Wednesday, January 25, 2012

USOC: A changed Olympics

After Crash A Changed Olympics
BY MIKE LUPICA | NY Daly News | Saturday, July 20, 1996  

ATLANTA By late afternoon, when the torch arrived at City Hall, the people were already streaming down Washington St. SW, past the Trinity United Methodist Church, then taking a left on Memorial Drive, on their way to the Olympic Stadium.

This was the day when the opening ceremonies were supposed to take the whole world and make it feel like a small town. This was the day the Olympics officially made it to the South. They are just not quite the same Olympics they would have been a few days ago, before TWA Flight 800 exploded over the ocean, way up North.

"After what happened in New York," United States Olympic Committee President LeRoy Walker said, "you ask the same question you ask after Oklahoma City."

Walker is 77 and grew up in Harlem during the Depression. He later lived in South Ferry in New York City and holds a master's degree from Columbia and has seen much, good and bad, during an honorable and distinguished Olympic career.

In Atlanta yesterday, with the Olympic torch making its way through the streets trailed by the sound of cheers and sirens, Walker never came out and specified what question about Oklahoma City he meant. But the question was this: Could a bomb happen at the Olympics?

There is no way of knowing how much security increased between Wednesday night's crash and the opening ceremonies last night. Maybe there is no way of ever knowing. But it increased, and by a lot.

Even as the parade of people began moving to the Olympic Stadium, down Memorial Drive and then past Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and into the opening ceremonies, there were police everywhere, some of them directing traffic, some of them in royal blue patrol cars that had Georgia State Patrol on the sides, some of them wearing berets. All of them trying to see the whole Olympics at once.

Even a taxi cab in the wrong lane was enough to make them move, and fast.

"That airplane in New York sure changed things around here," a cab driver named Rafael Colbert said.

Colbert had made a wrong turn, got into the wrong lane behind an official bus, and a couple of berets were on him.

There was no known connection between the Olympics and what happened with that airplane in New York. But the explosion, coming so close to the opening ceremonies, was about terrible possibilities. It is about the fearful corner of every Olympics, wherever the Olympics are staged.

It has been the way since Israeli athletes were murdered in Munich in 1972, and the Olympics were changed forever.

"Before Munich, no organizing committee had anything in the budget for security," LeRoy Walker said. "Since Munich [security] has been one of the largest budgets for any organizing committee."

And whatever the budget was in Atlanta, whatever they were saying yesterday, the budget was stretched after the plane went down, even if they didn't put that news up on billboards.

"First, people here are very aware of things," Walker said. "Secondly, they have prepared for everything they possibly can. Thirdly, they say that if they tell you more, it's not security. We will bow and accept it."

And later, a man named Ralph Hale, the USOC chief of mission, said, "Obviously, the TWA thing is on everyone's mind."

In Atlanta and everywhere else.

You looked up on the television sets in the Main Press Center yesterday and first you had news of the airplane crash and then you were back to the Olympics, the day Atlanta has waited six years for, since the International Olympic Committee announced in 1990 the Centennial Olympics were coming here.

First on the CNN feed you saw James Kallstrom, the FBI man in New York heading the criminal investigation of Flight 800. When Kallstrom was done, there was a switch back to a talk show, and there was the smiling face of Bruce Jenner, former Olympic decathlon champion.

The next two weeks in Atlanta are supposed to be about triumph. Still, no one could shake tragedy yesterday. This is the week when even a siren announcing the coming of the Olympic torch makes everyone stop.

The cab driver Rafael Colbert was right, sitting there in traffic on Harris St., trying to stay cool. That plane in New York changed things. Did not ruin things. Did not spoil the excitement in Atlanta, the beginning of these Centennial Olympics.

Just changed things.

"Some people act like it happened here," Rafael Colbert said.

But we always worry on this day, before the games are announced open, before one spectacular show at the opening ceremonies tries to outdo the one before it, as though we sit home and keep score on these things.

Munich changed everything, and over the last quarter-century terrorists have changed the world. At every stadium, in Los Angeles or Seoul or Barcelona or Atlanta last night, there is the same corner of fear, the same awareness of possibilities, whether a plane has crashed into the ocean 48 hours before or not.

In Seoul, because of all the difficulties between North and South Korea, there was more security than you could believe in the hot sun of the opening ceremonies, police and army everywhere you looked. If you weren't in the parade of athletes that day eight years ago, you were a suspect.

Some things do not change on the day when the world is supposed to unite because of sports.

They lit up the sky above another Olympics last night. Just not the same sky it was supposed to be.

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