Terror's Venue


  • The games will go on." those emphatic words were spoken by Francois Carrard, director general of the International Olympic Committee, after a homemade pipe bomb exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park at 1:21 Saturday morning. His spirited announcement at 5:20 a.m. was an echo of the last time that violence devastated, but did not halt, the Olympic Games, when 11 members of the Israeli team were killed by Palestinians in Munich in 1972. But this determination not to let a terrorist act obliterate the Olympic spirit was also a stance against an unwanted future--against an awful time when terrorism might become woven into the fabric of American life. And the Games, as they go on, must do so under different rules. For despite authorities' worst fears that something like this would happen in Atlanta, despite unprecedented precautions and a massive security effort, it is beginning to feel as if safe American soil is turning to quicksand. "The bombing was an evil act of terror," President Clinton said Saturday, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice. "It is an act of cowardice that stands in sharp contrast to the courage of the Olympic athletes."

    The Games indeed continued in the aftermath of the bombing, with almost 90% attendance rates, but the sense of play--of a profoundly engaging international rivalry and unity at the first fully attended Games in history--had been transformed into something considerably more muted. Alice S. Hawthorne, 44, of Albany, Georgia, was killed by the bomb; Melih Uzunyol, a 37-year-old Turkish cameraman, died of a heart attack while rushing to the park to cover the story; and 111 people were wounded, most by shrapnel that flew as far as 100 yards from the blast. Everyone else was simply stunned. "The Olympics have been going so well," said Sultan Muhammad, an Atlantan who came to watch the Games. "It's such a shame, a shame to ruin them."

    Until the ground shook and the peace was shattered, Olympic Park had been the site of a weeklong open-air party. Covering 21 acres, it was the spiritual heart of the festival, a melting pot where many thousands of visitors daily could wander without paying for tickets, or passing through metal detectors. It was the place where the kids could frolic in a misty fountain. It was also the commercial heart of the games, home to the Swatch pavilion, the Coca-Cola Olympic City, Budweiser's Bud World, and an enormous AT&T; sound stage. And as the competition drew to a close Friday evening, thousands of revelers had gathered here to enjoy a free concert by Jack Mack and the Heart Attack--or simply continue savoring the excitement of the day.

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