Stop the world, the Games begin Atlanta Olympiad: The greatest sporting competition set to dazzle.

July 19, 1996

THE GLOW IN THE SKY is not Atlanta burning but the gold of the greatest Olympiad with the most athletes in the most events watched by the most people ever. The long preparations, hype, controversies and commercialization are receding in shadow. The athletes' time is at hand.

This is the Olympics to which everyone came, reported variously as 10,000 to 16,000 athletes, more than one-third of them women, from 197 nations and non-nations (a dozen more than the U.N.). The Cold War of boycotts and ostracisms is over. Former President Jimmy Carter even persuaded North Korea to come. The Palestinians are there. Iran is sending women to compete in shooting and chess but nothing bare-legged.

The Communist national sports programs that humiliated the West for decades are gone or pauperized, leaving well-funded Western responses intact. The drug-free weight-lifters are competing at new weights, every winner to set a new Olympic record so as to wipe out the old steroid-inflated records. New events range from softball to beach volleyball to mountain-biking. The curious American public will see the events that NBC thinks interest us.

Most of the sports will be within a mile-and-a-half of downtown Atlanta, with soccer as far away as Washington. Based on Los Angeles' trail-blazing in 1984, the Atlanta games are privately funded and corporate driven. The result is less great public building than the Olympics brought to Barcelona in 1992 or Montreal in 1976. But for staging this centennial of the modern Olympiad, Atlanta gets a stunning park, a huge stadium to be down-sized for the baseball Braves, smaller venues to enrich Atlanta University, an Olympic Village that doubles the dorm capacity of Georgia Tech.

The city's other business will sputter for 17 days because of what 2 million visitors do to commuting. Some Atlantans made bundles renting their homes while others asked too much. The Games are a tribute to Billy Payne, the visionary who thought up the bid and runs the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. It owes a lot to two former mayors, Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young, and is a gift to the current mayor, Bill Campbell.

Hype time is over. The purpose of the Games ultimately is the games themselves, the athletes competing against each other, the killing Atlanta midsummer and their own human limitations. There is magic in that, wonders to behold. Let the Games begin.

Pub date: 7/18/96

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