EDITOR’S NOTE: Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, previously was the president and CEO of the Organizing Committee for the Salt Lake Winter Games. He has authored the new book Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games. This is the second in a five-part series of excerpts to coincide with the Summer Games; the first appeared here. The excerpts comprise Chapter 15 of Turnaround.
With deaths being counted and mourning only beginning as the survivors were notified, I did not feel I should make a statement about the implications of the tragedy on the Olympics. Those considerations paled in comparison with the impact on families. A call came from Caroline Shaw, our communications chief, asking me for a statement. I said to wait at least a day. My position was that we had no comment with regards to the Olympics while the appalling tragedy was so fresh. The time would come when we would need to reassure the public of our security preparations and to beef up our current plans. But while the smoke was still pouring into the streets, it wasn’t the time.
Within a few hours Alan Abrahamson from the Los Angeles Times called me on my cell phone. Alan asked me how the outlook for the Games had changed. I repeated to him my surprise that anybody wanted to hear from the Olympic organizing committee on that day, but he begged to differ. He remarked that in a time of national duress, the Olympics and its message of international cooperation and peaceful humanitarianism would be a part of the story, part of the healing. He predicted that before the day was over, I would end up changing my mind. I told him I would contact him if I did.
He was right. By the end of the day, I kept to a basic message, limiting elaborations:
Tears and prayers flood our hearts. But not fear. As a testament to the courage of he human spirit, and as a world symbol of peace, the Olympics is needed even more today than yesterday.
Of course, the conduct of public safety can never be the same. I look to the federal government to revisit public safety plans for these Games. We will remain fully engaged in that effort and will make it our highest priority.
I spent the night at the Marriott Courtyard in Alexandria. I watched the news coverage through the early hours of the morning and, like most Americans, tossed about with dreams of disaster.
The next morning, with TV reports of Germans singing our national anthem at the Brandenburg Gate and French papers exclaiming “Nous sommes tous Americains (We are all Americans),” my emotions broke. It is always the best in humanity that strikes me most deeply. Later, the stack of faxes and e-mails from Olympic committees around the world that appeared on my desk included Iran, Russia, China, and others. As countries that have been our competitors, even enemies, rallied to support us, I again choked with appreciation.
That morning I crafted an e-mail to all of our employees. Here’s part of what I wrote:
Like you, I have been overwhelmed with emotion. The horrific reality of the attack on civilization and the incomprehensible scale of human suffering have led each of us to our own form of prayer and mourning. Everything which is part of our everyday we rethink in terms of new priorities. Where does the Olympics fit?
In my view, the work we are doing is more important today than ever. The Olympics is a sporting event and much more: it is a world symbol of peace, of the bond of humanity, and of the triumph of civilization over barbarism. The celebration we are planning is less of a party and more of an affirmation…
Today would be even harder for me if I were out trying to make a few bucks. I am honored that I can join you in work that means so much to our nation and to the world. In the annals of Olympism and the history of Utah, this may stand as one of the defining hours. I am confident that we will perform with honor.
Days later, when I finally managed to arrive back in Salt Lake, we assembled the entire team outside our headquarters building on the Gallivan Plaza. We said a prayer. We sung the national anthem and God Bless America.