Terrorism only 1 factor for families of Olympic-bound athletes

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— It’s easy for the athletes. Well, not easy, of course. There’s nothing easy about making the U.S. Olympic Team, but once that’s accomplished, the team made, the ticket punched, there are people to take care of the rest of the details. Someone else books the flights to Sochi, Russia, the site of next month’s Winter Olympics, and someone else takes care of the hotel room.

Hey, Ralph Lauren even took care of their uniform.

For the families of the Olympians, it’s a different story. And the hurdles that come with such an honor are those the several Steamboat Springs families are eagerly, if hurriedly, handling now in the final lead-up to the Games.

“I’m so excited to see my boys compete together,” said Penny Fletcher, mother to Nordic combined Olympians Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. “I have a really good feeling about it, but regardless if they’re first or last, it will be fine with me. I’m as proud as I could be.”

It isn’t her first dance with the Olympics, of course. Taylor competed in the 2010 Games, but that was different. It wasn’t a sure thing the Fletchers would have any family members to cheer for until the month before the Games, and while Penny and her husband, Fred Fuller, had done some preparation before the announcement, plenty of scrambling ensued.

This go-around, they began the process of planning their trip to Sochi a year ago, booking event tickets in February. They booked their hotel room and flights in June, more than six months before the brothers were named to the team.

“Our hotel has been changed four times since we booked it, but hopefully it’s there when we get there,” she said. “We just figured, I wasn't going to worry over saving $300 or whatever. I just wanted to get there, to get the flight and book the trip.”

For Ken and Patty Gold, who’s son Taylor Gold and daughter Arielle Gold will both compete in the snowboard half-pipe competition, the process didn’t start quite that early, but it did before either athlete was officially going.

They began the process of booking hotels and plane tickets and applying for their travel visas in November.

“We weren’t trying to procrastinate, but we waited as long as we could because we didn’t want to have expectations one way or another,” Ken Gold said. “When we reached the point where practically it was time to do something, we did, hoping it would work out.”

It certainly did work out as Taylor and Arielle will be competing in their first Olympics.

Concerned with security

The days leading up to their trips for both families are busy with everything from fielding calls from press from across the country, finding a cellphone plan that will work on the other side of the world and worrying if highly recommended rain gear can be squeezed into a to-be-checked suitcase without pushing it over the 50-pound limit.

And they’ve also spent some time considering the security situation in Sochi, one of the biggest ongoing stories leading up to the Olympics.

It’s been hard to give it too much focus considering the hectic schedules that have dictated their lives this winter — try watching your children compete in five Olympic qualifying events in about six weeks — but they’re aware.

They’re putting their trust in the Russians and all the other security personnel expected to be on hand for the Olympics, trusting in the “ring of steel” that has been promised to surround and protect the games.

“To have an opportunity to do this, a life-long dream and everything, we don’t want it tainted by any of that but it is what it is,” Ken Gold said. “At a certain point you have to have faith in whatever procedures will be in place will be adequate.

“The only people probably more paranoid about security than the United States is the Russians, so hopefully they’ll have everything covered.”

The threats emanating from terrorist groups in the region aren’t going to stop the parents, though they insist they aren’t flying across the ocean with blinders on.

Penny Fletcher said she’ll be focused on being aware of her surroundings when she’s in Russia, but that no idle threat will cancel her trip.

“If I got a phone call from a high-ranking official that tells me, ‘Don’t go’ then I’m certainly am probably going to listen,” she said. “That would have to be a general on the phone, though.

“You could not stop me from getting to Russia to watch my two boys compete in the Olympics. I would crawl. I would swim. I would hitchhike. I would do whatever I need to do to be there to watch it. I just have to believe and have faith that everything will be fine.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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