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U.S. speedskaters arrive in Moscow on day of bombing

January 24, 2011 |  2:56 pm

When U.S. speedskating coach Ryan Shimabukuro turned on his cellphone after he and several skaters landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport at 6 p.m. local time Monday, he found several messages asking if they were all right.

Shimabukuro, who had flown to Moscow from the Netherlands, had no idea why anyone would be concerned until he responded, "Yes, why?'' and got answers to that question as his plane taxied to the arrival gate.

Then he and the skaters learned of the Monday afternoon bombing that had killed at least 34 people and injured more than 160 at Moscow's primary international airport, Domodedovo.  Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, called it a terrorist act.

Now the question is whether the U.S. skaters, coaches and team personnel will remain in Moscow for the World Cup meet scheduled to begin Friday -- or whether the meet will take place.

"The skaters were obviously concerned at first, but once we got to the hotel, I think everyone started to relax a little,'' Shimabukuro said in an e-mail sent at 10:30 p.m. Monday, Moscow time.  "I can't speak for everyone on the team, but I want to stay and compete.

"There doesn't appear to be a threat in the hotel, but it's too early to know if our surroundings are safe since we just arrived tonight.  At this moment, I'm not nervous, and we will move forward to prepare for the upcoming World Cup.''

International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta told me Monday by telephone he still was gathering information before he and Russian officials make a decision about going ahead with the three-day meet -- particularly information about which countries' teams already were in Moscow.

U.S. Speedskating Chief Executive Mark Greenwald said in an e-mail he and his staff were in discussions about whether to bring home the long-track athletes now in Moscow and whether a delegation of U.S. short-track skaters would travel there as scheduled for a Feb. 11-13 competition.   The U.S. Olympic Committee has been in contact with the State Department about the situation.

"The athletes are safe at present,'' Greenwald said.  "That is the most important thing.''

Two groups of U.S. skaters arrived Monday at Sheremetyevo Airport.  One came from the Netherlands, where they competed at the World Sprint Championships over the weekend.  Another came from the United States, reaching Moscow at 11 a.m.

The U.S. delegation includes the coach, a trainer, doctor and nine skaters.

Neither Shani Davis nor Brian Hansen went to Moscow.  OIympic champion Davis, who finished third at the sprint meet, headed back to Salt Lake City to train for the World All-Around Championships on Feb. 12-13 in Calgary, according to his publicist.   Olympic silver medalist Hansen said by e-mail he had declined the spot for the Moscow meet because he also wanted to concentrate on the all-around meet.

The bombing can only heighten concerns about security at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, because of its proximity to the Caucasus, home to terrorist groups that also have bombed a Moscow subway and airport in the past seven years.

Two Chechen suicide bombers killed themselves and 88 other people after boarding separate planes in 2004 at Domodedovo Airport.  The explosions occurred in midair.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy in Moscow,'' Greenwald said.

--Philip Hersh