Do you remember where you were in 1990 when you found out that Atlanta had won the right to host the 1996 Olympic Games? I do. It was a great day for any Atlantan or native Georgian. I still get lumps in my throat any time I see that magical moment replayed. It was a chance to host the world in the greatest example of peace and cooperation among nations going today. Former University of Georgia football player, Billy Payne, took on the biggest of civic undertakings. He told the people of Georgia that he needed their help to win the games and put them on if given a chance. The people of Georgia responded.
Today, the Olympic Museum opened in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of those games. The museum is well worth seeing. Walking through the exhibits, you're bound to remember memories both good and bad. Some of them you have forgotten, but they still put a smile on your face. Of course, Billy Payne was there to celebrate. And people like NBC's Olympic host, Bob Costas, Olympic swimming champion Janet Evans, and perhaps the greatest summer Olympian of all time, Carl Lewis, were all there to help Atlanta open the museum and celebrate in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.
After an early dinner at Mary Mac's Tea Room (one of my favorites), we headed down to the park. So had a few thousand others. Atlanta's superstar mayor, Shirley Franklin, spoke to us as did a host of Olympic officials. No, Juan Antonio Sammaranch wasn't there. Has he ever been brave enough to "darken the streets of Atlanta" again, as the AJC once mocked him?
Because of Sammaranch, IOC member Dick Pound, Pound's exceptionally rude, jaywalking wife, and criticism from some members of the press who seemed upset that they couldn't blow their expense accounts in a more exotic place, the aftermath of the Olympics left a bad taste in my mouth. I was so cynical about it that I didn't even watch the Salt Lake, Nagano, nor the Sydney games that followed, a first in my lifetime. But I have since been reminded of the importance of the spirit of the Olympic Games and truly enjoy watching them again. I can only speak for myself. But tonight's emotional celebration showed me that people do remember the Atlanta games as a positive experience, if not a perfect one.
In her speech, Janet Evans summed the Atlanta games up perfectly. Because Atlanta was the biggest Olympics ever held, because for the first time in history every nation in the world participated, and because Atlanta still holds the record for most volunteers, most tickets sold, and most events played, Atlanta 1996 is known for "participation." She went on to say that even though it's the only Olympics that she didn't win a gold medal, the Atlanta games were her favorite.
Carl Lewis went on to add that he'll always have a special feeling for Atlanta. Because when he went out for his final run as an Olympian, he didn't feel the pressure to win. The crowd had given him an ovation as if he had already won. And all of the sudden it didn't matter to him if he won or lost. Atlanta had made him feel like a champion already.
Overall, Atlanta and the state of Georgia did such a good job. And when I speak to people from other places that came here for those games, by and large, they all talk about the wonderful performances and the great southern hospitality they received. So while some of us might have felt slighted by the Sammaranches of the world, others just didn't care. They took home with them great memories. So why shouldn't we remember the good stuff too?
**NOTE: Guess who I saw between the Dippin Dots and Papa John's stands? None other than Mark Taylor. I had been helping to locate a brick and not paying attention when I almost literally walked into him with my "Cathy Cox" button on. I ignored him just as he ignored me. And no, I didn't see him getting any pizza or ice cream. But I did. Those dippin dots sure do hit the spot!