Sochi Olympics: What's behind the empty seats at the 2014 Winter Games?

Seven years and an estimated $51 billion in the making, Russian President Vladimir Putin has his winter games

Yet, the Russians might be wondering: if he built it, why aren't people coming?

As the U.S. athletes take to the ice and snow, small crowds and empty seats are becoming difficult to ignore.

On Saturday, the U.S. women's hockey team faced off against Finland in an arena that was little more than half-full. Men's speedskating, usually one of the most in-demand Olympic events, only managed to draw in enough fans to fill 75 percent of the 8,000 seats.

Even die-hard snowboard fans failed to turn out in numbers large enough to pack the mountain spectator stands.

"It's fears of security and possible terrorism. I know friends who cancelled. They were worried," said Jim Mallernee who traveled to Sochi from Vail, Colo. "Our daughters said they didn't want us to go."

In a mountain village built just for the games, the streets are empty. Travel experts say this Olympics could see the lowest number of American spectators in decades.

Complete CBSNews.com coverage: Sochi 2014 Winter Games

Robert Tuchman runs a New York-based travel firm. He says the list of reasons why Americans are staying away is long.

Consider, he says, "How far it is to get to Sochi; how hard it is; how expensive it is; the lack of quality hotel accommodations; the difficulty getting visas; all the political issues going on in that city, and you realize why a lot of people aren't traveling."

Organizers say 80 percent of the events have sold out, but a quick look at the crowd makes it clear that the world hasn't turned out for what should be the biggest party on Earth.

"There is usually this excitement on site at the Games," said Tuchman. "There's a party atmosphere. It's about finding out all the concerts, stuff going on, the fun

"From what I've heard, that's really not happening right now in Sochi," he said.

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