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Olympic Bombing Stuns World

Atlanta's Olympic Spirit Unbowed by Blast

Reaction: From ticket lines to sports bars, fans refuse to let a terrorist shatter a global symbol of goodwill.

July 28, 1996|LISA DILLMAN and STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ATLANTA — This is how much the bomb rattled Atlanta: The Hard Rock Cafe opened for business Saturday morning playing the bluest of Elvis Presley's ballads and the mellowest of James Taylor's tunes.

The melancholy music lasted until lunchtime.

As soon as burger orders started stacking up in the kitchen, General Manager Adam Gonzalez decided that the time for reflection was over. Guests had stopped muttering over grim newspaper photos and started cheering for beach volleyball. It was time to crank up the Metallica and jam on the volume.

The Olympic spirit was back.

And so it went, all over Atlanta, as natives and tourists alike sought to shake off their fears and plunge back into the excitement. They couldn't pretend everything was entirely normal, of course. Not with police sirens screaming through the city. Not with bomb threats shutting down the subway. Not with the sentimental hub of the Games, free-spirited Centennial Olympic Park, turned into a crime scene.

"Twenty years from now, the '96 Olympics will be known as the place where the pipe bomb went off," tourist Kari Hill predicted.

But if the crowds get their way, the '96 Olympics will also be known as the Games that bounced back.

As Gonzalez put it: "We are going to rise above this."

*

Determined not to let fear spoil their fun, visitors chugged sodas and swapped Olympic pins on crowded downtown streets. Painters swabbed watercolors on canvas; entrepreneurs hawked umbrella hats for $2. The brash patter of ticket scalpers ("I got Cuba-Italy baseball. I got field hockey. Who wants women's basketball?") revved up sagging spirits.

From ticket lines to sports bars to hotel lobbies, defiant fans agreed with U.S. water polo goalkeeper Chris Duplanty, who said simply: "I refuse to be intimidated." They had paid too much, traveled too far to turn around. Or, perhaps, they had bought into the Olympic myth too fiercely. They would not let a terrorist shatter a global symbol of goodwill.

"This isn't going to stop me from going out and enjoying the Olympics," Atlanta accountant Lisa Nulea, 26, pledged.

"We can't give in to the terrorists," agreed New Jersey resident Ann Marie Michalczyk, echoing a common refrain. "You have to be careful, but you can't let it stop you."

To be sure, a few who had watched television footage of the bomb blast admitted to nervous stomachs as they headed out for Olympic venues on Saturday. And every stray piece of garbage jangled nerves anew.

At the boxing arena, more than a thousand spectators had to wait in the rain while explosives experts examined a harmless package near a public phone. After the bouts, cleaning crews were abruptly evacuated so bomb squads could check out another suspicious object--which turned out to be an empty binocular case.

"Everybody is a bit more aware," said Charles Pope, a spokesman for the arena's security team.

Still, most found reasons to smile even when confronted with grim reminders of the tragedy.

Tourists posed for photos in front of the barricades blocking off the crime scene, snapping shots of streets deserted except for police on horseback and National Guard officers camped out in plastic chairs. Outside the Omni Stadium, volleyball fans waiting to pass through security started up a lively group game of hokey pokey.

*

Even those who started the day sad and anxious said they couldn't help but start cheering when they passed by television sets broadcasting the Games.

"When I woke up this morning it was raining and I just had such a bad feeling because I knew the city had been on such a high before this happened," Atlanta resident Adam Klein said. "My friends and I were really depressed. But then a few hours later, we flipped on the TV and the Games had started going again, and it was like this just didn't even happen."

Caught up in Olympic fever once more, Klein said he would have no hesitation about using his track and field tickets today. In fact, he almost seemed to relish the chance to prove to the world that Atlanta would not be cowed. "You can't live in fear of some madman," he said. "That's exactly what [terrorists] want--to intimidate people."

That we'll-show-'em pluck echoed across Atlanta on Saturday. Atlanta residents had envisioned the Games as a coming-out party for their city, a chance to strut their stuff for the world. The bomb angered, saddened and scared them--but it did not deter them from their mission.

"We're furious that someone would choose this event to make a statement," said Suellen Crosslea, director of the city's Bureau of Human Services. Atlanta, she pledged, would make a statement of its own: "Maybe the people who weren't here will think that [the bomb wrecked the Games], but not the people who came here and who had a wonderful time."

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