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’

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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