SOCHI, Russia — Despite all the anxiety over terrorism threats and criticism for anti-gay laws, poisoned stray dogs and unfinished media hotels, the sun shined brightly Thursday on this temperate resort town, known as the "Russian Riviera," sandwiched between the snowy peaks of the Caucasus Mountains and the pebble beaches kissing the Black Sea coastline.
The Olympic flame traveled to outer space and the North Pole, and now, ready or not, the 2014 Sochi Olympics are here.
The Games will not officially begin until the opening ceremony tonight, but competition got under way 32 hours earlier, with Thursday qualification rounds in snowboard slopestyle, ladies' moguls and the opening night of team figure skating.
Russian organizers and leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee were hoping the storylines would switch to the athletes now that competition has begun, but questions about security continued Thursday morning as news broke that the U.S. Homeland Security Department warned airlines flying directly to Russia that terrorists may try to smuggle explosives on board hidden in toothpaste tubes.
The agency on Thursday banned all liquids from carry-on luggage for nonstop flights from the U.S. to Russia. Yet six Associated Press employees arriving in Moscow from across the world or beginning their journey there passed through security without having to remove toothpaste, hand lotion or water bottles from their carry-on luggage.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said Sochi is ready for a safe Olympics, and that the "security level in Sochi is equitable with New York, London, Boston and any other world spot as terror threat has no limits," he said.
Islamic insurgents nearby have threatened to disrupt the Games, so the Sochi area has been turned into a fortress with 40,000 law enforcement officers and troops — seven times the number at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, a city much larger than Sochi. Two U.S. Navy warships — the USS Mount Whitney and the USS Taylor — are stationed in the Black Sea in case of emergency.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.