We were fortunate enough to know better. We were successors to the great moral advance made by the Greeks in 776 B.C. when they came to understand that there is more honor in outrunning a man than in killing him, when they so sanctified the Games that they would lay down their arms during the sacred truce of Olympia and grant participants free passage through warring states. Our answer to the attack in 1972 was 2,748 years old: performance, transforming performance.
When he heard the news of the Atlanta bombing, Shorter called me. "On that balcony in Munich," he said, "it was like, Someone is doing this to them over there. But in Atlanta, now, it is a different kind of fear. The bomb was set in the public precincts. The feeling is that we're all the target now."
Yet the IOC, ACOG and the White House never seriously considered stopping the Atlanta Games. "It was a slow process in Munich," said Shorter. "The day we watched as the hostages were held and the day off for the memorial service, we went through the stages humans must go through in times of brutal stress: from denial to anger, to grief, to resolve. It's like Atlanta learned from that. This time officials went straight to affirming that the Games will go on."
As did the athletes. "It's difficult to focus on goals when someone is trying to destroy the Olympic spirit," said Gail Devers, after winning the women's 100 in an almost defiant fashion. "That's what they're trying to do, and I'm not going to let them."
I could hear echoes of '72 in the reaction of U.S. judoka Jimmy Pedro, a bronze medalist in the 157-pound division: "I worked 19 years to be here. The athletes won't leave, we won't stop. Of course we'll go on."
The striking thing was his tone, so offhand, so expectant that everyone in the world will understand that his—ours—is a perfectly obvious course, to turn pain into performance. But of course they don't all understand, or we wouldn't have our latest dead, or children torn and broken by explosives detonated, incomprehensibly, to make some point. What Shorter said on that Munich balcony was and remains true. It's not over, not until all the cycles of violence are broken and man is perfected, which isn't going to be any Olympiad soon.
So the Olympian thing to do is simply to spread the word that barbarism only makes Olympians stronger. "We've got to talk about the risks," says Shorter. "Know the percentages, so people can't deny the risks, but then we have to go forward, because to surrender here is to surrender all. We have to say to ourselves, as a society, what we said before that marathon back in Munich. We have to say, 'This is as scared as I get. Now let's go run.' "