Or more.

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