U.S. athletes will travel to the 2004 Summer Games in Athens on flights with beefed-up security and are being urged to stay in the Olympic Village rather than in local housing for safety reasons, according to U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Security Larry Buendorf.
The U.S. Olympic team also will have an evacuation strategy for departing the Aug. 13-29 Games in the event of a major terrorist attack, but there has been no consideration of pulling the U.S. team out of the Olympics, USOC Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr said yesterday.
"This is a unique situation which warrants different measures than previous Games," Scherr said. The measures are "similar to our procedures and plans for (the 2000 Olympics in) Sydney and (the 2002 Olympics in) Salt Lake . . . but those plans are both intensified and heightened for these Games."
Buendorf said the U.S. team will receive additional protection from Greek and international authorities during the Games because the United States -- along with Israel, Britain, Spain and others -- has been deemed a high-risk nation with respect to terrorist threats.
Scherr said USOC security officials would work through the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Thomas J. Miller to assess risks and ensure coordination with Greek officials on a daily basis.
Buendorf said armed air marshals on all flights conveying U.S. Olympians to Greece were likely, but he declined to discuss the security measures in greater detail.
"We're working very closely with the airlines and federal authorities in those types of plans," Buendorf said. ". . . I'm comfortable with the measures. . . . You're not going to see a squadron of police board the plane. We're not going to make this an armed departure and arrival area. Certain discretions have (to be taken)."
The United States has been part of a seven-nation advisory group assisting Greece in security preparations that will cost at least $800 million, more than three times the amount spent for the Sydney Games. NATO has also pledged its cooperation to the effort led by the Greek police that will involve about a defense force of 41,000.
Buendorf said the security needs of the high-risk nations would be evaluated and support would be provided accordingly. A high-ranking U.S. government official confirmed that the United States was among the nations that would receive extra protection.
Emanuel Hudson, who manages a group of track and field athletes through the Los Angeles-based company HSI, said the USOC has advised his group -- which for previous Olympics has made its own housing arrangements -- to stay at the Olympic Village for its protection. Hudson said he was nonetheless considering options outside the village and means of gaining security for those options.
"We've always based our housing on what will facilitate our running our best," Hudson said. "We've never looked at it from a security angle before. . . . I know [the USOC is] taking security a lot more seriously than for past Olympic Games in terms of the athletes. . . . It's totally different than it was in terms of security for Australia."
Hudson noted that athletes are required to update their passports if they expire any time this year, rather than just through the Games, which has been customary.
The U.S. men's basketball team, which consists of top NBA players, also is considering staying outside the village, though the team would likely be housed on a cruise ship or alternate housing provided by the Athens organizing committee, according to USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller.
Scherr acknowledged that some U.S. athletes and parents of athletes have expressed concerns about the security in Athens, but none has refused to attend the Games because of those worries, he said.
However, this past weekend tennis star Serena Williams said at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., that she would consider skipping the Games because of worries about terrorism -- though she later told reporters she was 100 percent committed to the Olympics.
"My security and my safety and my life are a little bit more important than tennis," Williams said, according to the Associated Press. "And so if it became a real to concern to where I personally wouldn't feel comfortable, then I wouldn't go to Athens."
Buendorf and Scherr said there had been no discussion of pulling the U.S. team out of the Games, nor any pressure placed on the USOC from any government source not to attend.
"We don't foresee anything that will make that change," Scherr said.