1996 Summer Olympics are awarded to Atlanta

September 19, 1990|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Atlanta won a final-round showdown with Athens, Greece, yesterday to be the site for the centennial staging of the modern Olympic Games, which were born in the Greek capital in 1896.

In five rounds of elimination voting here by the International Olympic Committee, Atlanta's $7 million, three-year campaign won in what many considered the strongest field of would-be host cities ever to confront the governing body.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who unsealed an envelope to read the decision before a worldwide television audience, had scarcely finished uttering the city's name when the huge Atlanta delegation here burst into a long, loud demonstration.

Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor who spent three years pressing his city's case for the 1996 games with worldwide contacts he had made as the Carter administration's United Nations ambassador, burst into tears upon hearing the announcement.

"Atlanta now goes into another orbit," Mayor Maynard Jackson, a member of the delegation, said. "Atlanta is on a different map now."

Known to many Americans as the setting of the Old South movie "Gone with the Wind," as a center of black Americans' civil-rights movement and as the home of a high-tech downtown revival that has made it a nationally publicized success story, Atlanta will be the third U.S. city to play host to the Games. The 1904 Olympics were in St. Louis, and the 1932 and 1984 Games were in Los Angeles.

The decision spawned comments that the IOC, which found unprecedented riches in Los Angeles in 1984, had decided to go for big money, high technology and professional organization over the romance of the ancient and modern Olympics' birthplace.

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said: "The IOC was guided by the very thing it criticized during the entire campaign -- the profit it would earn from the Games in Atlanta."

The vote was 51-35 on the final ballot, in which Atlanta won over Athens, where the ancient Olympics was born in 776 B.C. and reborn in its modern form in 1896.

In the earlier voting, in which one candidate city is dropped in each round, the IOC eliminated, in order, Belgrade; Manchester, England; Melbourne, Australia; and Toronto.

The delegations had spent the voting day bolstering their bids with personal appearances here by the prime ministers of two of the countries, by film star Melina Mercouri for Athens and by an array of Olympic gold-medal winners and other athletes.

Atlanta's one-hour presentation to the IOC included a videotaped endorsement by President Bush, but Olympic officials said after the announcement that Atlanta's strengths had included the prospect of prime-time U.S. television for the centennial spectacular and Young's international diplomatic and political connections.

The Games' revenue potential, especially TV, has become a decisive consideration in the past decade. The IOC, which had serious financial problems 10 years ago, heard a report during this week's meetings that the Olympic movement stands to pull in some $1.84 billion for the four years ending in 1992, when the games will be in Barcelona, Spain.

The Georgians' unusual success on a first attempt also had received a critical boost from an IOC commission that visited all six candidate cities. The commission gave Atlanta top marks on its stadiums, planning, organization, hotels and general urban infrastructure.

Widely discounted as a long shot when it announced its candidacy 3 1/2 years ago, Atlanta organized in ways that resembled an American political campaign. The drive included visits to the city by 71 of the 86 voting IOC members, each of whom was put up at a private home rather than a hotel, a move aimed at demonstrating Southern hospitality.

"Unbelievable," William Porter Payne, founder of the Atlanta Organizing Committee, said after the announcement. "We had a great team and wonderful spirit and enthusiasm."

Athens had been considered the natural front-runner until the visiting commission reportedly found it had serious problems with air pollution, little ability to handle big increases in traffic and limited hotels and other facilities to handle the hundreds of thousands of visitors and 15,000 athletes and Olympics officials the games draw.

Some senior members of the Greek city's campaign team apparently made themselves unpopular with some IOC officials and members, a fact that was underscored at a news conference yesterday when the Athens delegation was the only one that declined to answer reporters' questions about what the IOC had wanted to know during its final presentation.

In a statement distributed here, Greece's former King Constantine said he was "deeply disappointed, along with all Greeks, that the centenary games were not awarded to Athens." He added that his country "must bow to the democratic processes of the IOC, and I congratulate the winner."

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