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Usain Bolt spurred JFK airport panic, cops made it worse, review finds

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NEW YORK (AP) — Poor communication among police, private security and other personnel contributed to a mass panic that erupted at a New York City airport when loud cheers for Usain Bolt somehow led to a false report of gunshots, according to a review by a team of top security officials.

Passengers at Kennedy Airport ran for the exits on Aug. 14 after cheering at a terminal bar during the Olympics was mistaken for something sinister. Panic spread to two other terminals when news of a gunman spread on social media, and police responded by drawing their weapons.

A letter from the officials to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, made public on Monday, blamed both airport employees and law enforcement for fueling the hysteria by overreacting to several mistaken reports of gunshots, instead of seeking to calm travelers.

Among the more glaring missteps: At the height of the chaos, the flight crew of a Korean Air jetliner deployed evacuation chutes, “producing a ‘popping’ sound that may have been mistaken for gunfire.” The officials also said that in the end, the airport had no efficient way to let travelers know the threat wasn’t real.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, “the specter of terrorism has embedded itself in the national psyche and created a persistent, abiding tension that cannot be ignored,” the letter concluded. “Coordination and training … is absolutely fundamental to properly address this new paradigm.”

Cuomo ordered the review after the episode raised questions about the ability of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport, to respond to an actual terror attack.

“The events at JFK were a wake-up call to rethink and reevaluate our security procedures to reflect the new, changing reality of 21st century threats and to better ensure the safety of all New Yorkers,” the governor said in a statement Monday.

A review of security video and recordings of 911 calls found that the chain-reaction scare began with a call about a disturbance at a cafe, where travelers were watching TVs showing Bolt sprint to a gold medal victory in the Olympics. Several calls that followed reported shots fired in the same terminal, the letter said.

After spotting Port Authority police officers pull their weapons and move toward the commotion, Transportation Security Administration agents began heading for the emergency exits, it said. Passengers followed their lead, with some even fleeing onto the tarmac.

“Seeing TSA agents running away and PAPD with guns drawn created obvious fear and panic,” it said. As the result of the self-evacuation, “secure areas were compromised, which left the terminals, tarmac and airplanes vulnerable to a possible terrorist attack or other illegal conduct,” it added.

Over the next 90 minutes, a total of 275 officers — 88 from the Port Authority and 187 from the New York Police Department — responded to the calls before authorities determined there was no evidence of a shooter, the review concluded.

Among the recommendations by the security officials is setting up a central command center at JFK manned by the representatives from each security entity. The center “should have access to closed-circuit television feeds and the ability to make announcements to a terminal or the entire airport from a central location,” the letter said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called on authorities to make the command center a priority, saying he remains “deeply troubled that many loopholes remain at JFK, especially with camera security.”

Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said the agency is “committed to providing coordinated training and drills recognizing the needs and strengths of all agencies, and to make internal and external communications seamless.”

VIDEO: Watch clip from Usain Bolt’s film, ‘I am Bolt’

Nick Goepper opens Olympic qualifying on podium; contenders crash out

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — U.S. Olympic men’s ski slopestyle qualifying is underway with Sochi bronze medalist Nick Goepper delivering the first blow.

Goepper finished second at Dew Tour Breckenridge, taking the early edge in Olympic qualifying.

With a victory at any of the remaining selection events, Goepper would be looking good for one of up to four spots on the team for PyeongChang.

“I was really hoping to ski my best today, and I think I skied 98 percent,” Goepper said. “The Olympic selection podium is a bonus and eases the pressure a little bit for the next couple, but the pressure wasn’t really there. I’m just thinking of these as individual events [instead of Olympic qualifiers].”

Alex Hall (fifth place) and Sochi silver medalist Gus Kenworthy (sixth place) also got their Olympic qualifying attempts off to a decent start, but in order to be automatically nominated to the Olympic team, skiers need a minimum of two top-three finishes among five selection events.

Goepper was the only U.S. skier able to crack the podium in Breckenridge.

