Team USA Skaters Stare Down Terrorism in Russia a Second Time

PHOTO: Th mens 1,000 meter final during the U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials at the Utah Olympic Oval on January 5, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Share
Copy

As American Olympians push away security concerns to get ready for the Sochi Games, one U.S. team is doing so with the stark reminder of the last time they had a close brush with deadly terrorism in Russia just three years ago.

In January 2011, 10 members of the U.S. Speedskating team, along with the team's coach, doctor and trainer, were flying into Moscow for an international competition on the same day that one of Moscow's busiest airports, Domodedovo, was struck by a suicide bomber. More than 30 people were killed in that attack, which was later claimed in a chilling video online by the Chechen Islamist militant leader Doku Umarov – the same man who last summer ordered his followers to violently disrupt the Sochi Games this year.

Fortunately for the American athletes in 2011, that day they were flying into Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, some 40 miles from the Domodedovo airport. After a brief panic stateside, U.S. Speedskating officials were able to account for all of their personnel in Moscow, safe and sound.

"We didn't find out about anything until we landed," U.S. team coach Ryan Shimabukuro said then, according to the U.S. Speedskating's website. "I was watching the Russian news broadcasts. The pictures they showed were graphic: People dead on the ground. Bloody floors. Bodies being brought on stretchers. Crews trying to assist the wounded. It was a chilling experience."

But in an exclusive interview Friday, Shimabukuro told ABC News that if anything, the 2011 trip made his athletes -- several of them Olympians this year -- only more determined and single-minded.

"The one thing that the 2011 airport bombing showed is our strong resolve," Shimabukuro said from Italy where his team is doing some last-minute training.

Shimabukuro said that once the team got to their Moscow hotel that night in 2011, he gathered everyone together and asked if they wanted to turn around. No one hesitated.

"Not one athlete, not at any time wanted to go home," he said. "We were there to compete. We were there to represent our country and they did it with pride and no hesitation."

Shimabukuro is leading the Team USA speed skaters this year into Sochi, and he said the concern about terrorism is the last thing on his mind. None of his athletes have voiced any fears either, he said.

"We're very confident that not only the Russian government has it well in hand, but that the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Olympic Committee have our safety as our first priority. We don't have to worry about that," he said. "To be honest, that's out of our control. We're here preparing to compete at our highest level… We've been working way too long for this once-in-a-lifetime moment, so we're not going to get baited into terror and what might or might not happen."

Current and former U.S. officials, including Rep. Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, have expressed deep concern about the terror threat leveled at the Sochi Games from Islamic militants in the North Caucasus – extremists who have fought for decades with Russian forces and are believed to be responsible for at least three suicide bombings in recent months. Earlier this month the State Department issued a travel alert for Americans heading to Sochi, urging them to be "vigilant and exercise good judgment" due to the continuing terror threat.

READ: 2014 Sochi Games in Terrorists' Crosshairs

One Olympic speed skater, Tucker Fredricks, who took home a bronze at the Moscow competition in 2011 after the attack on Domodedovo, told his family that this year, he'd prefer if they stayed home rather than travel to Sochi out of concerns for their safety.

"It's kind of bittersweet," Tucker's father Dan Fredricks told ABC News Tuesday. "We want to go there to support him, but we understand that he has to concentrate on the race. So we said, 'OK, we'll stay home and watch it on TV.'"

Dan said that like other athletes, his son is not concerned for his own safety, just that of his family.

Monday Olympic ski jumper Jessica Jerome said that while terrorism is certainly on her mind, it hasn't "deterred" her.

"I trust that every entity involved is taking tremendous measures to ensure the safety of the athletes and the rest of the world that [are] coming to Olympics as spectators," she said.

Jerome said her family is joining her in Sochi, and she only told them not to wear a jacket that "screams America." The U.S. Olympic Committee recently issued a security memo with similar advise to athletes and coaches.

"Despite [the fact that] I love how patriotic Americans are, my family's safety is a huge concern for me," she said. "So I said… 'At appropriate times we can scream Go America, and other than that, just be safe and be smart.'"

CLICK HERE to return to the Investigative Unit homepage.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Salvager Eric Schmitt was combing through the wreckage of a convoy of Spanish ships that sank off the coast of Florida in 1715 when he discovered a missing piece from a gold Pyx.
Courtesy 1715 Fleet - Queens Jewels, LLC
Lisa Kudrow
Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library | Getty Images
PHOTO: In this April 26, 2013 photo, a large home intended for the family of Warren Jeffs is seen in Hildale, Utah.
Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP
PHOTO: Zac Efron seen at BBC Radio One, April 24, 2014, in London.
Neil P. Mockford/GC Images/Getty Images