Olympic Triumph Amid Tragedy At 1996 Games It's been 15 years since the Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta. NPR's Kathy Lohr covered the games and remembers how the Olympic spirit rose above the tragic bombing.
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Olympic Triumph Amid Tragedy At 1996 Games

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Olympic Triumph Amid Tragedy At 1996 Games

Olympic Triumph Amid Tragedy At 1996 Games

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SCOTT SIMON, host: Fifteen years ago, the summer of 1996, the city of Atlanta hosted the Olympic Games. NPR's Kathy Lohr was assigned to cover them. She has this look back.

KATHY LOHR: For me, two events still stand out from that summer. First, the Opening Ceremonies, which I covered from Centennial Olympic Park, where the festivities were broadcast for free on huge TV screens. It was a big party and I stayed in the park for hours recording the event. Everyone was glued to the celebration, awed by each moment. Millions of people watched on TV and thousands were at the park that sultry evening as Gladys Knight performed the classic, "Georgia on my Mind."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GEORGIA ON MY MIND")

GLADYS KNIGHT: (Singing) Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through, just an old sweet song, yeah, keeps Georgia on my mind.

LOHR: The celebration continued with the parade of athletes entering the arena and finally the Olympic torch, which had made its way through the neighborhoods, was carried into the stadium and finally passed to legendary boxer Mohammed Ali.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST OF THE OLYMPIC GAMES)

BOB COSTAS: But look who gets it next, the Greatest.

LOHR: Ali's hands were shaking as he struggled to light the Olympic cauldron, and after a nervous moment or two for everybody here, a ball of flame eked up a long cable and finally did ignite the cauldron.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST OF THE OLYMPIC GAMES)

COSTAS: What a moment.

LOHR: The other event - a tragic one - took place about week later, when a pipe bomb hidden inside a backpack exploded in Centennial Park during a free concert. The bomb was placed not far from where I stood a few days earlier. Two people died as a result of the explosion and hundreds were injured. Atlanta's Olympic organizers were horrified. This was Billy Payne appearing on NBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST)

BILLY PAYNE: The Olympic movement remains one of the bright hopes of the future. We cannot, cannot deviate from our mission, notwithstanding the great sorrow that we feel.

LOHR: The Games did go on and spectators packed Olympic events the next day in defiance. Tourists also came back to Centennial Park when it reopened, a statement that no terrorist would win. But it took more than five years for federal agents to catch Eric Rudolph who had fled to the North Carolina mountains to hide out. Rudolph was identified as the man responsible for several bombings in the South, including the one intended to disrupt the 1996 Games. But covering that manhunt is another story. I'm Kathy Lohr.

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