July 28, 1996 in Nation/World

The Olympic Spirit Remains Right On Track Athletes Saddened By Tragedy, But Refuse To Let It Slow Them Down

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Normally, the crowning of the world’s fastest human is arguably the biggest story of any Olympic Games. And if he breaks the world record in the process - as Donovan Bailey did - the argument ends.

Saturday, however, was a tragically abnormal day by any Olympic standard.

Athletes woke up to the horrific news that a pipe bomb had been detonated in Centennial Olympic Park in the early hours of the morning, leading to two deaths and injuring 111 people - the first act of Olympic-associated terrorism since 11 Israelis were murdered by the pro-Palestinian Black September group during the 1972 Games in Munich.

Hours after the explosion, the International Olympic Committee declared that the Games would continue without interruption.

But it was a numb - if near-capacity - crowd which filed into Olympic Stadium for the second day of track and field, submitting to increased security measures and observing a moment of silence for the victims of the bombing.

The athletes were a little numb, too.

“It’s difficult to accomplish your goals and someone’s trying to destroy not only what you’re trying to do, but the Olympic spirit in general,” said Gail Devers of the United States, who won her second straight gold medal in the women’s 100-meter dash.

“To me, that’s what the bomb stood for - trying to destroy the Olympic spirit.”

And the athletes who competed at virtually every venue Saturday agreed that a postponement or cancellation of the Games would do nothing to rebuild that spirit.

“I felt we couldn’t give in to the idiot who did that,” said Gwen Torrence, who won a bronze in front of a hometown crowd. “And to see the people who came out to see me perform as well as the seven other girls, my heart just broke.”

The two sessions of track and field drew more than 140,000 spectators to the new stadium and provided stark contrasts.

Not only did spectators for the morning session arrive with the bombing story still developing, they watched two-time gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee - perhaps the sport’s most admired athlete - withdraw from the heptathlon after aggravating a pulled hamstring in the first event.

The evening session, however, produced some dazzling theater.

Bailey, a Jamaican-born Canadian, shaved .01 from the men’s 100-meter record with his 9.84-second clocking in a race that saw the Americans shut out of medals and defending Olympic champ Linford Christie of Great Britain disqualified for two false starts.

Devers won the closest women’s 100 in Olympic history, closer even than her .01 win in 1992. She and silver medalist Merlene Ottey of Jamaica were both timed in 10.94, but Devers was judged the winner on a finish photo. Ottey’s Jamaican team promptly filed a protest asking that the photo be re-read.

And U.S. triple jumper Kenny Harrison set an Olympic record while besting Britain’s Jonathan Edwards, the only man to jump farther than 60 feet.

And yet their thoughts were never far from the events at Centennial Park.

“It’s a time for me to be joyous over what I did,” Devers said, “but it’s also a time for sadness. I want to extend my sympathy to the victims of the bomb and their families and let them know that they’re definitely in my prayers.”

Torrence was doubly disturbed, what with the bombing happening in her hometown.

“My mother was questionable about coming tonight,” Torrence revealed, “and I told her if she wasn’t comfortable, don’t come. She’s 67 and everything worries her and bothers her. But when she did come out, I was even more happy.

“I’m glad I could get on the podium for the people who died. My heart goes out to their families.”

Bailey, however, “didn’t learn about this until this morning.

“The Olympics is one of the only times that everyone from everywhere can come and relax and peacefully compete against each other,” he said. “And I think it’s pathetic that some idiots are trying to screw it up for everybody.” , DataTimes


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