U.S. Olympic hopefuls take their marks as Sochi spotlight shifts to competition


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GWEN IFILL: The buildup to the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has been fraught with tension, some fear and no small amount of debate. But Russian organizers, as well as the athletes competing, have a lot riding on the outcome.

The pageantry neared its peak in Sochi today, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and other leaders carried the Olympic torch on a final tour. After weeks of being overshadowed by reports on Russia’s human rights record, unfinished hotels, and security worries, the Winter Games are finally set to begin — the latest, warnings from U.S. officials that terrorists could try to smuggle explosives in toothpaste tubes on flights bound for Russia.

The Russian deputy prime minister offered no details on that, today except to say this:

DMITRY KOZAK, Deputy Prime Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We can guarantee security in the same way as any other government nowadays does when conducting any public event in a place where a lot of people are. We can give such a guarantee as much as we can.

GWEN IFILL: But the spotlight has already begun shifting to the competition at hand, with preliminaries today in skating, skiing and a new snowboarding event, slopestyle.

American star Shaun White pulled out of that competition yesterday, saying he was concerned about the course’s safety. Instead, he will focus on winning a third straight gold medal in the half-pipe.

SHAUN WHITE, U.S. Olympic Snowboarder: For me, I have got a list of tricks I would like to do. Usually, that list narrows down once you see the competition, and once you see the pipe, and what the conditions are like. And there’s a lot of variables, but I am hoping to take some of that training that I have had and put it to good use.

GWEN IFILL: White is one of many high-profile Olympic veterans competing for Team USA in Sochi.

BODE MILLER, U.S. Olympic Skier: You know, I think I am in a much better spot this year than I was in 2010.

GWEN IFILL: Thirty-six-year-old downhill skier Bode Miller returns for his fifth Olympics, hoping to add to his five-medal collection. And ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis seek to improve on their finish in Vancouver four years ago.

CHARLIE WHITE, U.S. Olympic Ice Dancer: Well, the name of the game for us is just to go out there and do what we do in practice. And if we can do that, we will be really proud. You know, we got the silver in the 2010 Games, and, this time, we’re definitely looking to come away with the gold medal.

GWEN IFILL: There are new faces in these Olympics too, including 22-year-old figure skater Ashley Wagner. Two-time summer Olympian and hurdler Lolo Jones makes her first Winter Games appearance, now as a member of the U.S. bobsled team. And the U.S. hockey team once again harbors hopes of winning gold.

The opening ceremonies are tomorrow night.

In a late development today on the security issue, Delta Air Lines says the Transportation Security Administration has now banned all liquids from carry-on luggage on flights bound for Russia.

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