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Photographer recalls Atlanta Olympic bombing

8:24 PM, Feb 23, 2014   |    comments
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SOCHI, Russia -- It was one of Atlanta's darkest days. A bombing shook Centennial Olympic Park during the summer games in 1996: a moment so many of us will never forget.

While we've seen the images for more than a decade now, one man saw things differently. He saw the bomb before it blew. And cameras were rolling.

11Alive's Jaye Watson met up with Ron Leidelmeyer in Sochi, Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics. It turned out that he sat across the room from 11Alive's crew in the NBC work space. Like them, he is on deadline with Olympic stories. Unlike them, he became the story 17 years ago on July 27 in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

Working the Atlanta Olympics as technical manager for NBC stations across the country, Ron's choice of where to sit that night would change his life.

"I was sitting on the second bench and right underneath the third bench was the bomb," Leidelmeyer said.

Eric Rudolph's backpack bomb was next to Ron's feet. Police came to check it out.

"They had opened it up with their flashlights and I was standing over watching it and saw wires and stuff," Leidelmeyer said.

He moved his team's equipment away -- not far enough.

"I just grabbed the cart and turned it around like that when it went off," Leidelmeyer said.

Seconds after the blast, Ron's partner started shooting video using his camera to search for him, finding him face down on the ground, clutching his head.

After all these years, the scene is still a gut punch. Police and Olympic-goers injured -- in shock and stunned.

"I had shrapnel in my back and right under the base of my skull," Leidelmeyer said. "They took me to the hospital and took the shrapnel out. The FBI was standing there... took my clothes because it had chemical signature on it, I'm sure."

Leidelmeyer, a veteran journalist, was thrust into the spotlight on the other side of the camera.

"I had 30-40 cameras waiting for me every time I went to work," he said.

He knew Richard Jewell, the security guard falsely implicated in the bombing.

"I worked with Richard Jewell everyday," Leidelmeyer said.

Jewell is even in the video for a split second.

Leidelmeyer says he had no concerns about security in Sochi -- he can't live with fear of what may happen.

"It me realize that when your time is up, your time is up and there's nothing can do about it," he said.

A basic tenet of journalism is we are not the story, but there is no handbook for what to do when we're not given a choice. Ron did make a choice after the bombing. He chose to keep living his life, chose to keep doing what he loved.

"I came to terms with it a long time ago, but it's something that's a part of me," he said.

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