Marathon bombing provides awful reminder
It’s an awful reminder that no event is safe, not even those meant to showcase the greatness of the human spirit.
The Boston Marathon bombing breaks what’s left of the innocence of athletics and sends a stark message to those who might have forgotten — sporting events are target-rich environments.
I was in Atlanta the last time sports were hit by a terrorist’s bomb, although the Centennial Olympic Park explosion went off during a concert by Jack Mack and the Heart Attack — not at any of the events. One person, Alice Hawthorne of Albany, Ga., was killed by shrapnel, and a Turkish cameraman named Melih Uzunyol died of a heart attack. Another 111 were wounded.
Just 17 months after the Oklahoma City bombing, one of the most frequent comments in sunlight hours after the Olympic blast were: "Thank God it wasn't worse."
A lot of thanks also went to the late Richard Jewell, the security guard who was falsely accused of being a “lone wolf” suspect. Jewell saw the backpack that held the pipe bombs and moved most of the crowd away prior to the blast. In 2006, 10 years after the bombing and one year before Jewell’s death from complications due to heart disease and diabetes, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue honored him as a hero.
I slept through the bombing, but I was in the middle of the aftermath. Atlanta Committee of the Olympic Games (ACOG) CEO Billy Payne — the current chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the guy who congratulated Adam Scott in Butler Cabin on the eve of the Boston Marathon — met with the FBI, the IOC and dozens of federations to determine what to do.
Ghosts of Munich loomed large as athletes, coaches and commentators opined on what should happen. The Games went on. The Women’s Marathon was contested the very next morning, a jarring way to start the day after a terrorist attack.
I was at the men’s lightweight double scull event on Lake Lanier, an hour north of the blast site. While the competition was fierce, the mood remained somber. We had a moment of silence beforehand, and throughout the day every conversation was a little softer and every round of applause more subdued.
Security tightened afterward, but nothing like we would experience post-9/11. In retrospect, the attack was treated like a mugging, something that would be handled by law enforcement. While tragic, no one wanted the Games disrupted, even though a pall settled over every contest after the blast.
We were still naïve then. Unfortunately, this time, that is no longer the case.