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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Postcript

Times staff writers take a look back at the Centennial Games

August 05, 1996|BILL DWYRE

There is only one memory. It pounds in the brain like a terrible morning after.

It is 1:25 a.m., Saturday morning, July 27. Its sound, like a jet fighter breaking the sound barrier in your backyard, stops everybody within miles. A few days later, several hundred thousand people will tell their friends and neighbors they were within a block or so when it went off.

We have all left, headed for our hotels or apartments. The bomb brings us running back. Many do so out of interest. Some do so out of duty, instinct. Some push to get close to see. They are not ghoulish, only curious. Some push to get close and report accurately. It is our job to be curious.

And those of us who are curious for a living are the worst headaches for the police. They stay calm, we don't. We want to know details, numbers of injuries, deaths. We want our reporters on the scene, not pushed blocks away. We want pictures too. The public is under control. We are not.

The police stay calm. They repeat, time and again, that we cannot get to our work stations, where we have the equipment to report this story of international significance happening right in our laps, because they suspect there may be bombs in our building. Our building, they keep telling us, stands within 75 feet of the bomb that went off.

The next day, the idiocy of this washes over us like a wave: We are raising hell to get into a building that may contain a bomb.

Only a handful of us get in. How we do so is not pretty, not civilized. We are proud then, ashamed the next day.

Others take the police over the edge and get hit with pepper spray. The next day, we speak with hushed pride of those who were sprayed. Our wounded heroes. We tell ourselves that the world knew better and faster and more fully about the bomb, that that was an admirable mission. But we also treat the police a bit nicer, and the security people who, despite our obnoxious behavior, tried to protect us.

We never really think about the what-ifs of another bomb. We were born without that common-sense gene that others have. That's why we do what we do.

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