Trip to Athens is gone with Atlanta's win


September 19, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN


They're kidding, right? The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta?

How did this happen? What -- Jerry Glanville promised to leave somebody tickets?

This is what we in the sports biz call a major upset. Everything pointed to Athens (the one in Greece, not Georgia). Greece is where the Olympics were born. Athens is where they were reborn -- or, as they are inclined to say in Atlanta, born again -- in 1896. It figured that 100 years later, the Olympics would return home.

What happened to considerations of history, of tradition, of symmetry, of frequent-flyer mileage (if you fly 50 round trips from Baltimore to Atlanta, you earn enough miles for one trip . . . to Atlanta)?

I guess it's true. They announced it yesterday from Tokyo, where the International Olympic Committee members, all on expense account, met to decide the matter. I understand the determining factor was that Ted Turner, Atlanta's most famous resident, promised to drop the Goodwill Games, so at least some good was done.

Atlanta? Come on. Choosing between Athens and Atlanta seems a simple enough matter. Athens is called the Birthplace of Western Civilization. Atlanta is called Dogwood City. Athens gave us Plato, Aristotle, Socrates. Atlanta gave us Lester Maddox.

They named a city in Georgia after Athens, but you never heard of an Atlanta, Greece, did you? Athens gave us democracy, poetry, architecture, even geometry, which is not exactly a point in its favor. As far as I can tell, Atlanta's one enduring contribution to our culture is the hotel elevator that runs outside the building. What it comes down to is whether you'd rather see the Acropolis or Peachtree Plaza.

You've been to Atlanta, or at least you've been to the airport. It has been suggested that a disturbing lack of airport security in a dangerous part of the world hurt Athens' bid for the Games. Well, God help the athlete who has to connect in Atlanta, the commuters' Bermuda Triangle. I had friends never heard from again trying to get from American to Delta. As for danger, they kill more people every year in Atlanta than Athens lost in the entire Peloponnesian War.

Did I mention the weather? Why not just hold the Games in Ecuador? I'm pretty sure Dante spent a summer in Atlanta before he wrote "The Inferno." If they didn't invent humidity in Atlanta, they sure perfected it, and each year it seems they try to improve upon it. Anyone who has been to an Atlanta Braves game -- and, darn few have -- knows exactly what I mean.

Atlanta, in sum, is an airport, Coca-Cola, Southern cooking, grits and a lot of streets called Peachtree. It is the supposed capital of the New South, which is said to be a good deal better than the Old South, and I guess it is. I know that one tourist who visited Old Atlanta -- a fella named Sherman -- was so displeased by what he saw that he burned the place down.

Not that the town doesn't have its good points. For instance, I can very easily foresee Stuckey's as the official restaurant of the Olympics and pecan pie as the official dessert. But, gosh, I wanted to see Athens. I've been to Atlanta, but I've never seen the Parthenon or the remains of the temple of Zeus or ever danced with anyone named Zorba.

Just imagine, being at an Olympics where they all began, back in 776 B.C. There was only one event then, a race of about 200 yards, and the guys ran naked, which explains why the Winter Olympics weren't invented until 1924. The discus toss and the long jump and boxing and a few other events soon followed. And then came chariot racing, when only the horses were undressed. The old stadium seated 40,000, which is why Athens never got an NFL team, that and the lack of locker rooms.

The Games ended in 394 A.D. because Theodosius, the Roman emperor of the day and apparently not a big sports fans, thought they were boring. A hundred years later, an earthquake destroyed the stadium, and there weren't any more Olympics until 1896 when Baron Pierre de Coubertin worked to start the modern Games. He chose Athens, of course, for the opener.

The Baron knew what he was doing. For my taste, the Olympics should be somewhere exotic, somewhere fascinating, somewhere you are introduced to new food groups, somewhere you hardly ever hear English spoken. That's what made the Los Angeles Olympics so perfect. In 1992, the Games move to Barcelona. As the songwriter said, I've never been to Spain, but I kind of like the music. But Georgia, I promise you, was never on m-m-m-m-m-my mind.

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