Sweden’s Henrik Harlaut (first place) and Norway’s Oystein Braaten (third place) played the role of spoiler for the rest of the U.S. team. Harlaut and Braaten are both considered medal contenders for PyeongChang.

Crashes took their toll on several U.S. Olympic hopefuls.

McRae Williams, the reigning world champion, was forced to drop out after crashing on his first run. Colby Stevenson and 2014 Olympian Bobby Brown also did not finish the contest after taking spills of their own.

The contest also missed the reigning Olympic gold medalist. Joss Christensen sat out the event as he rehabs from a torn ACL but plans to return in January for the final four selection events.

On the women’s side, Maggie Voisin remains on track for a nomination to the U.S. Olympic team.

She finished fourth, best among Americans, in the Olympic qualifier at Breckenridge on the strength of a run that featured three 900s.

Voisin won the first qualifier for women’s slopestyle, which was held last season.

She still needs one more top-three finish at any of the three remaining selection events to be eligible for an automatic nomination, but she has consistently been the top performer among the U.S. women.

With two-time X Games gold medalist Kelly Sildaru sidelined with a knee injury this season, the field looks wide open for PyeongChang.

Voisin, then 15, was slated to make her Olympic debut in Sochi as the youngest American in any sport but was injured just days before the competition.

As long as she stays healthy, she will be a medal contender in PyeongChang, as will Norway’s Johanne Killi and France’s Tess Ledeux.

Killi narrowly edged out Ledeux, who recently turned 16, for the victory in Breckenridge. Sarah Hoefflin of Switzerland rounded out the podium.

Four U.S. selection events remain for the men, and three events remain for the women. Olympic qualifying resumes in January with a series of contests in Aspen, Colo., and Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Ski Slopestyle 
(women through two of five events; men through one of five)
1. Maggie Voisin — 150*
2. Devin Logan — 82
3. Darian Stevens — 81
4. Taylor Lundquist — 52
5. Nadia Gonzales — 28

1. Nick Goepper — 80*
2. Alex Hall — 45
3. Gus Kenworthy — 40
4. Bobby Brown — 32
5. Cody LaPlante — 29

**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

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MORE: List of athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

Maame Biney, J.R. Celski join U.S. Olympic short track team

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Maame Biney will become the second African-born athlete to compete for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics and the first black woman on a speed skating team.

J.R. Celski, a three-time medalist, is going to a third Winter Games.

Biney, Celski and Aaron Tran qualified in short track at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, after the 500m on Saturday.

The team is now at five skaters — John-Henry Krueger and Lana Gehring qualified on the first night Friday.

Three more skaters will qualify Sunday after 1000m races — two men and one woman.

One of Katherine Reutter-Adamek and Jessica Kooreman, the top U.S. women at the last two Olympics, is guaranteed to miss the PyeongChang team.

Neither could keep up with the 17-year-old Biney, who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5, on Saturday.

Biney swept the 500m finals, taking leads from the start and holding off more experienced women. She actually fell — while celebrating after crossing the finish line in the last race.

Afterward, NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce told Biney that eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno believes Biney doesn’t know how good she is.

“People have been telling me that forever, and I think right now I’m kind of seeing it, but I feel like I have a long ways to go, but thanks Apolo,” said Biney, who won a junior world championships bronze medal last season.

Celski did not win the men’s 500m, where he is the world-record holder. Krueger did, with Tran in second.

But the fact that Krueger finished in the top two in Friday’s 1500m and the 500m means that Celski gets on the team via his second-place finish in the 1500m.

Celski won two bronze medals at the 2010 Olympics and another relay silver in Sochi.

He took a full season off after Sochi — undergoing hip surgery — and overcame further knee and back injuries the last two years to return to the World Cup podium this season.

Celski is the only American to earn an individual World Cup medal this season (a bronze) in 24 total races.

Celski won’t be able to race the 500m in PyeongChang if Thomas Hong makes the Olympic team on Sunday.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK