Seventeen days in Atlanta Centennial Olympics: Sport won out over all shortcomings and adversity.

August 04, 1996

NOT EVEN A BOMB could slow or diminish the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Professionalism, commercialism, transport problems, a hurricane and Georgia heat couldn't, either. These were the greatest Olympic Games of all time, at least until 2000.

For billions of people worldwide, war, poverty, bickering and even the dismal American League East pennant race stopped while the pageantry, commercialism and pure athletic ideal of the Olympics transfixed all.

From the mega-millionaires of the Dream Team to the amateurs of archery, honest competition reigned. People tried to do and be the best. Those who fell short congratulated those who triumphed. The Olympic ideal was ancient Carl Lewis beating both the odds and the world record holder to win the long jump an unimaginable fourth time. And it was a fresh Beth Botsford backstroking from obscurity to glory.

The murderer who put a bomb in a place where the audience gathered at night cast a pall but could not stop this festival of human endurance, skill and competition. More nations and more athletes than ever came and remained focused. Politics was down. There were only a handful of defections. The old Cold War rivalry was gone. The Soviet Union and its system of sports support had vanished, so the United States won the most medals for having created a mirror image in the private sector in the 1980s just to compete with it.

The only country competing on the old basis, and grumbling at disputed calls to hide disappointments, was China, late-comer to Olympic superpowerdom. Germany benefited from combining capitalist support with Communist athletic tradition. But the dispersal of medals to many countries in many sports was the true fruit of the breakup of the Cold War.

Women dominated, if not in fact then on television. NBC was the Americans' gatekeeper to the games and calculated that men would watch no matter what but women had to be lured. Its other techniques were to go for the emotional dimension beyond actual results, and to blend live action with tape without saying which was which.

Image aside, women competed in more sports than in any Games, until the next. It is a worldwide phenomenon transcending systems and cultures. The heptathlon gold medalist, symbolic supreme woman athlete for the next four years, is from an Islamic country, Syria.

Atlanta did it. Atlanta pulled it off. Atlanta will dine out on this for years, and deservedly so. Sport prevailed and the best competitors won. Good show.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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