2012 Olympics | July 27 - August 12
Posted: Tuesday July 24, 2012 12:03PM ; Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2012 12:35PM
Nick Zaccardi
Nick Zaccardi>INSIDE OLYMPICS

An oral history of the bombing that rocked the 1996 Atlanta Games

Story Highlights

At about 1:20 a.m. on July 27, 1996, a bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park

The bomb, set by Eric Rudolph, killed two and injured more than 100 indviduals

Rudolph hoped bomb would shut down the Olympics, but the Games marched on

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Atlanta Olympic bombing
Olympic flags were lowered to half-mast in the wake of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.
David E. Klutho/SI

The Atlanta Olympics -- the Centennial Games -- opened the night of July 19, 1996, when Janet Evans passed the torch to Muhammad Ali, who lit the cauldron in one of the most indelible moments in Olympic history. The first week of competition saw plenty more highlights amid traffic congestion and tiring commercialism.

Kerri Strug and the Magnificent Seven won team gymnastics gold in the Georgia Dome on July 23. Amy Van Dyken bagged four swimming golds, the last coming on July 26, the final night of swimming at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. At about 1:20 a.m. on July 27, the Olympics were shaken by an attack. A bomb exploded at the social center of the Games, Centennial Olympic Park, a melting-pot entertainment area without the security restrictions or admission charges of the rest of the venues. Two people died as a result -- Alice Hawthorne, 44, of Albany, Ga., and Melih Uzunyol, 40, a Turkish cameraman -- and more than 100 people were injured.

This is the story of that night from those who lived through it, including Eric R. Rudolph, the North Carolina man who pleaded guilty to the Olympic park attack. He is serving a life sentence and spoke with SI.com by phone in May.

Heat Of The Night

John Hawthorne (Alice Hawthorne's husband): [My daughter] Fallon [Stubbs] wanted to hear this group called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. How she even knew anything about Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, I have no idea. But that's what she wanted to do, and as part of her extended birthday celebration, they [Fallon and her mother, Alice Hawthorne] went on to Atlanta [from Albany, Ga.]. I thought about going on up that night, but I said, "Well, I'll just wait because I've been on the road all day." I decided to wait and go the next morning. We were going to spend the rest of the weekend in Atlanta.

Jim Lampley (NBC Sports anchor): We had [U.S. swimmer] Gary Hall on that particular night. He was the heartthrob of the Olympics. Our production operation is very heavily populated with young women. A lot of them are college age or close to college age. They're runners. They're researchers. They're there as volunteers. There's an army of them. Lots of people in the broadcast center had spent periods of time strategizing as to how they could be near the late-night studio or in the vicinity of the late-night studio or even in our control room at the moment when Gary Hall came in. So it had already been an interesting evening.

Ron Rollins (Dayton [Ohio] Daily News Arts and Entertainment editor): I wasn't supposed to be covering it. It was a complete accident that I was there. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is also a Cox [Media Group] paper, and they were doing so many extra editions and they were bulking up the paper and their coverage so much that they borrowed like a substantial number of reporters and editors and photographers and artists from all the other Cox papers in the country, even the little ones. It was me and another guy from the Dayton Daily News, Pat Rini. And a guy from a small paper we owned in Grand Junction, Colo., Perry Patrick. We just happened to be working until midnight or 12:30 that night and all got off at the same time.

Perry Patrick (Grand Junction [Colo.] Daily Sentinel copy editor and page designer): We were just kind of walking along, making our way towards the park, people watching, just chatting with folks.

Hannah Storm (NBC Sports anchor): I was probably four-and-a-half, five months pregnant. I remember being really hot and just really worn out. I had taken a frozen lemonade, and I was literally rubbing the frozen lemonade like all over my forehead and my face to try to cool off.

Tim Scott (Jack Mack and the Heart Attack bassist): This was one of the coolest gigs I've ever done. It was a huge, huge event. People from all over the world were there. We're playing for anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand people a night. Beautiful weather in the summer. It was just a really cool, fun thing.

Bill Bergman (Jack Mack and the Heart Attack saxophonist): We were supposed to play every night, and we would come on after Brian Setzer or Santana or whatever, and we would play from, I don't know, 10 to 12 at night or something. The other bands, the bigger acts, I guess, if you want to call it that, played from 8 to 10.

Scott: I think we were just getting ready to start a new song. I remember, our lead singer, T.C., it was his face on the great, big Panasonic screen behind us.

Janet Evans (U.S. Olympic swimmer): I was at a party thrown for me by Swatch, a retirement party for me. Brad Bridgewater, who was a swimmer. He had won the gold in the 200 backstroke. He was there, and he had his gold medal with him.

Brad Bridgewater (U.S. Olympic swimmer): There's a video. Janet was giving an interview with a German reporter, I think.

Evans: He [the reporter] was asking me about my retirement. He was asking me if I was disappointed with how I swum. He was asking me about Franziska van Almsick. At the time, she was probably the most famous German swimmer. He wanted to know what I thought of how she was swimming. I was just a few words into my answer ...

 
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