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.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO:
Bay Ismoyo, ChaideerMahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: An undated booking photo shows Castor Conley.
Multnomah County Sheriffs Office
PHOTO: Members of a volunteer medical team wear special uniforms for the burial of people, sterilized after dying due to the Ebola virus, in Kenema, Sierra Leone, Aug. 26, 2014.
Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images