(SportsNetwork.com) - Many Olympians spend their amateur careers looking over their shoulders for the next athlete who could threaten them in their respective sport.
Of course, that's basically nothing more than a mental state of fear.
The Sochi Winter Olympics are different. Seriously different.
The athletes' many years and countless hours of training aren't supposed to culminate with them looking over their shoulders for an actual threat on their lives.
But these are the modern-day Olympics - not just fun and games - and there's no escaping the threat of terrorism is the biggest issue surrounding the Games in Russia.
Just as the long buildup to this weekend's Super Bowl XLVIII has always been about the weather, terrorism dominates the Olympic talk more than what could happen on the ice, slopes and courses.
Not even the opening ceremony on Feb. 7 will take away all the frayed nerves and uncertainty, as the athletes themselves and people around the world will collectively hold their breath and wonder "what if?" from start to finish at the Winter Games.
The back-to-back suicide bombings in Russia last month and the international messages of continued violence have done nothing but heighten concerns. At home, the U.S. State Department has sent out various advisories leading up to the Games, from American supporters staying vigilant against terrorist threats to American athletes refraining from wearing team gear outside Olympic venues.
It's hardly the way for anybody to be heading off to the world's leading showcase of competition.
The Russian government has set up the so-called "Ring of Steel" perimeter around Sochi and will deploy a 50,000-strong army of security troops across the Olympic venues. That should be comforting for all involved, but is it really? Nothing is foolproof, and we're all at risk each day no matter whether we're in Russia or Switzerland or the United States.
Terrorism has long been a threat to the Olympics, from Hitler's propaganda- filled Berlin Games in 1936 to the Munich massacre in 1972 to the bombing in Atlanta in 1996, so this is nothing new. No doubt there were more threats we never even learned about due to successful police and military intervention.
But the threat seems so much worse today than in the past.
Sadly, it is.
At a time when the world should be celebrating together, the pit in our stomachs should be from watching the riveting athletic competitions in front of us, not what we fear behind us.