Americans fear Athens attack

LAS VEGAS – While United States athletes are being warned to prepare for a hostile reception at the Athens Olympics, Americans staying home are worried it might be worse than some booing and name calling. More than half of those surveyed in an Associated Press poll say they believe a terrorist attack is likely at the Summer Games, and four out of 10 say American athletes are most likely to be the target of any such attack. The number of people believing a terrorist attack was likely – 52 percent – was much higher than the 31 percent who believed an attack was likely at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City two years ago. Those Games were held just a few months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Athens organizers are spending $750 million to protect the Olympics – three times what was spent in Sydney four years ago – and US Olympic officials say they are confident that all security measures possible will be taken to protect the 560 American athletes expected to compete in Greece. «We don’t know of any specific security threats against the US team or the Games,» said Jim Scherr, chief executive of the US Olympic Committee. «However, it’s obvious the world has changed and there are security concerns. And at the end of the day, we know there’s no such thing as a 100 percent safe environment.» A number of American athletes – including members of the United States basketball team – told The Associated Press they worry about their safety during the games, which are six months away. Others, though, say they are confident security measures in place will keep them from harm. «It’s definitely in a part of the world that causes some concern, but I believe that the people they have working on security are the best in the business and, as an athlete, you’ve got to move ahead and do what you do,» said Dain Blanton, a beach volleyball gold medalist in Sydney. «You can’t be too concerned if an incident happens or not.» With world tensions high and following deadly November attacks in neighboring Turkey, Americans surveyed in the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs are clearly concerned. Seven percent said they believed an attack was very likely, while 45 percent said it was somewhat likely. Two in 10 said an attack was not likely at all. Asked if American athletes were more likely than other athletes to be the targets of an attack, 39 percent said they were while 55 percent said they faced the same risk as other athletes. The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was taken Feb. 2-4, before the Moscow subway bombing that killed 41. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Greece will provide more than 50,000 security personnel for the Games and has recently reached out to several countries – including the United States – for help in securing the Olympics against terrorism. US officials had been so worried that Greece wasn’t moving quickly enough to consider different threats that FBI Director Robert Mueller visited Athens in November to meet with key security planners. Next month, the United States will participate in an extensive 20-day security operation in Greece, and NATO countries plan to go on a high state of alert during the Games to be ready to assist if necessary. US Olympic officials are also concerned over the reception American athletes will get in a country where there is an undercurrent of anti-American sentiment. That concern was only heightened after boos nearly drowned out «The Star-Spangled Banner,» and a few dozen fans chanted «Osama! Osama!» to the US men’s soccer team during its losing Olympic qualifying game in Mexico this week. American athletes have been told not to wear uniforms or anything identifying them as Americans outside the heavily guarded Olympic village, and the US team is bringing over a number of sports psychologists to help athletes deal with what will likely be a hostile environment. «They need to be prepared mentally for what might arise,» Scherr said. «We believe it will be an exceptionally difficult environment in which to compete.»