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Atlanta Won’t Give In Residents Determined To Celebrate Goodwill

Sun., July 28, 1996

This is how much the bomb rattled Atlanta: The Hard Rock Cafe opened for business Saturday morning playing the bluest of Elvis Presley’s ballads and the mellowest of James Taylor’s tunes.

The melancholy music lasted until lunchtime.

As soon as burger orders started stacking up in the kitchen, General Manager Adam Gonzalez decided that the time for reflection was over. Guests had stopped muttering over grim newspaper photos and started cheering for beach volleyball. It was time to crank up the Metallica and jam on the volume.

The Olympic Spirit was back.

And so it went, all over Atlanta, as natives and tourists sought to shake off their fears and plunge back into the excitement. They couldn’t pretend everything was entirely normal, of course. Not with police sirens screaming through the city. Not with bomb threats shutting down the subway. Not with the sentimental hub of the Games, free-spirited Centennial Park, turned into a crime scene.

“Twenty years from now, the ‘96 Olympics will be known as the place where the pipe bomb went off,” tourist Kari Hill predicted.

But if the crowds get their way, the ‘96 Olympics will also be known as the Games that bounced back.

As Gonzalez put it: “We are going to rise above this.”

From ticket lines to sports bars to hotel lobbies, defiant fans agreed with U.S. water polo goalkeeper Chris Duplanty, who said simply: “I refuse to be intimidated.”

They had paid too much, traveled too far to turn around. Or, perhaps, they had bought into the Olympic myth too fiercely. They would not let a terrorist shatter a global symbol of goodwill.

“This isn’t going to stop me from going out and enjoying the Olympics,” Atlanta accountant Lisa Nulea, 26, pledged.

“We can’t give into the terrorists,” agreed New Jersey resident Ann Marie Michalczyk.

To be sure, a few who had watched TV footage of the bomb blast admitted to nervous stomachs as they headed out for Olympic venues Saturday. And every stray piece of garbage jangled nerves anew.

Still, most found reasons to smile even when confronted with grim reminders of the tragedy.

Tourists posed for photos in front of the barricades blocking off the crime scene, snapping shots of streets deserted except for police on horseback and National Guard officers camped out in plastic chairs.

Even those who started the day sad and anxious said they couldn’t help but start cheering when they passed by TV sets broadcasting the Games.

“When I woke up this morning it was raining and I just had such a bad feeling because I knew the city had been on such a high before this happened,” said Atlanta resident Adam Klein. “My friends and I were really depressed. But then a few hours later, we flipped on the TV and the Games had started going again, and it was like this just didn’t even happen.”

“You can’t live in fear of some madman,” Klein said. “That’s exactly what (terrorists) want - to intimidate people.”

That we’ll-show-‘em pluck echoed across Atlanta Saturday. Atlanta residents had envisioned the Games as a coming-out party for their city, a chance to strut their stuff for the world.

The bomb angered, saddened and scared them - but it did not deter them from their mission.

“We’re furious that someone would choose this event to make a statement,” said Suellen Crosslea, director of the city’s Bureau of Human Services.

Atlanta, she pledged, would make a statement of its own: “Maybe the people who weren’t here will think that (the bomb wrecked the Games), but not the people who came here and who had a wonderful time.”

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