The soldier standing in the middle of Spring Street in downtown Atlanta wearing camouflage was impossible to ignore. It was 2:30 a.m. His voice cut through the chaotic whirl of the early morning hours: "Next person who crosses this street gets arrested!" he howled, spittle flying from his mouth. "I'm not kidding! I'll fucking tackle you myself!"

It was Saturday, July 27th, an hour after a bomb had exploded in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park—it was a bomb that killed two people and injured more than 100 others, although I wouldn't learn that fact until much later, after having spent eight hours on the street covering the story.

When the bomb went off, I was at the Main Olympic Press Center, about a block away from the explosion. My colleagues and I were closing the Sports Illustrated Olympic Daily. As the building shook, we looked up, trying to read each other's faces. Several of us had previously expressed our unease, a premonition that something bad would happen at the Olympics, but none of us had wanted to believe it. We paused for a moment, and then went back to work. It was only when I heard the sirens that I ran out into the street.

I was met by a surge of people making their way up Harris Street. A woman passed by, blood flowing from a cut over her left eyebrow. A man who had been standing about 100 yards from the blast told me he had been thrown to the street by the shock wave, tearing his pants as he slid along the pavement.

In those early moments just after the blast, as the police and the military set up barricades and drove the crowds away from the crime scene, no one knew exactly what had happened. The chaos was dumbfounding. As we milled about, rumors flew: it was a transformer that had exploded; no, it was a bomb. Ten people had died; no, four; no wait, twenty were dead; no, it was only two. Overwhelmed by confusion, I found myself standing amid a mass of people who would never forget the event that transformed their celebration into a tragedy.

The bomb was a specter that haunted the rest of the Games. The security, seemingly everywhere before the blast, somehow increased. But I never quite recovered my own sense of well-being. Feeling a sense of security isn't a matter of personnel—the 30,000 uniformed officers in Atlanta made up the largest security force ever assembled. Security is a matter of confidence, and my confidence was shaken.

In some places I felt fine—like the sports venues where everyone was searched and passed through a metal detector. But you can't secure every area at an event the size of the Olympics (although organizers of the next Olympics in Sydney are discussing wrapping the games in a giant security perimeter 10 miles in diameter). It was when I was in those unavoidable, unsecured places, fighting my way through the endless crowds in the streets and the Park, that I still felt the fear the bomb had triggered in me.

Talk!

My hotel was about half a block from the blast site, and the morning after the bombing, we still couldn't go back. Finally, almost 24 hours later, we were allowed to pass through the barricades. It was hauntingly quiet as the soldier searched my bag. I turned to walk away, down the completely empty block, and he put his hand on my shoulder.

"Sir, please walk down the yellow line," he told me. So I did, my exhaustion crashing down on me, my shadow growing long as I moved away from the street lights.   </end>

Mark McClusky, Associate Editor of New Media at Sports Illustrated, survived Atlanta unscathed.


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