Security tight at the Olympics

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Q & A with former Olympian Mike Adam

Mike Adam, the general manager of the Pictou County Wellness Centre, poses next to the large Canada flag in the Athletes Village during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Mike Adam will be discussing moments throughout the games, comparing them to his experiences at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

As a member of the Canadian men’s curling team, Adam and the Newfoundland-based rink brought home gold.

Security at the Olympics is always a hot topic, so we discussed what it was like with the increased security to get into events and around the Olympic venues.

 

Q: On TV it isn’t necessarily clear how much security there is, so how visible is the security at the Olympics?

A: Security at the Olympics was something that is always present. Right from the start at the athlete check-in we had to produce all sorts of identification, passports and other documents just to get our athlete accreditation, which acts as a pass for you to come and go from the Village and into/out of the venues.

The accreditation is only valid for the Village and your competition venue, so if we wanted to go watch a hockey game for example, we had to get regular tickets and sit in the stands. The Canadian Olympic Committee and all other national Olympic governing bodies are allocated a certain number of tickets for all sports for use by their athletes. Even these tickets were in hot demand for certain events, and once they were all gone you would have to try and purchase tickets at the venue itself which would often be sold out.

Even the opening and closing ceremony and medal presentations all had separate passes that athletes needed on top of their regular accreditation in order to get in.

 

Q: How secure would you say the events are?

A: The venues and the village are all very secure areas. Each team was provided a driver and a bus or a van for transportation. Even still – in order for us just to get into the parking area at the Village or the curling venue in Pinerolo, we would have to all get out of the van, the van was X-rayed, boarded, inspected and had bomb-sniffing dogs go all over it. Once the van was given the all clear and we had produced our accreditation we could then proceed into the parking area.

In order to get from the parking area into the Village or the venue, we would have to produce our accreditation again, then put our bags though an X-ray machine and we would walk through metal detectors.

The whole setup was identical to the setup you would see at an airport. All this we had to go through every time we entered the Village or our venue. Once you were in the Village or the venue, you could pretty well travel freely, however there is no shortage of uniformed and armed guards throughout. Even outside you could always hear or see military helicopters flying low and close to each venue.

The airspace over each venue was closed during the Olympics and it wasn’t uncommon to see fighter jets patrolling higher up and off in the distance. While I can’t say the security was overly intrusive, it is always something that was present and visible.

 

Q: Was there any one moment that stood out from the Games with regard to security? 

A: One aspect that showed how seriously security was taken was the motorcade we were in on the way to our medal presentation. Each of the medal winning curling teams were to report to the parking area at the Village prior to heading off to the medal presentation plaza. Men’s teams from Finland and the U.S.A, and women’s teams from Sweden, Canada and Switzerland joined us in the parking lot as we were all corralled into our assigned vans. We waited for a while, then the police procession came in and lined us all up.

The drivers were given strict instructions (in Italian) that they were under no circumstance to stop the vehicle between the Village and the medal plaza. We didn’t know this until our friendly driver translated for us. The route would take us through downtown Torino and past many areas that couldn’t be as secure as the two venues were – so I guess from a security point of view, we were quite vulnerable. There were at least a dozen police motorcycles and as many police cars in our own procession, with police leading the way, and cars between each van carrying the teams we were all flanked by the motorcycles – lights and sirens blazing the whole time. It was quite the sight. As the gates opened to let us out of the Village, a pair of motorcycles would go ahead and block traffic at each intersection to let us pass, regardless of the colour of the light or how many other cars were waiting.

We made our way through Torino when we came up to a traffic jam or an accident – we didn’t get close enough to see because the motorcycles sped past us and we detoured down a sidewalk and onto a set of train tracks! Part of the police procession went ahead to ensure the tracks were clear and we bounced down the tracks for a few blocks before getting back on the road. We had to make our way up a few one-way streets the wrong way to get back on the right path, but the police had traffic stopped and even backing up the one-way streets to let us through. It was pretty amazing how seriously they took it. Obviously we made it to the medals plaza quite safely and on time.

 

Q: Did you go outside the security perimeter often?

A: Once we were outside of either venue, you were totally on your own and free to do as you pleased. However, once you were inside the venues, our security was clearly taken very seriously.

While we were in Pinerolo, we stayed in a regular condo, with no security. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to get in the elevator with a family that had just picked up their groceries. They were totally amazed that we were staying in their building, were very friendly and often asked us for pictures with them. It was very different than staying in the Village. We could walk around the local markets, eat in the local restaurants and truly enjoy the ‘local’ experience without worry of anything happening.

We were just like your average tourists, but once we got close to the Village or the venues, it was clear we were back to being closely guarded Olympians.

Organizations: Olympics, Canadian Olympic Committee

Geographic location: Pinerolo, Torino, Finland Sweden Canada Switzerland

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