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Athlete describes bomb attack at World Outgames

'There was blood flowing from the baton,' Seattle runner says after being injured by one of three bombs tossed during track and field at the World Outgames in Copenhagen.

By Jim Buzinski
Outsports.com

COPENHAGEN -- Dean Koga got the best revenge against a bomb-wielding attacker determined to wreak havoc at the World Outgames track and field competition at Østerbro Stadium - He was on the track and competing the next day.

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Dean Koga gets a kiss from Italian runner Giampiero Mancinelli a day after being injured by a bomb. Photos by Jim Buzinski
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Koga catches his breath after running the 200 meters.
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The bomb left its mark on the track.
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Koga with some of his Seattle Frontrunners teammates.
Less than a day after spending four hours having shrapnel surgically removed from his right hand following a bomb attack, Koga took his place Wednesday on the blue-colored lanes under partly cloudy skies, his right hand bandaged, shook off the memories of what had happened and won a gold medal in his age group in the men's 200 meters.

"I was running on adrenaline," Koga, 58, said of his race as he was trying to catch his breathe following his sprint down the stretch and after hugging his fellow racers.

Koga, gay and a member of the Seattle Frontrunners, considers himself lucky that his injury is expected to heal and that no one else was injured. In interviews with Koga and a dozen other eyewitnesses, the feeling is that it was just luck that there was only one injury from what were three bombs tossed onto the track in a roughly half-hour stretch. One landed just feet from a baby carriage that only moments before had contained a sleeping infant.

Danish police arrested a 31-year-old man caught after tossing the third bomb and charged him with a hate crime, according to Danish media. The suspect was carrying a backpack containing another half-dozen or so bombs, Koga said he was told by the police. The devices that exploded on the track were described as being powerful, about 9 inches in length, with a blue plastic covering and a fuse that was burning after it landed.

Here is a chronology of what happened on Tuesday, according to eyewitnesses:

The 55-59 age group was in the starting area in the men's 4x200-meter relay about 2 p.m. when a loud explosion was heard. Rob Lyons, a member of the New York Frontrunners, was taking photos and standing just feet from the blast, and said that the race starter looked at his gun, thinking it had misfired. "My ears were totally ringing," Lyons said.

After a brief delay and with everyone assuming the first blast was some one-off prank, the race was set to resume. That's when a second bomb was tossed.

"It lit up the whole area" near the relay start, said Stephen Stuehling, a member of the Seattle Frontrunners, who was on the other side of the track warming up for his relay when the second bomb hit.

"The [bomb] container hit the ground and everyone yelled to run," said Koga, who was in his running lane and then headed for the infield area. "That's when I felt the impact" from the shrapnel that ricocheted off the ground and into the top part of his right hand.

"I felt a sting and there was blood flowing down from the [relay] baton I was holding."

Koga at first tried to hide the injury, thinking it was minor. He said he did not want his relay team to have to forfeit.

"I wondered if anyone would notice that there was blood if I ran," he said. "I was concerned for the relay team and was trying to hide the injury, but it was too apparent."

On-site volunteer medical personnel then attended to Koga's injury as police were called, but eyewitness said they took as long as 30 minutes to arrive. ("No police, it was unbelievable," Lyons said.) Athletes and spectators were shocked and scared, and no one said they felt safe. I was told about one Italian runner who was repeatedly screaming, "Where's the police? Why are they letting them do this to us?"

By the time police came, the suspect was still at large. While they were at the scene taking notes, a third bomb was tossed and rolled underneath the van of a film crew. Police then chased and captured the suspect. He threw the first two bombs from about 100 feet from an area of scaffolding at the adjoining St. Jakobs church that is undergoing construction. The third bomb, witnesses said, was tossed from a closer distance over a 10-foot high wall near the track.

"It was annoying that it happened a second time," said one athlete, a retired New York City police officer, who did not want to be identified as being critical of other police officers. While praising the response of the onsite Outgames volunteers, he said that Copenhagen police failed to adequately secure the area after first arriving.

The onsite medical personnel determined that Koga needed to be hospitalized, and he was taken by ambulance with his partner, Curt Johnson, sitting beside him. Koga said that it took four different doctors to remove "the big chunk of plastic that lodged [in my hand.] It was clear plastic with a dark coating." He was in the hospital for about four hours, required four stitches and sent home and told to take penicillin to prevent an infection.

"I feel very fortunate that it wasn't an injury to the face or eye or that anyone else was injured," Koga said. "It could have been a lot worse."

"As [Koga] was leaving the stadium, he was yelling, ‘I'll be back tomorrow, guys,'" Stuehling said.

The day after the attack, things were returning to normal at the stadium, but there were still people jumping the first few times the starter's gun went off. Koga, very unassuming, sat in the stands with fellow runners and Seattle Frontrunners teammates, a bit embarrassed to be receiving any attention. Everyone I spoke with said it was clear that the bomber's attack was an anti-gay act.

"I was scared and shocked. It was just disheartening to see that," Stuehling said. "Because of how open Denmark is, I felt pretty darn safe and this kind of corrupts that feeling."

But neither Stuehling nor any of the other athletes thought for a moment to cancel the competition. "People were undeterred," Koga said. They had races to run and field events to perform and Koga was gearing up for the 800 meters. He has raced at five Gay Games and two Outgames and was not about to quit.

"It's a wonderful event," he said. "It's too bad, but this is an isolated incident."

Update: There seems to be some confusion over my using "bombs." They were bombs by a dictionary definition. But to be more precise, Danish media reported that the devices were powerful 9-inch fireworks called "salutes," which are designed to create a very loud sound while exploding. Danish police agreed that these devices had the potential to cause serious injury. They are illegal in the U.S.