American athletes will be safe in Athens, says USOC's Buendorf

Security costs quadruple Sydney at $1.2 billion

Olympics

May 15, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The head of security for the U.S. Olympic team says athletes should not be afraid to wear the red, white and blue on the streets of Athens this summer.

In the strongest statement of support for security preparations to date, Larry Buendorf and other U.S. Olympic officials said yesterday that athletes should feel free to leave their guarded compound and tour the city like other athletes and spectators.

Their comments came at a briefing for reporters just 91 days before the start of the Summer Games.

Buendorf, a 22-year veteran of the FBI and chief security officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee for a decade, said athletes from every nation will be wearing team colors and "it will be difficult to pick out the USA ... We have no reason to have our athletes not wear their colors."

"There's nothing on our screen that would make us restrict our athletes," he said.

The vote of confidence is a departure from the guidelines issued to team leaders over the past year that included a warning against wearing "USA" uniforms outside the Olympic Village.

"I'm not really fearful of wearing the red, white and blue," said Kate Sobrero Markgraf, a soccer player and 2000 silver medalist. "We forget about political differences. We just worry about the competition."

About 70,000 military and law enforcement personnel have been assigned to the Summer Games at a cost of about $1.2 billion -- four times the amount spent at Sydney in 2000. In addition, at least 100 federal agents will be in Athens to work with local authorities and accompany U.S. teams and individual athletes.

USOC president Bill Martin said some athletes had asked about security, but team officials have "had absolutely zero meetings ever" on the question of pulling out of the games.

"As of today, there is no question that we are planning to send our entire team," Martin said.

Buendorf downplayed recent bombings in Athens, calling them "not destructive" and the work of "disgruntled groups" rather than terrorists.

Some professional athletes, such as tennis player Serena Williams and members of the men's basketball team, have said they may seek private housing and security rather than staying at the Olympic Village.

But Buendorf said bodyguards will not be accredited. "We're planning on all of our athletes being in our village under the same security umbrella."

Several athletes at the briefing expressed support for the security plans.

Said soccer star Mia Hamm: "The last thing we should do is let fear overtake us."

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