Twenty years ago, Atlanta leaped to the center of the international sports world for a few hot summer weeks as the 1996 Olympic Games came to town. The Olympics remade the city and attracted thousands of athletes and sports fans. The Atlanta Games touched folks in Reporter Newspapers communities, too, as residents greeted the Olympic torch, imagined huge paydays for renting their homes to foreign fans or watched bicyclists race through Buckhead or marathon runners reach the gates of Oglethorpe University. We asked readers to send us their recollections of metro Atlanta’s moment in the spotlight. Here are some of their memories of our own Olympic moments.
“I remember attending several Olympic events, newly pregnant with my first child. I couldn’t believe how clear and crisp the air felt, as well as how wonderful the traffic was – so uncharacteristic of Atlanta. As we headed into the arena to see the gymnastics, we passed numerous performing groups. One I remember being from one of the South American countries. They just played with a joyous energy. The pan flute and other indigenous instruments gave it an otherworldly sound.
“In 1996, I was living in Sexton Woods in Brookhaven. I decided to list my home for rent during the Olympics. I hired a real estate agent and within a few days received an offer to rent my modest home for two weeks for $9,000. Although that was huge money, enough money to make several mortgage payments at the time, my Realtor suggested that it was the first offer and I should hold out for a better one. She suggested I should get at least $15,000! Nervous but trusting, I declined the offer. It was the last offer I ever received to rent my house. In retrospect, it seems absurd, but that was how much excitement and optimism there was at the time!
Karen Meinzen McEnerny
Random thoughts and remembrances:
1) The hot, hot heat and humidity, made bearable by the many vendors at each turn along the pedestrian walkways selling Coca Cola and vendors selling products that ranged from the absurd (crazy hats) to the useful (Olympic photo books);
2) How we believed the projections by MARTA for the need to ride the trains and stay out of our cars. There were masses of happy, joyful ticket holders and never a thought of not being safe. Then, after three or four days, we realized that there was ready accessibility of parking downtown in lots and parking decks so we stopped using MARTA and went back to driving our cars;
3) The local neighborhood parties we held, especially the streetside one at Mystic Place and Roswell Road, with our coolers nearby, frantically waving our American flags, as our neighbor Dr. Bob Cunningham ran by with the Olympic torch.
4) My neighbor across the street was Irish and invited her grandniece and nephew from Dublin to visit. There was lots of friendly international rivalry.
“The standouts for me were the kayak slalom and dive events. What made those so memorable were the venues; they were glorious.
The kayak competition was held on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. It was fast-paced and fun. We sat on bleachers that seemed to rise up out of the rocks on the river bank. The scenery was green and lush, and the whitewater gleamed, but we baked on those rocks! The venue designers planned for the sweltering heat, though, and outfitted a type of sprinkler-shower system behind the bleachers. Whenever we just couldn’t take it anymore, we stepped beneath the bleachers and got doused. It was wonderful.
The dive event was in the aquatic center on the Georgia Tech campus and was in a somewhat open-sided building which allowed for terrific views of the Atlanta skyline.
“Although some had predicted traffic gridlock, I was glad it never materialized. I drove downtown to see Bob Dylan perform at the (newly opened) Tabernacle and on-street parking was ample. I found myself walking toward to venue, when I saw the rear stage door open. To my great surprise a fellow Oglethorpe alumni emerged. We exchanged greetings. The evening was made perfect when I was allowed VIP gratis seating, on top of no traffic, and free parking.”
“We were fortunate to have bought, traded or just gotten tickets to a Olympic event very day. How much fun it was taking MARTA with friends and our kids and just wondering around downtown and watching the world come to our city.
We sat in the rain with Zep plastic garbage bags over our heads, as did most of the stadium on the first day of track and field. We were amazed at the speed of the game we call ping pong, but for the incredible players from Asia it was not the sport we recognized.
Of course the highlight was watching the Magnificent Seven, the women’s U.S. Gymnastics team with the stunning performance by the injured Kerri Strug sticking the landing at the end of her routine.
Atlanta did great and we were so proud.
“Our biggest role was our selection as the turnaround point for the Olympic marathon (just outside our gates on Peachtree Road). The broadcast trucks were all over. In fact, for several years the red line followed by the participating athletes was still visible on the road. For the viewing party, we invited all the neighbors, alumni, etc., to watch the marathon. Lots of fun. I would guess we had 250 or more people here early in the morning to watch.
“As an Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games board member, I was in position to represent our community’s best interests: keeping the operations of street vendors and
entertainers safe and orderly; negotiating direct civic benefits (such as $10,000 to improve Atlanta International School auditorium acoustics); protecting property surrounding the St. Philip Cathedral cycling grandstands; coordinating approved marathon neighborhood street utilization, and arranging for the very valuable Buckhead official Olympic pin.
Preceding this I had the thrill of carrying the Olympic Torch through the heart of Buckhead, followed by the Paralympic torch run.
All of such activities have a direct positive affect on internationally branding this peculiar name of Buckhead. As a side benefit, I’m glad I was able to convince the firm in charge of the “You Are Here” kiosk at the Hartsfield Airport that there were no hotels, nightlife or cycling in the 200-population city of Buckhead, Ga.
Capt. Steve Rose
Sandy Springs Police
“I was assigned to the security of the then-chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. I had all-access law-enforcement credentials, which was really fun. We tagged along the president’s motorcade from one event to another and got some front-seat views of great Olympic events.
On one afternoon, I was at a residence on Riverview Road, working security. The wife at this residence was Lithuanian and they were hosting several athletes from Lithuania. Also in attendance was the Lithuanian president. One of our lieutenants at the time, Ed Kvietkus, was himself Lithuanian. Kvietkus was one of the most beloved officers with the department. He always had a cigar, sometimes lit, and with that accent, always called you “Lad.”
I called the precinct captain and asked if “Lieutenant Ed” was working, which he was. I told him what was going on and I thought it would be a memorable event for him to meet the Olympians and the president. A half-hour later, the captain and Lieutenant Ed drove up. I introduced them to the host and I then returned outside. Turns out that Lt. Kvietkus became the celebrity of the event. The Olympic team members crowded around him, marveled at his uniform, and all had their photos made with him—as did the president. It was like he was a long-lost brother found.