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TERROR AT THE OLYMPICS

The Decision Was Unanimous: 'The Games Will Go On'

July 28, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — In a moment eerily reminiscent of one 24 years ago in the aftermath of the tragedy at the Munich Olympics, the International Olympic Committee's director general, Francois Carrard, said in a predawn news conference Saturday: "First, the Games will go on. I repeat, the Games will go on."

The IOC, after consulting with Atlanta organizers and federal, state and local law enforcement officials and the White House, arrived at that decision at 4 a.m. EDT Saturday, about 2 1/2 hours after a pipe-bomb explosion in Centennial Olympic Park resulted in two deaths and 111 injuries.

"We never came close to canceling them," Carrard said several hours later after competition had resumed in 14 sports on the ninth day of the Summer Olympics. The only four postponements were because of rain.

That was in contrast to much of the reaction during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich after 11 members of the Israeli delegation were killed in a raid on the athletes' village by Black September, a radical faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The president of Munich's organizing committee, Willi Daume, recommended that the remaining six days of the Games be canceled. But during a 24-hour interruption in the competition, then-IOC President Avery Brundage of the United States declared during a memorial service before 80,000 mourners in the Olympic Stadium, "The Games must go on."

In the early morning hours here Saturday, there was little question that current IOC officials would reach the same conclusion. Anita De Frantz, an IOC executive board member from Los Angeles, said they made a distinction between the incident here and the one in Munich because Saturday's occurred in a public park instead of an IOC-controlled venue and involved no athletes.

"I'm not saying this is less tragic because athletes weren't affected," De Frantz said. "But bad people do bad things all over the world, like the guy in Westwood who drove over the curb and injured people in 1984. We didn't stop the Games."

Carrard also said that the IOC will not make concessions to terrorism, a policy adopted long before these Olympics and similar to one followed by governments, corporations and other international organizations.

"The decision to continue these Games is the only decision that could be taken," said Mario Pescante, an IOC member from Italy. "There are animals who want to destroy the ideals of the Olympic movement. Maybe it's a wake-up call, but it's more important than ever to take part in these Games."

*

Ten minutes after the bomb was detonated, Carrard got a call in his hotel room from A.D. Frazier, chief operating officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), apprising him of the situation.

Carrard's next call was from De Frantz, the senior member of the IOC from the United States. They decided that Carrard should call IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain.

Awakened at 1:45 a.m., Samaranch was on the phone 15 minutes later with ACOG President Billy Payne. By 3:30 a.m., Payne, Carrard, IOC media commission chairman Kevan Gosper of Australia, three IOC vice presidents and law enforcement officials from the FBI, Atlanta Police Department and Georgia Commission of Public Safety were meeting in Samaranch's suite. Included via a conference call were White House officials.

Thirty minutes later, Carrard said, they unanimously agreed that the Games should continue, a decision ratified by the IOC's 11-member executive board at 6 a.m.

President Clinton called Samaranch at 9:30 a.m. to assure him that he endorsed the action. By then, the Games had resumed. Four high-ranking IOC officials and ACOG Vice President Charlie Battle met with the heads of the delegations of the 197 countries entered in the Games at 7 a.m. at the athletes' village to address concerns, but, one observer said, the only question was whether the buses taking athletes to venues would run on schedule.

Immediately after learning of the explosion, U.S. Olympic Committee officials sent pager messages to their 690 athletes here, asking them to contact team leaders.

"Our athletes intend to compete in their events, and we refuse to let the cowardly acts of those who have so little regard for human life to dictate the course of their lives here in Atlanta," USOC President LeRoy Walker said in a statement.

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