Wick Communications

First draft of history

In Clay Lambert on 28 Jul 2011 at 2:43 pm

At some point, if you work for newspapers long enough, you realize that what they say about delivering the first draft of history is true. Anniversaries of famous events become an excuse to check your own clips, to remember how you covered them yourself.

And that’s how I came to see that I wasn’t the writer I thought I was.

Fifteen years ago this week, I was working day and night to cover the Olympic Games in Atlanta for the Gainesville Times. I was a sportswriter for the Gannett newspaper, and I had spent the preceding couple of years covering rowing, canoeing and kayaking events to get ready for the Games.

You see, the Olympic flatwater-sports venue was right in our backyard. It was the biggest local story in eons. The newspaper spent considerable resources sending me to national championship events, qualifiers for the Games, national team camps and annual Olympic gatherings in the run-up to the Games. I was one of only a handful of reporters in the country who could name every U.S. Olympic rower. Heck, some of the athletes would stay at my house when they came to town to train on the Olympic course. …

The 1996 Olympic Games was without a doubt one of the coolest things I will ever cover. And I thought I had done a pretty good job, writing front-page columns each day of the Games as well as other aspects of the event that swallowed Georgia. I just should not have looked back at those old stories.

On July 27, 1996, a pipe bomb broke the night at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. The next morning, I wrote the column that I’ll include at the bottom of this post.

It’s a stinker. It wasn’t a bad idea – interviewing athletes who were there at the 1972 Munich hostage-taking – but it’s pretty ham-handed. And in my defense, one of the editors pecking away at my copy that day was, how do you say, not distinctly qualified for his job.

I think I’ve gotten better since then. I read more. I have written volumes since then. But it’s humbling to look back at your previous work. OK, here’s that old column … you are free to look away. I’d link to it, but these were the days when “links” referred to breakfast sausage. To wit:


Kerry Jelvert sat nearly alone as Saturday dawned at Clark’s Bridge Park.

His only companion was a ghost that returned at 1:25 in the morning, in the form of a pipe-bomb blast at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.

One death caused by the blast and one related death. More than 100 were injured. And Jelvert was left with terrible memories of a past Olympic Games.

These days, he is a banker living in Korea. But in 1972, Jelvert was a young rower competing for his native Australia at the Olympics in Munich, Germany.

Ask him if he remembers Sept. 5, 1972. It was the day a Palestinian militant group calling itself “Black September” took Israeli athletes hostage.

“I remember coming down to breakfast” on Sept. 6, Jelvert said. “Some other athletes told me there were tanks in the street and troops on the roof.

“We laughed it off. They we went around the corner and we saw for ourselves.”

A day later, 18 people were killed in a shootout between the terrorists and Germain sharpshooters.

Saturday, Jelvert was one of at least three men at Clark’s Bridge Park who had competed in Munich. They were forced to reflect on their past and the increasingly terrifying prospect of terrorists amidst a gathering of the world’s greatest athletes.

Luis Aparicio was a Mexican rower in 1972. He is a press liaison at Clark’s Bridge Park this week.

“I won’t even talk about it,” he said. “I don’t want to.”

In 1972, Steve Kelly was a flatwater kayaker for the United States. Today, he serves as competition manager for next week’s sprint events on Lake Lanier.

“The week prior to the 1972 hostage-taking was a week of peace,” Kelly said. “After the killings, there was a tremendous change.”

Jelvert, Aparicio and Kelly each entered Clark’s Bridge Park aboard buses that stopped at security checkpoints. National Guard units used mirrors to inspect the undercarriage of each vehicle crossing the bridge.

Once off the buses, each man passed through metal detectors. Their bags were searched.

They were treated like suspects, not Olympians.

Jelvert leaned back and considered a world that is too often spoiled by senseless violence. Then he spoke with an Olympian’s courage.

“if you want to enjoy life, you’ve just got to soldier on and do what you’re going to do,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going.

“Otherwise, you let the terrorists have success,” he said.

Jelvert, Kelly and Aparicio aren’t the only ones who feel that way today. Thousands cheered the seven gold medalists on Saturday morning.

It is true. There are maniacs among us. The rest of us must go on.

— Clay


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