Amy Roberts: To Russia with love | ParkRecord.com

Amy Roberts: To Russia with love

Amy Roberts, Park Record columnist

You can’t open a paper, watch the news or read it online without being bombarded with information about Russia. Largely the news has been focused on terror threats and security risks, tagged with the ever-looming question: "Will Our Athletes Be Safe?" There are daily reports of deadly bombings. It’s been from these reports I learned Black Widows aren’t just spiders.

Because of all the threats, elaborate evacuation plans are in place. In addition to U.S. war ships taking up residence in the Black Sea, there are other "just in case" measures, including war planes and military helicopters at the ready.

Before terrorism was the lead story, there was a lot of talk about the country’s stance on gay rights, or lack thereof. Basically, Russia is one of the only places on the planet the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t scheduled to picket any funerals. Russia’s hostile attitude toward homosexuals has led many to wonder if gay athletes or fans will be the victims of hate crimes.

Given all this, you have to wonder if the International Olympic Committee selected Russia to host the Games under the assumption the only other choices were Somalia and Iraq.

But despite the headlines and warnings, Park City resident Nikki Thorsen has plans to board a plane to Sochi in a couple weeks. Her fiancée is Nordic Combined athlete Bryan Fletcher, and she’s planning to watch him compete in his first Olympics.

"I think it’s going to be safe. The entire Sochi area is basically on lockdown. The Russian government has warned restaurants to order enough food for the length of the games because delivery trucks aren’t going to be allowed once things start. I’ve heard there’s more security to go through just to get into a venue than what we have in airports here."

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But Nikki acknowledges that kind of tight security also takes away from the spirit of the Olympics. "The sad thing about this is the Olympics are supposed to be about the athletes and uniting people through sport. But there are so many other issues: bombings, terrorist threats, gay rights and human rights issues and that’s all overshadowing the Olympics. It’s sad the Black Widows are getting more press than the athletes who have worked so hard their entire lives for this moment."

Nikki, who is traveling with her sister, said the two of them are taking precautions and plan to keep a low profile. They won’t be wearing their USA gear or waving an American flag outside of their hotel window. They intend to register with the U.S. embassy the moment they arrive. And considering they’re both blonde and blue-eyed, if all else fails, they’ll pass themselves off as Danish.

"There are threats at every Olympics and there are always risks when traveling abroad. But I think the scary part is — this is Russia. If something terrible does happen, will they make it harder for us to get out because we are Americans? You always need to be on guard a bit when traveling, but I’ve never really gone to a country that has bad relations with the U.S. I’m not sure how much that worries me, but I can tell you it scares the crap out of my parents."

Nikki jokingly tried quelling her parents’ concerns about a terrorist attack and being stuck in Russia by giving them something else to worry about. Her flight from Moscow to Sochi is on the airline, Aeroflot, which has earned its nickname "Aeroflop" given its safety record. "I told them to look at this airline’s crash record. Statistically, I’m more likely to go down on a plane than die in a terror attack."

And if anything really bad does happen, and Nikki survives it, there’s also a tricky task back home she’ll have to take care of. "Once we were pretty sure Bryan would make the Olympic team, we adopted a puppy and named it Sochi. If something happens, we’ll have to re-name the dog. For the same reason you can’t call your dog 9-11. It would just be in very bad taste."

Kidding aside, Nikki is looking forward to her trip.

"If it wasn’t for the Olympics, I’d never be going to Russia. Sochi isn’t a place on your bucket list. If it all works out, I will go somewhere I’ve never been and will likely never go again, and celebrate the most amazing moment of my future husband’s life."

Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.