I love the Olympic Games. To me, the Olympics demonstrate the greatest achievements in human physical ability, and represent what we can strive to accomplish as the people of one world. Sadly, there have been tragic and ugly incidents that have taken place at historic Olympic events, as well as the triumphs of competition and brotherhood. There have been incidents of racism, cheating, and the tragic terrorist action of the group Black September at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Among these sad events, the saddest and most despicable to happen in my lifetime is the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park at the 1996 Atlanta games.
The Wrong Place and Time
Near midnight on July 27, 1996 security guard Richard Jewell discovered a military style backpack sitting unattended on a park bench near a crowded concert area. After asking nearby attendees if the pack was theirs, and finding no owner, Jewell called police and began clearing the area. The pack contained three pipe bombs filled with nitroglycerin and nails, which exploded, wounding 111 people and killing two. Spectator Alice Hawthorne was killed when a nail struck her in the head, and cameraman Melih Uzunyol suffered a heart attack as he ran to film the explosion and aftermath. Adding to the tragedy, Richard Jewell came under FBI scrutiny and was considered involved in the bombing. It would not be until 1998, that the true bomber, Eric Rudolph, would be named as a suspect by the FBI.
Unity Shattered By Terror
I remember watching the 1996 Olympic Games. In particular, I remember interviews with Olympic athletes from all over the world, in which they all reported feeling a deep sense of unity and togetherness in the Olympic Village and throughout the festivities around Atlanta. This being the Centennial Olympic Games, and having opened with one of the most deeply touching moments in Olympic history (Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic Flame), served to make the heartbreak of this terrorist attack heavier.
The Bomber is Caught
The "Olympic Park Bomber," Eric Rudolph, was finally apprehended in 2003 after one of the most tenacious manhunts in US history. Rudolph explained in a written statement that his attack on the Olympic Games was intended to embarrass the United States government in front of the world for sanctioning abortion and homosexuals. Furthermore, he saw the unity of the Olympic Games as promoting what he called the "despicable" ideals of socialism worldwide. Rudolph was also found later to have bombed an abortion clinic, an office building and lesbian nightclub.
Incredibly, it wasn't until writing this article that I noticed that my most beloved Olympic memory, Ali lighting the Flame, and my most tragic Olympic memory, the Centennial Park bombing, happened at the same Olympic Games. As a world and people, let's be grateful that Muhammad Ali's legacy of sportsmanship and brotherhood outshines that terrible moment in Centennial Park. May the goodness of heroes such as Ali and all of our beloved Olympic athletes always triumph in our hearts over the ugly deeds of men like Eric Rudolph.
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