No such thing as too safe for some countries at Olympics

By Tim Dahlberg The Associated Press
Wednesday January 16, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY — Australia’s team won’t be allowed to open mail during the Winter Olympics. Other countries are hastily hiring security people to guard their athletes. 

And almost everyone is stocking up on Cipro. 

Despite promises by security officials that the Salt Lake City Games will be as safe as humanly possible, many countries are taking extra precautions to make sure no harm befalls their athletes next month. 

With the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the anthrax scare fresh in their minds, foreign delegations are taking no chances as they prepare to travel to the Olympics. 

“There is an elevated concern,” said Deborah Allen, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Olympic Committee. 

Canada has made arrangements with a drug company to have additional Cipro in stock if needed, and the country’s Olympic officials say they have taken other steps to protect Canadian athletes. 

Like other countries, though, they are reluctant to reveal just what they are doing. 

“Some of the specifics of the plan we can’t discuss because that sort of defeats the whole purpose of having a security plan,” said Caroline Assalian, team captain of Canada’s mission staff. 

Australia’s team will bring two different types of anthrax antibiotics to Salt Lake City for its 60 athletes and officials. 

The Australians will also have their own security director for the first time, and their athletes have been told they will not be allowed to open mail while in the United States. 

Norway hired its own security director last week to travel with the team and evaluate possible threats to Norwegian athletes, said Aasne Havnelid, an Olympian and deputy head of the country’s top sports center. 

But Havnelid said no exceptional precautions would be taken and that Norway is confident of Salt Lake’s security measures. 

“We have good faith in the organizing committee and know that the authorities have put a lot of resources in this,” she said. 

That confidence was echoed by British Olympic Association spokesman Philip Pope, who said his country’s plans have been double-checked but not changed much. 

“We have spoken with the relevant agencies in this country as a precaution,” Pope said. “The attention to detail in respect to security has been heightened, but we are very comfortable with security in Salt Lake.” 

Both Olympic organizers and U.S. government officials have gone out of their way to try to reassure foreign athletes that they will be safe coming to the Olympics in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

In October, Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney wrote to all of the 80-plus nations attending the games, telling them everything would be done to make the Olympics safe. Olympic security officials also have stockpiled antibiotics for any anthrax threats. 

Last week, U.S. domestic security chief Tom Ridge reviewed the $300 million security plan for the games and said every conceivable precaution has been taken. 

“I believe one of the safest places on the globe from the beginning to the end of February will be Salt Lake City,” Ridge said. 

Those assurances didn’t stop Japan from making plans to bring high-tech gas masks to Salt Lake City before publicity about the masks prompted a change of heart. 

The Japanese will bring additional antibiotics for anthrax, though, and are warning athletes to keep a low profile in Salt Lake City. 

Other countries aren’t particularly concerned. That includes Sweden, which will bring 103 athletes and another 40-50 officials, one of the biggest teams, to Salt Lake. 

Swedish Olympic Committee spokesman Bjorn Folin said no extra precautions would be taken. 

“We trust the organizers completely,” Folin said. 

So does the Polish team, which is using charter flights to avoid unnecessary security controls that could be faced on commercial airlines but is otherwise taking no special precautions. 

German Olympic spokesman Stefan Volknant said there was “a lot more awareness” about security but said he wasn’t aware of any new precautions being taken. 

Even if he was, Volknant said, he wouldn’t be saying. 

“If we tell you and other media about any new measures, they wouldn’t be secret any more and they would not serve their purpose,” he said.