Friday, July 27, 2012
Reclaiming the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
Over-commercialization and rigid press credentialing and access seem to be the biggest gripes. Though pre-9/11 security was tight, a nut-case was still able to plant an exploding backpack and do real damage. The Centennial Park bombing that took place on July 27, 1996, was horrendous, but - contrary to bomber Eric Rudolph's goal of shutting down the "socialist" event - it didn't seem to impact crowds at the venues for the rest of the games. And the weather was steamy hot. Atlanta in July. Who'd a thunk it?
Centennial Olympic Park. We weren't the gun-totin' professional security team; AT&T was responsible for those officers, I seem to remember. Our job was to give directions, reunite lost children with their parents (I did that three times), keep folks from bringing in beer (they had to buy it at the Budweiser pavilion inside the park) and bicycles/skates/skateboards, plus crowd control and generally keeping an eye on anyone looking sick or getting too rambunctious. The professionals took over - medical or law enforcement - from there.
It wasn't all work, though. Kate and I attended a couple of equestrian events at the Conyers International Horse Park and a baseball event at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Thanks to a good friend with an extra ticket, Kate was lucky enough to attend the Opening Ceremony (yes, we still have the green and gold quilted pouch of goodies). Saw several concerts at the Park (picture above at Joan Osborne concert, I think). I also had volunteer shifts in front of All Saints', fortuitously located between the North Avenue MARTA station and Olympic Village where the athletes were staying. We gave directions, handed out water and snacks, and invited folks to come in from the heat, say a prayer, meditate, whatever. Many took us up on that.
The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were wonderful. We had the best, friendliest, most helpful volunteers on the planet (and I believe that record still stands). The athletic events set an unprecedented number of world records. Most of the visitors were just happy to be there and really got into the Olympic spirit. So hate on our games all you want, just understand that your negative view is colored by a prickly press corps and sour IOC officials. OK, our mascot was ridiculous, but thank God, London's is even worse. Leave Izzy alone now.
Ali lighting the flame. Kerri Strug making that vault. The Brazilian soccer team bringing me one of its t-shirts as a thank-you for directing them to the Budweiser tent. That frozen lemonade concoction. Collecting and trading pins. Those gorgeous blue-green butterflies at the Opening Ceremony, plus Gladys Knight singing Georgia on My Mind.
Awesome, Atlanta! Thank you for the opportunity to serve my city, my country, and the world.