Two suicide bombings within 24 hours in Russia have prompted Maine’s Olympic hopefuls Seth Wescott and Alex Tuttle to consider skipping the opening ceremonies of next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi because of security concerns.
At least 34 people were killed in the bombings this week in Volgograd, a major Russian city about 400 miles from Sochi, where the opening ceremonies are scheduled for Feb. 7.
Wescott, from Carrabassett Valley, has won gold medals in snowboardcross in the last two Olympics and has attended the opening ceremonies in both, as well as the closing ceremonies in Vancouver in 2010.
Although the Russian government and the International Olympic Committee have expressed confidence in the strict security measures instituted for the 2014 games, Wescott is wary of attending the opening ceremonies.
“When you have a radical group saying they will do everything in their power to disrupt the games … what is the first opportunity with the most impact? To me, that’s the opening ceremonies,” said Wescott in a phone interview Tuesday night. “I am very concerned.”
Wescott said he was considering skipping the opening ceremonies anyway, because of the schedule of events in Sochi, and the bombings have added something else to think about.
“I mean, we’re seeing suicide bombings within the country,” he said. “It’s pretty alarming.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings in Volgograd, once known as Stalingrad. One bombing occurred at a railway station, and the second occurred on a bus. A terrorist group called Caucasus Emirate had called previously for Muslims to disrupt the Olympics.
Tuttle, a 23-year-old snowboardcross racer from Stratton, is attempting to qualify for his first Olympics. Like Wescott, he’s wary of attending the opening ceremonies.
“It would be a shame to miss that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “It would be a tough decision. But safety obviously comes first to me.”
Tuttle said he will rely on reports from U.S. intelligence agencies before deciding what to do.
“We’ve been told they will be with us to make sure everything is safe,” he said. “They tend to be a little overprotective, but you can’t blame them.”
Jeremy Cota, 25, a freestyle moguls skier from Greenville who also is trying to qualify for his first Olympics, said he tried not to pay too much attention to the news coming out of Russia. “I think it will be safe,” he said.
Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, condemned the attacks in a letter and added that “I am certain that everything will be done to ensure the security of athletes and all the participants of the Olympic Games.”
But Tuttle said he got concerned with Russia’s security when he visited the country last year to help test the snowboardcross track.
“I felt insecure then,” he said, after hearing about carjackings and other incidents, “and the events of the last couple of days have brought those concerns to the forefront.”
Wescott, 37, who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, will compete in his first Olympic qualifying event on Jan. 10 in Andorra. He will have three World Cup events in which to qualify. If he does, he may skip the start of the Olympics to compete Feb. 7-9 in the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom, a race in Washington state that he has won twice.
The Olympic snowboardcross races are scheduled Feb. 17, and Wescott would like another race to prepare, if he qualifies.
“It would be a great test for my legs,” Wescott said of the race in Washington. “And it could give me a big mental boost.’’
Wescott, who has been critical of Russia’s human rights policies, and Tuttle agree that it’s discouraging that security issues have become the focus less than six weeks before the Olympics.
“It scares me a little,’’ said Tuttle, “especially for an event that’s supposed to be about peace, when the whole world is supposed to come together.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: