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Fans shun Sochi over bombs, big bucks

Fans shun Sochi over bombs, big bucks

February 10th, 2014 in News

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - When Sven Kramer wins Olympic gold, he likes to celebrate by communing with the Dutch fans who worship him. Four years ago at the Vancouver Games, 3,000 packed a cavernous hall and went wild when Kramer appeared.

At the Sochi Olympics, Kramer again partied with his flock after leading a Dutch sweep of medals in the 5,000 meters. But what was a roiling sea of people cheering him in Vancouver shrank to little more than a pond in Sochi.

Although these are early days at Russia's first Winter Games, indications are that some would-be spectators from overseas have stayed home, seemingly scared off by terrorist bombings, pervasive security, knotty Russian bureaucracy and the big bucks needed to reach President Vladimir Putin's winter wonderlands.

Some Olympic venues have a very Russian feel. Figure-skating crowds, for example, seem to be almost exclusively Russian.

Many foreigners who have made it to Sochi fall into three camps: experienced world travelers who aren't easily spooked; die-hard Olympic regulars who would travel to any host city; or corporate types and wealthier tourists who delegate travel logistics to others.

To shave expense, Jan van Meer and his three friends - down from the group of 10 he traveled with to Vancouver - flew via Istanbul to Krasnodar, the regional capital, rather than direct to Sochi.

Unfortunately for them, their plane was made to circle for an hour over Istanbul while Turkish authorities dealt with a hijack attempt by a Ukrainian who tried to force his flight to divert to Sochi.

The delay caused Van Meer's group to miss their Krasnodar-to-Sochi train. Once in the Olympic city, they waited 30 minutes to collect the special passes spectators need as well as tickets to get through security. The first four races at the speedskating arena were already finished when the party arrived, faces haggard but nevertheless radiant in the colors of Dutch fans everywhere: bright orange. They quickly cracked open beers.

"A lot of friends of mine, they didn't come," said Van Meer, who shelled out the euro equivalent of nearly $7,000, about what he spent in Vancouver, for 10 days at his fifth Winter Games.

Robert Visser said his wife pulled out after suicide bombings killed 34 people in Volgograd, even though she could have traveled for free like him, courtesy of the auto manufacturer whose cars he sells in the Netherlands.

"A lot of people were invited. They canceled," he said.

Others said they wrestled with Russian paperwork, visas and the spectator pass.

Organizers say 70 percent of tickets went to Russians, with the rest sold abroad.