Atlanta reclaims Olympics from the bombers

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The Independent Online
They held bibles aloft, wore carnations in their hair and swayed to a hand-clapping revivalist proclamation of "the power of the dream". The people of Atlanta, the athletes and visitors "reclaimed" the centennial Olympics in typical Southern style yesterday by flocking back to the site of Saturday's lethal bomb.

With an emotional memorial service for the two who died and prayers for the more than 100 wounded, the city reopened Centennial Park, where the pipe-bomb went off. Many visitors prayed for the victims of TWA Flight 800, seen here as something of a "twin" tragedy, because it occurred on the eve of the Olympics. As they did so, crash invesitgators focused their search on the airliner's cockpit, which could hold the key to whether the plane was split in two by a bomb, a missile or an accidental explosion.

While the families of TWA victims still awaited a conclusion - by yesterday 161 bodies of the 230 passengers had been found - Atlantans and Olympic visitors saw yesterday's ceremony as the closure of their mourning and an assertion that terrorism had not succeeded. "We're here to proclaim a victory. We're here not to wallow in tragedy," said Andrew Young, ex- Atlanta mayor and co-chairman of the games' organising committee.

Reopening the park, a cultural, leisure and entertainment centre first opened in the heart of the city two weeks before the start of the Olympics, was seen by Atlantans as symbolic affirmation that the bombers, as yet unidentified, had not won and that the games would go on. "We're here to celebrate a triumph of the human spirit," Mr Young said after the trumpeter Winston Marsalis opened the service with a rendition of Just a Closer Walk With Thee.

After guests of honour, including Juan Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and the Rev Jesse Jackson, joined hands in silent prayer, a gospel singer, Nita Whitaker, and the Georgia Mass Choir rocked the service to a conclusion with the song: Feel the Flame Forever Burn . . . The Power of the Dream that brings us here.

Before the memorial service, athletes mingled with tourists and young Christian groups who handed out carnations and sang hymns in Japanese, Arabic and other languages.

After the service, despite doubled security, and hovering helicopters, Centennial Park returned to its lively self, with beers, burgers and much swapping of American's beloved souvenir pins.

The Swatch stand, one of the official sponsors, was soon selling $40 watches at the rate of one a minute.

Amid the joy, no one seemed upset that the popular hosts of the NBC's Today breakfast programme, Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric, were broadcasting live from the exact grassy spot where the bomb went off.

Allowed back for the first time since the blast, reporters noted that the bomb had been left beside a carved stone monument with the inscription "A tribute to the 1996 Olympics. It was here in the summer of 1996 that the world witnessed the fulfilment of the Olympic ideal."

There was little sign early on of the dramatic development to come when a Federal law enforcement source and several sources from the FBI confirmed that the "hero" security guard who first reported finding the knapsack bomb that exploded in the park had become a focus of the investigation,

The guard, Richard Jewell, 33, denied to reporters that he was responsible. He was working for a Los Angeles-based security firm, Anthony Davis and Associates, that was hired by AT and T to provide guards.

Hailed as a hero after the bombing because his apparent alertness prevented more casualties, Jewell had received bomb training while working as a deputy sheriff in northeastern Georgia. He may fit a profile experts often cite for the lone bomber - a former police officer, military man or aspiring policeman who seeks to become a hero. Ironically he had appeared on NBC television before the opening ceremony.

The focus on Jewell apparently stems in part from investigative experience with the "hero" syndrome. After resigning his deputy sheriff's job, Jewell worked for about a year as a security guard at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia. The college president, Ray Cleere, said yesterday Jewell had been given the option of resigning or being fired because he was overly enthusiastic about his police duties and liked the limelight.