OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Janet Napolitano is ready for the Sochi Winter Olympics focus to turn from concerns about security and the threats of terrorism to all of the special athletes involved.
Yet Napolitano, the former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and current president of the University of California system, fully understands the daunting task of organizing an event of this magnitude — especially in the wake of two suicide bombings last week in the city of Volgograd, 400 miles from Sochi.
She is set to lead the U.S. delegation next month to the Sochi Games, selected by President Barack Obama. "Obviously, the recent bombings are a deplorable act of terrorism and are to be condemned as terrorism," Napolitano said Monday. "In terms of the security for the games, we rely on the International Olympic Committee, we work with the State Department security division personnel on the ground as well as the FBI. It's like security for any complex, large event. At a certain point, we're going to be able to start talking about the performance of our athletes, not the security lead up. Won't that be nice."
As Russian President Vladimir Putin faces harsh criticism of his country's anti-gay laws, Obama's selections to join Napolitano in the American delegation send a clear message. Also part of the U.S. group are several openly gay athletes, including former tennis player Billie Jean King and figure skater Brian Boitano.
"The delegation represents a variety of things. Clearly having some openly gay athletes is a symbol of the openness of American society and American sport," Napolitano said. "You have others in the delegation who have participated in a wide variety of civic and public service roles. It's a really great and diverse delegation. I'm very pleased to be able to lead it."
Russia's anti-gay law prompted some to call for the U.S. to boycott the Sochi Games altogether. Obama instead said more impact would be made by "gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze."
Napolitano, 56, also is the former governor and attorney general of Arizona. She took over last September as president of the UC system serving more than 234,000 students. Because of her current position, she will only make a short trip to Sochi — her first visit to the city and fourth to Russia.
"I'm a working gal," she said. Napolitano co-led the U.S. delegation for the closing ceremony at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where she sat right in front of the boisterous Sochi delegation. "I got the idea that they're very energetic and enthusiastic, no doubt," Napolitano said. "Every time the master of ceremonies mentioned the word Sochi they were standing up and cheering."
She hopes to have time to see a few events next month, perhaps even a trip to the mountains to catch the Olympic debut of women's ski jumping if the schedule works out. For the first time since 2000, the U.S. will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Olympics.
As far as security issues, Napolitano points out there were similar concerns ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. "If you recall before London, there was all this discussion of security in London," she said. "I think in every Olympics after Munich, that has been the case."
She, for one, can't wait to watch a few events. Napolitano expects to arrive in time for the opening ceremony, and her itinerary for how long she will stay is still being finalized. "It is a thrill. I loved my opportunity to lead a delegation in Vancouver and I'm obviously honored to lead our delegation here," Napolitano said. "To see all of these athletes from all over the world and the excellence and athleticism they demonstrate is great fun."