Home Muhammad where every fuzzy feeling about the ’96 games there was a showdown

where every fuzzy feeling about the ’96 games there was a showdown

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The story of Atlanta that stole the Games from favorites like Toronto and Athens has become a familiar one, that of a former middle-aged UGA football star Billy Payne dreaming of a crazy idea and in 1987 winner maybe the only man who could help him get there. It was then Mayor Andrew Young, who had a worldwide reputation as a former UN ambassador and moral authority as a preacher and hero of the civil rights movement.

To exploreLearn more about the 25th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics
Legend

A quarter of a century later, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin still wears a life-size costume of Izzy, the 1996 Olympics mascot. (Courtesy of Shirley Franklin)

Credit: Courtesy of Shirley Franklin

Credit: Courtesy of Shirley Franklin

Franklin said Young was immediately addicted to the idea and told Franklin, then his main collaborator, that he was teaming up with Payne and that they were launching a winning bid for the city.

“I asked Andy, ‘What are you going to do with all the political engagements you’ve already planned? », She remembers. “He said, ‘You do them. You can find them out. “

Franklin thus became the ghost mayor.

Atlanta was built on hard work, hot air, logistics, and swagger – and winning the Games fell right into that blueprint.

For example, Payne dispelled his doubts about the city’s brutally hot and humid summers, convincing the International Olympic Committee that the average summer temperature was 75 degrees. Payne later admitted, with a smile, “I didn’t say what time of day.”

AJC columnist Bill Torpy was one of several reporters covering the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  It was his badge for the event.
Legend

AJC columnist Bill Torpy was one of several reporters covering the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It was his badge for the event.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In September 1990, the city was awarded the Games, and then the real work had to be done, sparking six years of site litigation, design debates, construction bids, schedule delays, cost issues and creeping sweat, all with a rigid ending on: July 19, 1996. It was the opening ceremony of the new 85,000-seat Olympic stadium, designed to be redeveloped into the Braves’ new playground. , then abandoned.

There has been a lot of discussion recently that Major League Baseball pulled the Atlanta All-Star game (actually from the Braves’ new stadium in Cobb County) because the state legislature changed the voting laws in effect. reaction to President Donald Trump getting beaten in Georgia. MLB just didn’t want the hassle surrounding their game and the nasty political fight. Some grab their pearls and say, “Politics in sports, oh my god”.

But politics has always been linked to sport.

In 1993, then-Conservative and Republican Cobb County commissioners passed a resolution condemning the “gay way of life,” saying it was incompatible with community standards. It sparked a year of protests, rhetoric and argument. Franklin tried to forge a compromise. None were found, so ACOG removed the county’s preliminary volleyball site.

“It took a lot of our time, so we moved it,” said Dick Yarbrough, a former BellSouth executive who was ACOG’s chief communications officer. The Games “have become a megaphone for all special interest groups. This stuff makes the (International Olympic Committee) really nervous. We had to do something.

ACOG caught hell from the Christian right, Yarbrough said, adding, “But they weren’t Christians and they weren’t right.”

As the 1996 Olympics approached, Dick Yarbrough, an Olympic official from Atlanta, was able to carry the torch near Atlanta.  (Courtesy of Dick Yarbrough)
Legend

As the 1996 Olympics approached, Dick Yarbrough, an Olympic official from Atlanta, was able to carry the torch near Atlanta. (Courtesy of Dick Yarbrough)

Credit: Courtesy of Dick Yarbrough

Credit: Courtesy of Dick Yarbrough

Another dispute that raged ahead of the Games was the issue of the Georgia State Flag, which then contained the Confederate Battle Flag. ACOG wanted nothing to do with it, and many Georgia residents and some lawmakers were offended by such reluctance.

“State flaggers were probably some of the most objectionable people I have had to deal with,” said Yarbrough, who was often the man caught up in the daily controversy. The flag was eventually pushed aside.

Yarbrough also had strong opinions about the stingy manners of the city of Atlanta.

In a meeting, Yarbrough said a city official slammed his fist on a table, saying, “What’s the point of hosting the Atlanta Olympics if you can’t make the money?

National humor columnist Dave Barry summed it up by saying, “Downtown Atlanta has basically the same level of dignity, sophistication and grandeur as a Veg-O-Matic commercial. Looks like a giant vacuum cleaner sucked up all the t-shirt, hat, souvenir and corn dog stalls at every county fair in America and then randomly threw them up in the streets.

But despite the bombing, Georgians generally loved it. In fact, over 50,000 people, mostly locals, have volunteered for this effort. One of those volunteers, Brian Luders, an accountant then living in Duluth, worked for the cause and was recognized for roles in both the opening and closing ceremonies.

During the opening ceremony, Luders was the goalkeeper for the Iraqi team, which consisted of a weightlifter who later defected. In this, politics has infiltrated.

“All countries were alphabetical,” he said, “except I’s and J’s – Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan. They separated them because of the tensions.

Brian Luders (second from left), Olympic volunteer, with the small Iraqi delegation to the 1996 Games. Weightlifter Raed Ahmed (left) then defected.  (Courtesy of Brian Luders)
Legend

Brian Luders (second from left), Olympic volunteer, with the small Iraqi delegation to the 1996 Games. Weightlifter Raed Ahmed (left) then defected. (Courtesy of Brian Luders)

Credit: Courtesy of Brian Luders

Credit: Courtesy of Brian Luders

Even something as universally beloved as Ali lighting the torch was controversial. Former NBC executive Dick Ebersol lobbied for Ali, according to published reports, but Payne feared that many Southerners still saw him as a dodger. However, Payne gave in to his doubts.

How was Ali born? One person told me that Ali’s people reached out to Atlanta businessman Mack Wilbourn and suggested the former champion to him, believing it would give then-Parkinson’s Ali a some focus and a goal.

Wilbourn told me it was his idea, having met Ali at a party at his house. He said he suggested that Young write him a letter. Wilbourn said he hadn’t heard anything else about it until Ali came out of the stadium tunnel.

Young says he doesn’t remember the streak of how it happened. “I was in such a fog at the time,” he said.

Ali arrived in town the day before the opening ceremony and wanted to go out for a haircut and eat at Rahim’s Seafood in southwest Atlanta.

Young tried to persuade him otherwise, as Ali lighting the torch was almost a state secret. Eventually, Young gave in and led Ali on his tours, hoping the news of perhaps the world‘s most famous man would not be disclosed.

Somehow, in this pre-iPhone and pre-social world, that wasn’t the case.

And Atlanta may have created a surprise for the ages.


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