Detroit athletes, families not letting threats keep them from Olympic dreams

Olympians, families plan to be cautious, trust everything being done to protect them during Winter Olympics

DETROIT - For the friends and family of an Olympic athlete, watching from the stands as their loved one competes in the games is an incredible experience, but looming concerns about security in Sochi, Russia, are overshadowing all of the excitement.

Jessica Smith, of Melvindale, will be competing in her first Olympic games as a short track speed skater. Her parents, Rick Smith and Reina Smith, couldn't be more proud of their daughter but their excitement is coupled with concern for their own safety.

"It's just a dream for us, too," said Reina Smith.

"We've worked too hard to get to this point. Every Olympics you always hear something, you know, where they're threatening somebody. Hopefully it's a bluff," said Rick Smith. "We feel that we're protected by the U.S. since they're in the Black Sea with the warships and the jets, and hopefully the Russian government, they do their part and don't let anybody get in."

Jessica Smith, 30, qualified for three short track speed skating events: the 500m, 1000m and 1500m.

The Smiths plan to be in Sochi to see her compete in all her events. They will be traveling over there with their 16-year-old son, Travis Smith.

"I just feel that we're going to just have to keep our eyes open and just, you know, trust in it," said Reina Smith. "Otherwise we just won't have a good experience and we want the best experience, we've waited a long time for this."

The threats to security remain on the minds of all metro Detroit athletes, coaches and families heading to the Olympics.

"My whole family is going to be there so it's hard if something happens," said Rick Smith.

Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is on Team USA and told his family they don't have to come see him compete.

"It is concerning because I do have my sister, my mom and dad going over with me as well, and I've told them if they don't want to go I completely understand," said Howard.

These are the second Olympic games for Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. He'll be going to coach the hockey team for his native Canada.

"I don't know how you control all this stuff, but I also know that you can't let stuff get in the way of what you want to do," said Babcock.

Russia vows it will have a heavily defended fortress around the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Many of the events are being held in what's called the ring of steel, which contains stadiums for the opening ceremony, ice skating and hockey. Thirty miles away in the mountains is where the skiing and sledding events will be held.

The question is will the threats to security have an affect on athletes who should be focused on competing. Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski said athletes are better than anyone at pushing aside outside influences.

"I feel like the athletes definitely know what's going on," said Lipinski. "They can't hide from the news but at the same time, they're in their training environment. They're going to Sochi to live out their dreams and I bet that's the first thing that's on their mind."

Lipinski will be in Sochi reporting for NBC and Local 4.

"I'm not worried. Obviously you hear about this stuff and it's scary. I can't say that it isn't but at the same time, I've been to many Olympics, and I really know that the level of security they have is so high and so intense that I really think that we'll be OK," said Lipinski.

Ryan Kesler, of Livonia, will be playing hockey for Team USA. His parents, Mike Kesler and Linda Kesler, said security concerns were a factor in their decision not to travel to Sochi to see him play in person.

"I'm really nervous but I'm just assuming that the village is going to be safe," said Linda Kesler.

The Smiths said that their daughter is focused on training.

"Jessica really isn't talking too much about it," said Reina Smith. "She feels that she's got so much on her, you know, end, to do her training, do her focusing. She feels that on the other end the president and, you know, the U.S. and the Russian government, they're doing their part and going to do the best they can to keep it safe, so that's what she's trusting, too."

The Smiths said that they received an email from the U.S. Olympic committee telling them to be aware of their surroundings and stick together. They don't plan on doing any sightseeing, just traveling back and forth between the Olympic venues and their hotel.

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