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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

The Show Goes On

Reaction: Athletes express outrage, sadness and shock but say that to stop the Games would be to give in to terrorism.

July 28, 1996|MIKE KUPPER | TIMES ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

ATLANTA — Olympic competition continued almost as usual here Saturday, less than eight hours after a pipe bomb rocked Centennial Park and turned the Games from a joyful celebration of sports to a stage for terrorism.

Two people were killed--one by the blast, another by a heart attack while hurrying to film the aftermath for Turkish television--and 111 were injured when the bomb went off in the crowded park at 1:25 a.m. EDT.

The International Olympic Committee, after early-morning meetings, decided that the competition should go on, just as had been the case in 1972, when Arab terrorists stormed the athletes' village in Munich and, ultimately, killed 11 Israeli athletes.

And shortly after 9, athletes were back in competition, the only postponements having been caused by a morning downpour.

Subdued athletes reacted with shock, sadness and anger to the attack.

"It's just a sad thing," U.S. platform diver Mary Ellen Clark said. "This is the one time when we get together and unite as a world. To have this happen is a shame."

Said an outraged Jearl Miles, a 400-meter runner with the U.S. women's track team: "We came here, we trained long and hard and I can't understand anyone wanting to come in and disrupt it. If it's politically motivated, just leave us out of it. It's like someone invading your home and stealing something."

But by the evening basketball session, the mood in the Georgia Dome was rollicking. Another record crowd of 33,951, the new mark for a woman's game, cheered wildly as the U.S. beat Australia.

It was a long, strange day for the U.S. players.

"I was up for a couple of hours, probably till 5, just watching the news," Rebecca Lobo said. "A few people were up for a while. . . . I think most people had so many phone calls from their family that they were staying awake.

"I think it keeps everything in perspective. It makes you realize that, just go out, relax and play because it's not the end of the world. Those people [families of the dead and wounded] are going through their hard times, and we have to enjoy what we're trying to do."

Dream Team player Scottie Pippen, watching the women's game, agreed, "As players, we can't panic and turn and run the other way. That's the easy way out. We're not going to get run off."

Many athletes said the IOC had acted correctly in not stopping the Games.

"You'd have to put X-ray machines at every [public] area [to be safe]," U.S. hammer thrower Dave Popejoy said. "You can live in a police state and feel somewhat safe or you can take your chances."

Asked his preference, he said, "Take your chances."

Charles Barkley of the Dream Team expressed himself in strong terms on NBC.

"I just feel bad for all the families involved right now," he said. "But to leave now would be to let them assholes win."

Italian volleyball player Andrea Giani agreed.

"It doesn't matter what team you're on, it is this force that brings people together and it is the only thing that can fight against this attack."

Some athletes expressed concern about how history will view these Games.

"One of the things I was thinking on the bus [to Olympic Stadium] was, 'What does everybody remember about Munich [in 1972]?' " Popejoy said. "There's been so much good will here, so many people having a good time. It's unfair to Atlanta, but that's the way these Olympics will be remembered. . . .

"It's like raining on your wedding day. You hate to put it in such trivial terms, but that's what it does here. It takes away from everything."

Matt Ghaffari, American silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, said these would be remembered as "the tainted Games."

"I would like to kick the guy's butt who did this," he said. "Now, when people say 1996, they're not going to remember the medals we won. They're going to remember this is the place where we had the terrorist attack."

U.S. water polo goalkeeper Chris Duplanty was also angered by the attack.

"You don't know where the next crazy person is," he said. "I refuse to be intimidated by that. I think any time something like what happened last night happens, it's a shock when people are hurt for stupid, selfish reasons. It's a tragedy."

No athletes were injured in the early-morning blast and many expressed confidence in the security at the Games. But several said there was no foolproof way to guard against such acts.

"I feel safer here, more safe than in my country, because security, it's very good," springboard diver Sinisa Zugic of Yugoslavia said. "I don't think there will be any more problems.

"In all big cities in the world, you have this," he added. "In Europe, in the U.S.A., in Africa. In Asia, you have problem in Japanese subway. . . . It doesn't matter which group is involved. You have groups of people who think bombs can solve problems. I would only like to know who did this bomb, and why."

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