It's simply bananas down in Peach State Olympics: To try to see all and do all at the Games, you need stamina and lots of money.

Atlanta Olympics

July 21, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Press pass? Got it. Suntan lotion? Check. Money? Packing by the inch.

This is Day Two at the Summer Olympics, the venue-to-venue obstacle course by cab, bus and foot to see how the world's greatest sporting spectacle shakes out in a hot, humid, American city.

First stop yesterday morning: Morris Brown College. Roads clear. A $25 cab ride to a checkpoint. The sun is still rising, and, already, it feels like a million degrees. The concession stands open at 8: 30 and serve up the breakfast of champions: Powerade and popcorn for $6.50.

At 8: 57 a.m., the first chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A" is heard as the American women's field hockey team lines up to exchange gifts -- and sweat -- with the Dutch. Faceoff is at 9. The Centennial Games are in full swing.

First Olympic hero: Patty Shea, 33, the American goalie who has survived 13 knee operations and who now stands in her goal, wearing 15 pounds of pads and a bird-cage helmet. She looks like a snowman walking in a Florida mall at Christmas. She makes saves off her chest, her arm and her feet.

Leave at halftime. Grab a cab to swimming at Georgia Tech. Wait a minute, what's a cab doing in the vaunted Olympic no-go zone? Tough. Ten bucks. Besides, Atlanta's light-rail system already looks like sardines on wheels.

There are lines about 50 yards long to get past the security checks and into the swimming hall. People actually say it's an honor to wait in line for the Olympics.

"This is the greatest. This is the Olympics," says Benton Evans, an Atlanta native who decided to spend his summer vacation at home, shepherding his family of four to 22 events.

"This will all cost about as much as the trip we took last year to Costa Rica," he says.

Swimming is almost packed. The venue looks like a giant garage and feels like a sauna. But there's a little bit of majesty here provided by the fans. Their cheers rain down on the swimmers as they make their way onto the pool deck accompanied by the blaring horns of an Olympic theme song.

Over to water polo. Easy walk. Gorgeous setting, a little jewel of a pool at the bottom of a bowl of stands. The announcer sounds like he's from California, and that's when he's speaking French.

The Dutch men are playing Yugoslavia. Some guy wearing a blue-and-white swim cap is scoring a lot of goals. Attempted drowning is apparently a 20-second penalty. The crowd watches. No one seems really interested.

Outta here.

Walk a mile south down Marietta Street. Hit the Olympic ring, the main venue corridor that includes the Goergia World Congress Center, the Omni and the Georgia Dome. Absolute chaos. Lines everywhere. Fans funneled through security zones and onto their events.

Stop for an ice cream on a stick: $3.

Spend the afternoon at the Georgia World Congress Center, where the Olympics meets an American convention hall. Great air conditioning. Even greater competition.

Weightlifting: A bunch of 119-pound men with unusually short arms and legs are lifting double their weights over their heads. Each successful lift is greeted with a blast of music: Springsteen, Clapton, Beethoven. The crowd roars. Outside, the coaches stand around and smoke cigarettes.

Fencing: Ivan Kovacs of Hungary is in a tight individual epee match with Mariusz Strzalka of Germany. Kovacs gets in one last touch, rips off his headgear and shouts, "Yeah!" Most of the crowd ignores him, though. It seems that everyone is busy taking pictures of one another, immortalizing their own Olympic moments.

Greco-Roman wrestling: Three mats, six wrestlers, utter chaos. Someone from Poland is laying waste to a Tunisian. A Moldovan and a Swiss are going into overtime. And Rodney Smith, an American, beats a Turk when he piles up a 10-point lead. American flags unfurl and the hall echoes with more "U-S-A" chants.

Judo: The hall is lit like it's a set for "American Gladiators." An announcer with a Southern drawl announces the combatants: "Wearing the red sash, Sun Fuming. Wearing the white sash, Estella Rodriguez."

David Douillet of France wins the men's judo heavyweight title and runs around the arena pumping his arms. But then, he has to wait an hour for the medal ceremony. The announcer, that guy with the drawl, asks for the women's bronze medalist to report to the ceremony room. Eventually, Douillet comes out from behind a curtain, hops to a top step and gets his gold as flashbulbs pop in the audience.

It really does look like the Olympics.

Quick dinner: Turkey sandwich and soda for $6.50. Three chicken wings at a buck a wing. Such a deal.

Nighttime in the Olympic Ring. The Omni, empty and gloomy when the Atlanta Hawks play, is filled for the U.S. women's

volleyball team. The crowd rises when the team hits the court against Ukraine, cheers every point and uncorks a "U-S-A" chant about every five minutes.

Finally, the Georgia Dome, otherwise known as the official cash register of the Summer Olympics. In the afternoon, the gymnastics' side rocked, as the American men went after Belarus in compulsory gymnastics. Fans sitting about a mile away cheered moves they couldn't see. But they were there.

On the other side of the curtain, basketball rules. The crowd gathers early to see America's Dream Team ritual destruction of Argentina. But before then, there are cheers for basketball's samba kings, Brazil.

Oscar Schmidt, old, slow and defenseless, huffs, puffs and barely runs down the court against Puerto Rico. But he still has the softest three-point touch in the world, and he gets hot early, hitting a couple of shots, clenching his right fist and letting out a roar that cuts through the Dome, cuts through the Olympics.

L Perfect finish. Twelve hours. Ten events. And 15 days to go.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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