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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Security Measures Range from Lax to Tight, Depending on Site

Response: Scrutiny increased at most venues since explosion.

July 29, 1996|From Staff Reports

ATLANTA — On the day after a pipe bomb in Centennial Park killed two people and injured more than 100, Olympic security Sunday was tightening, or getting looser, depending on the venue or the area.

At the Omni, the indoor volleyball venue, and the nearby Omni hotel adjacent to the park, stifling security measures have caused some headaches.

The hotel has been declared off limits to most vehicular traffic and because of that, members of the International Olympic Committee and many international sports federations were denied easy access.

Some of those VIPs, arriving in town from outlying venues for the final week of the Games, were unable to get within three blocks of the Omni, and had to walk from the nearby CNN Center, carrying their own luggage. Some tried to cut through the CNN Center to the Omni's back door but were turned back, and lines outside the hotel's security desk were long and tense.

Several members of FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, are expected to bypass Atlanta altogether and stay in University of Georgia dormitories in Athens.

The Dream Team is staying at the Omni hotel but has been able to pass through a special bus entrance.

Security at the Omni itself is equally tight, but local radio broadcasts Sunday were praising the ingenuity of a couple of security people there. While spectators waited in long lines to have their bags emptied and inspected, the security folk led them in a sing-along.

At the Stone Mountain tennis venue, security also is tight.

Spectators have been asked all along to open their shoulder bags and purses, but since Saturday they have been asked to take everything out. And most electronic devices--cell phones, computers, beepers--were not just checked but turned on.

"Because of Monica Seles, it's always been tough [at tennis]," said ACOG security official William Joy.

In April 1993, Seles, the American star and the top-seeded player in the women's singles draw here, was stabbed in the back by a German spectator during a break in a match in Hamburg and missed nearly two years on the tour.

Joy added that that he had been at the rowing venue in Gainesville, 65 miles north of Atlanta, on Saturday and had found crowds experiencing--but understanding--long security delays.

"Our security people were apologizing up there all day," he said. "But people seemed to know what had to be done."

Nancy Hudgins of Stone Mountain said at the Georgia Congress Center, "The more they check us, the happier I am."

At the boxing venue, Alexander Memorial Coliseum at Georgia Tech, security personnel have been far more serious in their sweeps before, during and between sessions and have advised reporters not to leave bags and computers unattended in the arena.

Sunday evening, when Jon Saraceno of USA Today left his bag on a chair at the press tables while conducting interviews in the media tent behind the arena, five security personnel surrounded the satchel, eventually calling in an explosives expert when Saraceno could not immediately be located.

When Saraceno arrived moments later, the explosives expert asked him to open the bag, peered inside, then moved on.

The scene at Atlanta Beach, site of beach volleyball, was electric. At what has to be the zaniest of all Olympic venues, more than 9,300 fans whooped and hollered during the gold- and bronze-medal games.

Behind the scenes, though, it was a different story.

With IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch in attendance, security was in a heightened state.

Reporters were not allowed to leave their computers or equipment unattended in the media work room, not even to go to the restroom.

Signs throughout the stadium warned that all unattached bags would be confiscated.

At the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium in Athens, where the U.S. women's soccer team defeated reigning world champion Norway, 2-1, security has been tight from the outset.

"Soccer has always been designated a high-profile, high-security sport," said Harvey Morse, a member of the security forces.

Watching the 64,196 fans file in were members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, state police, city police and other security forces.

Along with bag searches, security had metal wands at their disposal to, as Morse put it, "check suspicious persons, bulges in clothing and people who fit a profile."

The security measures seemed to be appreciated by the crowd, even at the expense of slow lines entering the stadium.

"Whatever they do you have to figure it's worth it," said Mike Kennedy, a resident of the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw. "I'd rather wait a little longer for the luxury of knowing we're all a little safer."

Elsewhere, security seemed less stringent.

Unlike Saturday, no extraordinary security measures at Centennial Olympic Stadium were apparent Sunday. Spectators moved briskly through metal detectors to enter the stadium.

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