Burlington Olympian Marianne Leeson is doing her best not to let the danger swirling around the Sochi winter games ruin her competitive spirit.
But between suicide bombings nearby and threats from militants swirling, it’s something that’s impossible to completely ignore.
“It does weigh down on us a bit but I do my best not to think about it,” Leeson told CBC Hamilton from Germany, where she’s training with the rest of Canada’s snowboarding team before the Olympics. “I’m excited to go into Russia and I don’t want that to change that.”
“As Canadians we have an emergency plan, but I try not to think about it. I trust in the security system and the precautions that have been taken. I need to focus on what I’m there to do and know that security is there to protect us.”
The area around Sochi is being tightly controlled and officials are very prepared when it comes to security, the deputy director of the Sochi command centre says.
“The threat is no bigger now than in any other city that ever hosted the Olympics," said Eduard Lutovinov, deputy director.
But recent events suggest otherwise. A series of suicide bombings in Volgograd have rattled Russians, and follow a vow by Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov to disrupt what he calls the "Satanic games."
Sochi is adjacent to the North Caucasus, which is embroiled by conflict caused by repression and insurgency.
So Sochi is sealed tight, and under the watch of 70,000 police and soldiers. An entire brigade of elite special forces is being deployed in the mountains nearby.
On top of that, Russia's Olympic arsenal will include anti-ballistic missiles, an underwater sonar system and even underwater machine guns.
Another part of the security arsenal are drones that will be monitoring the Games from above for the first time, as well as robotic bomb detectors that will prowl the Olympic grounds below.
Safety a main priority: COC
In a statement, the Canadian Olympic Committee told CBC Hamilton that the safety of the entire Canadian Olympic team including athletes, coaches, support staff and volunteers is its main priority.
“We have the utmost confidence that the International Olympic Committee and the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee will deliver outstanding Olympic Winter Games,” the statement reads. “The Canadian Olympic Committee has and continues to work very closely with government and security forces in Canada as a cornerstone of our preparation for Sochi 2014. This preparation extends to a close collaboration with the Organizing Committee in Sochi and the host nation, Russia, who are responsible for all security matters relating to Sochi 2014.
“As with other Olympic Games, our safety and security measures are always adapted to each environment.”
Security is no doubt an important issue leading up to the games, but Leeson says on the snowboarding team’s slopes, it’s all about training and performance.
“There is a lot of excitement,” she said. “We are still a couple weeks out from going into Russia but we’ve started getting some of our Olympic clothing and we all can't wait to get there.”
“We have a great environment between our group. Everyone gets along and we've always been very supportive of each other doing well. It can become a chain reaction when one person is successful – then others step up and are also successful. If anyone needs anything we are all there to help each other. We are friends first and competitors second.”
'It's really nerve wracking'
Leeson will have no shortage of supporters during the games between her teammates and her parents, who are also making the trek to Russia for the first time.
“It’s really, really exciting. It’s been a long road,” said Leeson’s mother, Lin. She’s been cheering on her daughter since she started snowboarding at 12 years old — albeit sometimes from a distance.
Leeson has captured gold at the world cup and been to the world championships. But her mother gets so nervous for her daughter that she ends up staying in a hotel while her husband goes to the events, and relays results back to her.
“It’s really nerve wracking,” she said. “I don’t normally watch.”
But that all changes next month during the Olympics. This time, Lin isn’t missing seeing her daughter on the biggest stage of all.
“There is no way I’m going all the way to Sochi and staying in the hotel.”