SOCHI, Russia - The bomb detonated nearly 500 miles from this resort city on the shore of the Black Sea.
Yet last week's deadly assault on a passenger bus in the town of Volgograd is serving as a fresh and unwelcome reminder of the terrorist threat that persists in the shadow of the Winter Olympics' host city.
Carried out by a female suicide bomber later identified as the wife of a prominent operative in the Muslim insurgency that has ravaged Russia's North Caucasus region, the strike could not have come at a worse time.
As Russia begins the symbolic countdown this week to welcome the world, the attack, which killed six and wounded more than two dozen others, has diverted attention from other pressing questions of readiness that have dogged final preparations for several recent Olympics. Wednesday marks 100 days until the opening ceremony of the XXII Winter Games.
Security is among the most pressing concerns for organizers, who have faced questions about Russia's law banning gay "propaganda," passed in June, and the city's ability to host thousands of visitors in an area where venues, hotels and transportation infrastructure are being built from scratch. Sochi's budget of $50 billion for the Games will make it the most expensive in history.
Construction cranes loom over half-finished high-rise hotels; workers are laboring through the night on unfinished road and landscape projects; commuter traffic routinely chokes the narrow coastal roads that lead to the Olympic Park and mountain venues.
Then there is the question of weather. Balmy conditions, from the rocky beaches to the Rosa Khutor Alpine ski venues, recently had visitors shedding their jackets for shirt sleeves.
While there is snow on the highest elevations of the western slopes of the Caucasus range, there wasn't a flake to be found at the Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Center.
Yet the brown landscape and the unfinished venue where heavy construction equipment and legions of laborers are still paving roads has not deterred Andrey Markov.
"We can guarantee that there will be snow," the venue manager and former Russian Olympian declared.
The boast is not just Markov's Russian swagger doing the talking. Vast repositories of snow have been gathered across the mountain venues.
Markov's venue alone has access to hundreds of thousands of feet of snow - some of it harvested from other parts of the mountain range and some it artificially made - all stored under giant tarps that reflect the sun's warmth.
"We remembered the experience from Vancouver," Markov said, referring to the 2010 Winter Games when helicopters were pressed into service at the eleventh hour to prepare some snow-less slopes. "We will be ready."
Higher up the mountain, at the base of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, the site of Alpine ski events, venue manager Alexander Belokobylsky is armed with 400 snow guns and four pumping stations just in case the weather does not cooperate.
"We have here the biggest artificial snow-making operation in Europe,'' Belokobylsky said.
IMMENSE SECURITY CHALLENGE
It was Russian President Vladimir Putin's dream to host these Olympics in the city of 430,000 people, where he and other Russian leaders have sought quiet refuge. But no other recent Olympic city has faced the security challenge that confronts Russia.
The U.S. State Department, in its advisory to U.S. residents attending the Sochi Games, has noted the security risks that exist just more than 100 miles from some of the mountain venues. The same advisory also contained a warning about the potential ramifications related to the anti-gay law passed this year. The law, which bans the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to minors, applies to both Russians and foreign visitors. Foreigners face fines of up to $3,100, a jail term of 14 days and deportation. The State Department notice also said the law "lacks concrete legal definitions ... and provides no clarity as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as LGBT propaganda."
The International Olympic Committee has said it's "fully satisfied" that Russia's anti-gay law won't violate the Olympic charter's anti-discrimination clause. On Monday in Sochi, Putin reassured IOC president Thomas Bach that Russia will do its best "so that both participants and guests feel themselves comfortable" at the Olympics regardless of their ethnicity, race or sexual orientation.
With a bloody terrorist insurgency simmering just beyond the Olympic mountain venues, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev has dispatched more than 30,000 police officers to help secure the area.
An undisclosed number of military personnel also are joining an effort to lock down the vast Olympic perimeter, which Chechen militant Doku Umarov has threatened to strike. In a video statement earlier this year, Umarov actively called on fellow rebels in the North Caucasus to disrupt the event.
"It is a fact that there are groups in the North Caucasus that have directly threatened the Olympics, and we're putting this (event) on at the very doorstep of this unrest," said terror analyst Evan Kholmann. "It would be very naive to think that there aren't people from this region who could disrupt the Olympics. These are people who have an interest and a capability of doing something bad.''
A Western security official with knowledge of the Russian Olympic security plan said the government has streamed police and military forces into the region in huge numbers to guard the perimeter from potential attack.
Russia's security plan for the Olympics has created a secure bubble around the venues, but if the plan fails, there is limited access in and out of the venues for medical personnel, said the Western security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.
The official also said so much Russian security is being deployed to Sochi that other potential targets in Russia could be vulnerable and equally disruptive, like the bus bombing in Volgograd.
Asked whether that incident had altered the overall security plan, Sochi organizers issued a written statement that did not mention the recent attack. "Security is our number one priority in the staging of the Games," the statement said. "The Russian authorities and all the Games' stakeholders have worked in close partnership to ensure robust security measures are in place."
PRIDE AND OUTRAGE
Evidence of Russia's enormous expenditure is seen virtually everywhere in Sochi, located in Krasnodar, the third-largest region in the country. By comparison, China spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games. More recently, Canada spent $6 billion to stage the 2010 Winter Games.
From the excavation project on the plaza in front of Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov's office to the new railway planned to whisk spectators from the coast to the mountain venues in just 30 minutes, the rumble of earth-movers, clanging jack-hammers and buzzing saws have overtaken a city once lulled by the quiet lap of the Black Sea against the rocky beaches.
Beyond the venues, one of the biggest efforts is to add 20,000 new hotel rooms, while another 6,000 are being renovated to comply with IOC standards, according to data supplied by the Sochi Organizing Committee. The addition of the new hotel rooms would nearly double the city's existing stock.
It is a wholesale transformation that has become the source of both pride and outrage.
"Having the Olympics here is a great plus for our city," said Andrei Mikolaenko, 60, a retired director of a local bread factory. "We are going to suffer a bit with all of the change, but we have to be patient. The progress cannot be stopped."
Aida Dobrohoto, 38, said she eagerly awaits the arrival of new visitors, including relatives from Denver and Chicago.
"I want my child to have the experience of communicating with different people," Dobrohoto said. "The process of all the building was hard, but I like the look of it."
Some of the strongest local opposition, meanwhile, has been led by a group of environmental advocates who believe the development, particularly the mountain venues, has permanently altered small Alpine communities.
"This area should have been untouchable," said Julie Naberezhmaya, 37, referring to Sochi's neighboring Krasnaya Polyana region. "There was absolutely no input from those concerned with the environment. As a resort that promoted health, it has been destroyed. As a ski area, it has not been respected."
Boris Shein, 75, offers an even more harsh assessment.
When the Olympics close, he said the city will be unable to support the new competition venues and the thousands of new hotel rooms, many of which, he said, remain empty in the height of the summer tourist season.
"It was an absolutely stupid idea to organize the Winter Games in a subtropical area,'' Shein said. "It is a dream of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. It is a bad dream."