Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hope and radiance of Olympics dulled by one man's action

So the Olympic message gets muted, and the symbolic doves were barely out of the stadium. Peace and brotherhood are the goals here, and not just winning the discus and badminton. An extraordinary Opening Ceremony had told us so.

And now there is a murder to investigate.

We are not sure yet why the American volleyball coach's father-in-law had to die in front of his family Saturday, when all he wanted was be another tourist at the Beijing Drum Tower.

Someone stabbed him to death barely five miles from the Olympic flame. Two more were injured, his wife seriously so. The killer committed suicide, using a tower leap as his exit.

Suddenly, the Olympics did not seem quite as happy, or quite as safe. But we don't yet know why.

The crowds were barely seated at the first round of events when the news spread Saturday. The word reached as far as the Great Wall, where the cycling road race was finishing. This is what the Olympics are supposed to be on their first day, riders grinding through the Juyongguan Pass where Genghis Khan used to roam. Not crime scenes.

For the record, Beijing now has as many victims of violence as Atlanta. A lousy number to share.

The motive is still not understood. Can we agree on what we're all thinking? Did some Beijing head case go out looking for Americans?

If not that, more routine answers might have to be explored. Robbery. Madness? Simply the urge to kill? China has not seen much trouble of this sort. The man might have taken his twisted rationale with him when he jumped.

It seemed unfathomable, regardless of reason. This is a city with security on red alert, and police on every corner. You can't swing a shopping bag without hitting soldiers marching down the street. Somewhere out there, too, are missiles and helicopters and metal detectors.

All that, and one man kills another in broad daylight, at a busy landmark. The Chinese have been desperately waiting on the sun for their Olympics. But here came a dark cloud.

Should we be afraid now, or just sad at how quickly bad news can strike, 12 hours after the fireworks closed a stirring Opening Ceremony?

There was such a strong message Friday night about sport's place in a better world. Obviously, one future killer was not paying attention.

Something quickly comes to mind about this assault; Beijing's chosen slogan for its Games. "One world, one dream."

We are all in this together, is the general idea. More alike than we know.

And here, suddenly, is bloody proof.

A story with such malice might be rare in China, but it is nothing new on the other side of the world. In the USA, the story of a senseless fatal attack followed by a suicide leap would hardly qualify as news.

On Saturday, then, China looked an awful lot like us. This is probably not the one world the Olympic hosts had in mind.

They must be mortified by the act. No expense has been spared in energy or cash to put on this gala. China has tried to woo the world with its contented masses, and now one sick soul has made his own headlines.

By Saturday evening, there was sand spread on the pavement near the scene, presumably where the killer leapt to his death. An 800-year-old tower had become part of the Beijing Games, and also part of America's view of them.

The Olympics go on, though. The USA meets Venezuela Sunday, with an unexpected dose of poignancy.

Meantime, the Chinese police have a case to crack. Garden variety street crime, or terrorist attack? It'd certainly be good to know. Meanwhile, this raises serious questions regarding the safety of both athletes and tourists, be they American, Australian, French, Japanese, etc.


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