By John Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
Standing in a line to get our bags examined before entering a venue for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, a fellow reporter began to complain about the long wait.
“Well, standing in this line beats getting blown up,” I said. The complainer didn’t argue my point.
Since the massacre of the 11 Israeli team members at Munich in 1972, security has been one of those “failure is not an option” issues for the Olympic movement. Some of those measures are visible – like the metal detectors – but a lot of it takes place out of the public view.
I’ve worked at three more Olympics since ’98, including one touched by an act of terror, and I can tell you that security – both personal and that of others – never leaves your mind.
Our Olympic village in Seoul seemed lightly guarded at first glance. But there were these small outbuildings with one-way mirrored windows at the corner of just about every dorm. Early one morning, I caught something I probably wasn’t intended to see: the shift change.
Every one of those buildings contained ninjas with machine guns. Seriously, there were teams of guys, moving silently, in all-black ninja outfits and Uzis.
One night before I left, the officer in charge of our building told me that all of the lobby staff were young soldiers in civilian dress who had let their hair grow out a bit to be inconspicuous.
His men were trained to meet any threat with hand-to-hand combat, to fight a delaying action long enough for the ninjas with Uzis to arrive.
They meant business.
The most notable act of violence relating to the Olympics since Munich, the 1996 Atlanta park bombing, took place outside the security “footprint” of the competition area – precisely because the bomber knew he’d never be able to get past that point. Now, as a result of his act, there’s a extra layer of security intended to protect Olympic spectators and visitors.
Our London friends know a few things about dealing with terror attacks, dating back to “the troubles” with the IRA and even the German blitz. And everyone there connected with Olympic security will tackle the job with a single thought in mind:
Not on my watch.
John L. Pitts (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor of the Journal. He’s worked at four Olympics – Seoul, Albertville, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.