Are Olympics too big to succeed?

But even someone less invested than Putin could accurately say, look, there were worries about terrorism at other Games before and little trouble materialized. Since Munich, the most notable exception was the pipe bomb that Eric Robert Rudolph exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Atlanta Games. That killed two people, injured 111 and created yet another instance where other nations can tell the U.S. take care of your own house first.

So then why does the confluence of events bedeviling Sochi still make these Games feel different?

The gargantuan cost and trend of bidders bailing out, for starters.

When Russia won its bid in 2007, officials said the Sochi Winter Games would cost $12 billion.

The actual figure is now more likely to surpass a staggering $51 billion.

A lot of the cost spiral in Russia is being blamed on corruption.

But whatever the reason, Sochi is easily the most expensive Games ever, surpassing the roughly $40 billion price tag of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

And Russia is very likely to spend a whopping $3 billion on security alone -- triple what London organizers did to protect the far larger Summer Games just two years ago.

Have we reached (or perhaps already surpassed) the point of absurdity when we see that to protect the athletes and spectators in Sochi, Putin has ordered up a staggering 60,000-person security force on the ground -- 37,000 police officers from around the country, and another 23,000 of them members of the Ministry for Civil Protection? That doesn't even count the numerous soldiers, border patrol agents and an unknown number of intelligence agents who are also in place. And the other measures Russian officials are taking: the 1,400-plus video cameras that have been installed around the city; the national postal service's edict that all mail and packages to the Krasnodar region where Sochi is located will be opened between Jan. 1 through the end of March; the edict that electronic mail will also be monitored.

All that still hasn't reassured the United States, which plans to station ships nearby in the Black Sea, where Russian submarines are already patrolling. The ships could be part of contingency plans to evacuate American citizens if needed.

Visitors to Sochi must also register if they plan to stay more than three days. Ticket holders at events will receive special spectator passes that automatically transmit their personal data to the security forces. They are very likely to notice drones in the sky. On and on it goes …

Where will it stop?

"These are valid questions to be asking," says NYU associate professor Lee Igel, a co-director of New York University's Sports and Society program. "If you look, history suggests any policy or program that's created by human beings typically has a shelf life to it …So if you go back and think about 1984 Los Angeles Games as a turning point for economics of the Olympics -- that's when it really became a business, right? When Peter Ueberroth came in, and revised the thinking, and had a Games that actually made money. Well, that was 30 years ago. And now I'm looking at that and going, 'OK … What if what worked in '84 from a policy and programmatic perspective doesn't work anymore?'… And there is something to it."

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