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Top US Athletes Determined to Compete in Athens Olympics Despite Security Concerns - 2004-07-15

Despite the threat of a terror attack during the Olympics in Athens, most qualifying American athletes are determined to go.

U.S. Olympic volleyball player Stacey Sykora refuses to let the possibility of a terrorist attack in Athens prevent her from participating in the Olympics. Nor will she let the heavy security needed to guard against an attack ruin the event.

"I do not want security to overshadow the Olympics," she says. "I feel as though there are athletes who are experiencing the Olympics for the first time and I remember my first Olympics and I'll never forget it as long as I live. It was the greatest experience of my life. I'm going to let security handle it and look towards winning a gold medal."

Some high-profile athletes have expressed concern about the risk of a terrorist attack during the Olympics. But most of the Americans training here at the United States Olympic Complex in Colorado Springs, reflect Stacey Sykora's views about the Olympics and security. For these extremely focused competitors, like Judo athlete Rick Hawn, the Olympics represent the highest level of achievement in their sport, and security concerns are treated as just another distraction.

"Yeah, I'm just concentrating on training right now and getting prepared and try to get a medal," he says.

The athletes have been assured by United States Olympic Committee that everything is being done to ensure their safety.

"It's a plan that will require an investment of over $1.2 billion," explains Darryl Seibel, the USOC spokesperson. "There will be more than 70,000 security personnel on hand in Athens to do this very important work, and it's a plan in which we have a lot of confidence."

U.S. Olympic pentathlon athlete Anita Allen is reassured by what she has heard about the Olympic security plan. Yet she is still worried about the safety of friends and families who are coming as spectators.

"We know that we're going to have tons of security around us but we're more concerned about the spectators from all the different countries. I'm worried for their safety."

Even without security concerns the Olympics can be an overwhelming experience. U.S. Olympic committee psychologist Kirsten Peterson works with Olympic hopefuls to help them compartmentalize their concerns and stay focused on winning.

"It is a major feat to be able to kind of handle the demands on your time, the things you'll see, the numerous other sports competing at the same time, the amount of media. So this is sort of one more piece in that puzzle, an extra piece that perhaps pre 9/11 wasn't there before," she says.

The best way for these athletes to cope with the possibility of danger at the Olympics, says Dr. Petersen, is to continue to do what they do best, and let the security experts do what they do best.