A moment to mourn, to defy fear, to go on


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - Lisa Brooks' only fear was fear itself. She was worried that her brother might back out of their trip to the Olympic Games in the anxious aftermath of Saturday's bomb blast.

''I called him first thing Saturday morning and said, 'What do you think?' '' the Columbus woman said Tuesday. ''He said, 'Let's go.' I was so scared he was going to say, 'I'm not going down there.' We may never have a chance like this again.''

Fear was no match for faith Tuesday morning in Atlanta. Three days after it was closed by terror, Centennial Olympic Park reopened with resolve. Thousands of people participated in a ceremony that was partly a memorial service and partly an act of defiance.

Some of them sang. Some of them prayed. Some came to lay flowers or burn incense near the site of the explosion that killed Alice Hawthorne and injured more than 100 bystanders. Others merely wanted to make the point of showing up, to express the conviction that they could not be cowed by some sociopath with a pipe bomb.

''Just 'cause there's one nut out there, you can't worry about what's around every corner,'' said Mike King, from Baltimore. ''You can't be afraid to live your life. Any one of us could be hit by a car tomorrow.''

In short, life goes on. Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, declared the park reopened at 10:18 a.m., and the gathering place promptly bristled with commerce. Beer was again poured at Bud World. Souvenir pins were swapped and sold at the Coca-Cola complex. Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed at the AT&T Global Olympic Village. Competition tickets were sought and scalped.

Normalcy was restored in roughly a nanosecond.

The biggest difference, appropriately, involved new safety precautions. Bags were examined at the entrances. Bomb-sniffing dogs prowled the grounds on short leashes. The police presence in the park has been doubled since Saturday's bombing, and what had been 21 acres of public space is now, of necessity, a high-security area.

''It (the security) is more intense than at the airport, and it should be,'' said Californian Petter Leyra. ''I didn't see anyone complaining.''

Many of those who attended the 10 a.m. ceremony, had been in line since before the park opened at 8. Mr. Leyra, a volunteer with the cultural Olympiad, had started preparing Monday night by purchasing some marking pens. His hand-lettered sign declared: ''The Games Will Go On.''

''I had just left (the park) before the bomb went off, and I've been here since it opened this morning,'' Mr. Leyra said. ''I wanted to be part of this. I think it's almost like a healing process.''

It was almost like a revival meeting, complete with a gospel choir. Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis opened the program with ''Just A Closer Walk With Thee.'' Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a Congregationalist minister, delivered the sermon.

''We are here,'' Mr. Young said, ''to proclaim victory. We're here not to wallow in tragedy, but to create a triumph, a triumph of the human spirit.''

There were more practical purposes, to be sure. Gouged Olympic spectators needed some place they could go without having to pay an admission price. The corporate investors of Centennial Olympic Park still had merchandise to move.

''I just wanted to take it all in,'' said Jeff Roberts, a former Miami University swimmer. ''I'm going to see if I can stand in front of one of the venues and find a ticket. I have to go to one thing before I leave.''

Lisa Brooks and her brother Howard were holding tickets for tonight's track competition. He was once a walk-on basketball player at the University of Cincinnati under Tony Yates. She was a sprinter at Mississippi State, who lost her first collegiate race to Olympian Gwen Torrence.

That was a long time ago. So far as Lisa Brooks was concerned, so was Saturday's bombing.

''My face is tired of smiling,'' she said. ''I've been smiling since I walked in.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published July 31, 1996.