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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’

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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