Officials downplay Sochi Olympics security worries ahead of opening ceremony

Published February 07, 2014

| FoxNews.com

Just hours before the start of the opening ceremony in the Sochi Winter Olympics, senior Russian government officials insisted security fears are unfounded -- practically guaranteeing it has done everything possible to make sure the games are as safe as possible. 

Dmitry Kozak, a Russian deputy prime minister, told reporters in Sochi that Russian security forces were working with colleagues from Europe and North America to minimize the risk of a terrorist attack at the games, which officially started on Thursday, Sky News reported.

"There is no reason to believe that the level of danger in Sochi is greater than at any other point on the planet, be it Boston, London, New York or Washington," he was quoted as saying.

IOC President Thomas Bach said Friday that things are going smoothly in Sochi with only a "small hiccup here or there" heading into Friday night's opening ceremony.

The International Olympic Committee held its first daily coordination commission meeting Friday with Sochi organizers to review operations. 

Bach told the IOC assembly "everything is going pretty smoothly." He adds that "as always in the first days of the games, there is a small hiccup here or there, but nothing really substantial so far." He did not say what those problems were. 

Bach said the IOC is looking toward Friday night "full of anticipation and excitement and hope that we will have a great opening ceremony for a great Olympic Games."

Ballet, man-made snow and avant-garde art will make an appearance at Sochi’s opening ceremonies, though as with all past opening ceremonies, the details are under wraps. 

Russians will form the bulk of the spectators in Sochi for the Olympics, a people whose forebears endured centuries of oppression, a revolution that changed the world, a Soviet experiment that built rockets and nuclear missiles but struggled to feed its people. 

They’re pinning especially high hopes on their athletes, once a force to be reckoned with and the pride of the nation. They were an embarrassment at the Vancouver Games in 2010, with just three gold medals and a string of doping busts.

This year, Russia has cleaned up its game and is presenting hundreds of skaters, skiers and other champions in the arenas on Sochi’s seashore and in the nearby Caucasus Mountains slopes of Krasnaya Polyana.

Fear of terrorism have clouded the run-up, fueled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strict security agenda and brought U.S. warships to the region. About 40,000 Russian security forces are working to prevent an attack on the games, and they stand watch in all corners of Sochi and its Olympic Park on the sea and built-from-scratch mountain ski resort.  

The Department of Homeland Security rekindled the fears this week, warning that terrorists may try to smuggle explosives into Russia in toothpaste tubes. Yet some air travelers heading to Sochi have defied a temporary Russian ban on all liquids in carry-on luggage, and brought toothpaste and other toiletries on board unnoticed.

Kozak, the government's point man for Olympic preparation, caused a stir Thursday when he apparently told the Wall Street Journal that authorities have surveillance video from hotels showing that people leave the shower on.  

But his spokesman, Ilya Dzhus, said that "no such thing was ever said." He called the report a fantasy, a joke, or a mistranslation. Hotels have video surveillance of entrances for security purposes, he said, and some rooms had video surveillance during construction. 

But never the bathrooms, Dzhus insisted. "You can check yourself."

The reaction was a sign of how defensive Russian officials have become in the face of sustained criticism by journalists of glitches in hotels, all of which were built from scratch for the games that open Friday. Many were not quite finished when guests started arriving, and some rooms still have problems. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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