The time was right for SI to pay tribute to the man who had
become known as the biggest Olympic hero of them all. It was
three days after a bomb had ripped a hole into the heart of the
Olympics, and a group of dignitaries joined hands onstage and
officially rededicated Centennial Park. He stood among the
buttoned-down Olympic bureaucrats and grandstanding celebrities
and seemed to write the story for us: true hero welcomes back
the people he saved.
After the brief ceremony I approached the stage and asked a
security guard named Greg if I could talk to Richard Jewell for
a few minutes.
"Yo, Rich," Greg said into the microphone attached to his
headset. "A guy from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is out here. He wants to
do a story on the hero. You're big time now, buddy."
He had been big time since the explosion, appearing live on
numerous TV programs and sitting down with Katie Couric on the
Today Show minutes after the park's reopening. His courage had
overshadowed all the athletic achievements of the first week of
the Games. Two people died as a result of the explosion, but on
the morning the park reopened, another guard insisted that
Jewell's actions "saved at least 150 to 200 lives."
Greg sent me to a gate along Techwood Drive and said Jewell
would meet me there in two minutes. I waited five minutes, then
10, and finally a beefy, blond-haired guard strolled toward me.
He was escorting an entourage led by Jesse Jackson out of the
park, and I reached out and introduced myself to Richard.
"Ah ... I think you've got the wrong Richard," he finally said.
"I'm Richard Del Pozo. You want Richard Jewell."
The wrong Richard sent me back to the rear of the Global
Village, where I asked a guard named Chris to run inside and get
Jewell. Chris returned five minutes later and nervously
explained that Jewell had just gone home. Chris said Jewell was
tired and needed sleep before returning to work that night, but
he gave me Jewell's phone number and said Jewell wanted to talk.
I returned to my hotel room at noon and called Jewell at his
mother's house, but I got an answering machine. I called again
at two o'clock and again at four, and couldn't understand why
this supposedly publicity-hungry hero was avoiding me. Finally,
just before five o'clock, an editor called and asked if Jewell
had gotten back to me.
"Actually, he hasn't," I said. "I don't get it. I thought this
guy wanted to be famous."
"He's famous all right, but he's probably not going to call you
back today," said the editor. "Maybe you should turn on CNN."
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [Richard Jewell]