Maccabiah athletes shaken, but vow to remain
Athletes participating in the Maccabiah Games were shocked yesterday to find themselves so close to the scene of the suicide bomb attack in Netanya that left three people dead and dozens injured.
"We heard an explosion close by," said Tzanai Badayev of Azerbaijan last night. "We didn't see what happened, but we saw people running and we realized it was an attack. It was frightening."
Badayev is staying at the Orly Hotel, one of seven in Netanya housing teams. The update on the bulletin board at the Maccabiah Village was that "there is no information regarding attack victims among participants." The hotels in Netanya counted their guests. The main concern was at the Orly, close to the attack site.
As news of the attack spread, the management of each of the large delegations also performed their carefully planned drills to track down their members in an emergency situation.
With all squad managers - and several athletes - equipped with cell phones, the task was conducted speedily and efficiently. By mid-evening, a Maccabiah official had announced that all 7,000 athletes competing in the games had been located and were safe.
"We had everyone accounted for very quickly except for two squash players who had gone out for dinner in etanya," said Janet Levin, one of the American delegation's accommodation managers, who is based at the King Solomon Hotel in Netanya, where the American swimmers and beach volleyball players are staying.
"But within another 10 minutes, they'd checked back in. The athletes will be calling or e-mailing home to tell everyone they are okay."
Most delegation heads reported a sober response from their athletes, many of whom were competing in or watching events when the bomb exploded just after 6:30 P.M.
"We're accounted for and we're staying," said Allen Gerskup, head of the 390-strong Canadian delegation, just a couple of hours after the blast.
"Not one person on the delegation said, `I want to go. I'm afraid.' Sure everybody is thinking about it, but they're also getting on with it - playing sports and eating dinner."
"Obviously, there's an initial reaction of `Jeez,' but we're not in shock or meltdown," said Phil Filler, head of the 530-member Australian delegation. "When you come to Israel, you know the situation. We're fortunate that none of the athletes has been affected, but we are saddened that the situation continues to go on like this in Israel."
Last night the Maccabiah's security officials were still reviewing whether restrictions would be placed on the movement of participants following the bombing. "We might add some extra precautions, but we want things to stay as normal as possible," said Gerskup.
Meanwhile, the Netanya municipality, proud of its unofficial title of "the Maccabiah's Olympic village," had planned an evening to honor its athletic guests last night. Mayor Miriam Feierberg announced on the radio that the parade had been canceled following the attack, but that the rest of the event would go ahead as planned.
But at 9 P.M., when the event was scheduled to begin, only a few hundred people were near the stage where folk-dance groups were performing, and the emcee was talking about the need to go on.