Carol Kotsenburg had everything she needed to make the trip to Sochi, Russia, to see her 20-year-old son in the debut of Olympic slopestyle snowboarding.
“We were booked and paid for, but a few weeks ago, Sage sat me down and had a heart to heart with me,” said the Park City mother of three. “He said, ‘Whether something happens or not, it’s probably going to be one of the most heavily guarded places on the planet, and I will spend mental time on it worrying about you. If something did happen, you’re my entire family, and I could never live with it.’ ”
So for her 20-year-old son’s peace of mind, Carol will watch him compete in Krasnaya Polyana’s Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on a television surrounded by friends and family in Utah.
She feels a little cheated that she won’t be in Russia to celebrate his experience with him. But she also understands his concerns.
“I already feel bad,” she said. “I feel gypped that it’s there and it’s not safe, and I can’t run around and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
She said the entire family has invested in Sage’s career, and they simply want to be able to do what they have always done in his snowboard career.
“We just want to share that with him,” she said. “But TV will have to suffice.” Sage Kotsenburg wasn’t the only athlete so concerned with the safety of his family that he asked them to stay home. In fact, most athletes haven’t expressed any concern for their own safety.
Instead, the trepidation comes from thinking about their loved ones trying to navigate unfamiliar hotels and public transportation systems. The families would not be staying in the special athlete villages or team housing, so many feel their families are more vulnerable.
In those situations, the decision to leave their families home allows them to focus on the Olympic goals for which they have worked their entire lives.
From new sports to the Olympics' main event of ice hockey, athletes and their families had to make tough choices this winter.
U.S. hockey defenseman Ryan Suter asked his family to cheer from home, as well. Suter’s father, Bob, was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that upset the Soviet Union on its way to a gold medal in what became known as the Miracle on Ice. And while he’s shared just about every moment his son has had in the sport they both love, Bob Suter said he understood Ryan’s concerns and planned to respect his wishes.
But like Carol Kotsenburg, he feels slighted by the threat of terrorism, and said he may change his mind if the U.S. makes it to the gold medal game.
"Everything is security, security,” Bob Suter told CBS News. “You know, it's just too bad that it takes away from the athletics and the sports and stuff," he said. "It just makes it maybe not as fun that you have to worry nowadays."
For some families, the opportunity to see their children live the Olympic dream is just too enticing. Barbara Jerome, whose daughter, Jessica, will compete in the inaugural Olympic women’s ski jumping event, said she will take precautions, but worries won’t keep her from Sochi.
"We've been traveling for many years and always take precautions no matter where we go,” Barbara Jerome said. “We want to be there to support Jessica and so we've educated ourselves as much as possible on the security issues. We feel comfortable that inside the Olympic venues and within the park that it will be safe and secure."
Utah bobsledder Chris Fogt is especially sensitive to security issues as a captain in the Army and veteran of the Afghanistan war. He also competed in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and said there is definitely a different feel in Sochi.
“There is definitely a larger security presence here than there was at Vancouver,” said Fogt, whose family will watch from Alpine, Utah. “This is most evident by the amount of fencing around town and the venues. There are also a lot more security personnel around.”
He said organizers have done a good job of increasing security without making it feel like a military compound.
“They have done a pretty good job of dressing them down in civilian style jackets that cover their firearms,” he said. “This definitely helps so it doesn't feel like you are surrounded by armed guards.”
Fogt said they’ve been able to travel throughout the villages near the coast and up in the mountains, where they will compete, and he said the layout will make security easier. The Olympic Park — where the six indoor venues, including the Fisht Olympic Stadium, are located — makes it easier to ensure the safety of visitors.
He pointed out that one issue is that while most of the volunteers speak English, most of the security officers do not.
“It makes asking questions or trying to reason with them very, very hard,” he said.
There are fences around hotels that house volunteers, members of the media, and athletes, and everyone must pass through security checkpoints to get in and out. The volunteers are friendly, but there have been many problems with hotels not being ready, especially for journalists.
Skyline High alum Jared Goldberg’s family was still deciding whether to make the trip when he talked to the Deseret News last week. He secured his spot just last weekend, so he hadn’t talked to his parents about the trip.
He said they did make the trip to see him in Wengen, Switzerland, where he earned 12th place in the downhill, which essentially secured his place on the Olympic team. He said he didn’t have a lot of security concerns, but said he wouldn’t venture out of Olympic venues or parks. He got a chance to spend time in the area at last year’s World Cup on the Olympic course.
He said the construction seemed haphazard and hurried and that some of the areas outside the new buildings weren't very inviting. Even then, armed officers and military personnel ensured the safety of the athletes.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to get lost around there,” he said of the areas outside Olympic venues. “I would stick to the main areas where there are a lot of people. It’s unfortunate that there is a risk factor, or that this question is being asked. But it’s a little bit sketchy right outside of the village.”