It's All In the Games


February 18, 1996|By DAVE BARRY

I cannot wait for that dramatic moment when the torch-carrying runner enters the stadium and, in a dramatic gesture symbolizing the essence of the Olympic spirit, buys a vowel.

Recently I went to Atlanta to check up on the preparations for the 1996 Olympic Games (official motto: "Put Your Corporate Motto Here for $40 Million").

As the organizers modestly point out at every opportunity, these will be the biggest Olympic Games in the history of the universe. They're going to be huge. Take a look at some of these numbers:

Total budget: $1.6 billion

Number of athletes competing: Over 10,000

Number of events: 271

Number of events left once you eliminate all the mutant sports like synchronized kayaking: Maybe six

TV audience (counting everybody on Earth seven times): 35 billion

Number of times the average American will see an Olympic-related TV commercial that will attempt to equate an activity such as winning the pole vault with an activity such as shrinking swollen hemorrhoidal tissue: 2,537

Total number of people who will come to Atlanta this July: 17 million

Total available parking spaces: 4

As you can imagine, every single resident of Atlanta is wildly excited about the Olympics, except for those residents who have been sick of the whole thing since roughly 1991.

The city is being transformed by a frenzy of construction. When I visited, a huge state-of-the-art stadium was being finished; immediately upon completion, it will, in a demonstration of just how frenzied this town is, be torn down and replaced by an even newer stadium for the actual games. That is only one example of how these games are Creating Jobs and Boosting the Local Economy.

Also, all the major highways in north-central Georgia are being reconstructed so that, when viewed from the air, they spell out "Coca-Cola Welcomes the Olmpics." (This project was planned before anybody realized that "Olympics" has a "y" in it.)

Coca-Cola is the Official Carbonated Beverage That Tastes Pretty Much the Same as Pepsi of the 1996 Olympics. There are many other official sponsors, including Avon, which is the Official Cosmetics, Skin Care and Fragrance sponsor; and "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!", which are -- I swear I am not making this up -- the Official Game Shows.

Of course, the Olympics are not just about big corporations paying ridiculous sums of money to be official sponsors. The Olympics are also about ordinary sports fans -- people like you -- paying ridiculous sums of money for lodging. I saw a classified advertisement in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in which somebody was offering to rent a four-bedroom, two-bath home during the Olympics for $10,000, which doesn't sound too unreasonable until you notice that this home is located in central Alabama. Really. Lodging anywhere near Atlanta is going for way, way more.

As an American and a sports fan, you're probably wondering if you can cash in on this. I think so. The official 1996 Olympics Travel and Accommodations Guide has a map showing four official Housing Zones as concentric circles increasingly distant

from Atlanta: Zone 4 includes Nashville, Tenn. So let's say you have a house in Wichita, Kan.: All you do is put an ad in the Journal and Constitution offering to rent Olympic housing in, say, Zone 9 (Seattle would be Zone 11; Taiwan would be Zone 23). Go ahead! Give it a shot! You can't win if you don't enter the race!

Speaking of which, there will also be, weather permitting, some athletic events connected with the 1996 Olympics. If you would like to obtain tickets to see one of these events, hahahahaha.

No, seriously, there are a total of 11 million event tickets for the Games, and although most of these were snatched directly off the printing press by Olympic officials, corporate sponsors, heads of state, local politicians, the media, celebrities, organized crime and rich people in general, that still leaves, for distribution to the general public, a number (3) of prime tickets to the quarter-finals of the Cross-Country Badminton event.

But even if you are not fortunate enough to be able to see the Olympic Games in person, you'll still be able to be a part of the Olympic experience by watching every second of the coverage, including commercials, on TV. (Don't even get up to take a shower! People are paying a lot of money to show you these commercials! Just squirt some official Avon fragrance in your armpit and keep watching!)

It's going to be a wonderful thing, and I for one cannot wait for that dramatic moment in the July 19 opening ceremony when the torch-carrying runner enters the stadium and, in a dramatic gesture symbolizing the essence of the Olympic spirit, buys a vowel.

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