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After covering the Atlanta Olympics from the days of the bid in the late 1980’s, there was a sense of loss watching the flame in the caldron flicker out the night of Aug. 4, 1996 . Atlanta was my initiation into the world of the Olympics, a rite of passage. Wherever this Olympic journey would take me, I would always think of Atlanta as the home of the dream.

The Atlanta Olympics Closing Ceremony, Aug. 4, 1996. (Getty Images)

The 17 days of the Games (and the eight years before) were quite a ride. Sometimes magnificent, sometimes stumbling, tinged with tragedy, surrounded by triumphs, Atlanta marked a turning point for the city as well as the Olympics of today.

Mention Atlanta 1996 and the sneers still come easily for some who dealt with the challenges of the Games. Media transport did not work. The results system went into meltdown. The streets of downtown Atlanta turned into a peddler’s bazaar, rife with over-commercialization. Then the bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park, killing a spectator, injuring dozens.

Little wonder that IOC President Juan Antonio could summon only faint praise as he closed the Atlanta Olympics, describing them as “most exceptional”.

Maybe it is easier to remember flaws than all the things that worked as planned.

But the lists of pluses for Atlanta and the Olympic Movement that resulted from 1996 may be even longer than the faults.

Start with the athletes. Michael Johnson and Jose Marie Perec winning the 400/200 gold medals. The electrifying gold medal for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, tiny Kerri Strug nailing the win despite a busted ankle. Cuba wins baseball gold on U.S. soil. Pocket Hercules Naim Suleymanoglu wins a third consecutive weightlifting gold, Carl Lewis a fourth gold in the long jump. The second edition of the Dream Team dominated men’s basketball.

There were all kinds of Olympic debuts. Women’s football and softball added hundreds of women to the athletes roster for Atlanta. The IOC’s first stab at adding more youth-oriented sports to the program brought mountain biking and beach volleyball to sold-out venues.

Atlanta still holds the record for ticket sales: 8.1 million.

The fountains at Centennial Olympic Park. (ATR)

The absence of white elephants for Atlanta is remarkable. To one degree or another, every major venue built for 1996 has been put into use since then.

Atlanta Olympic Stadium is now Turner Field, home to the Braves Major League Baseball team. While some in the Olympics world quibble about using marketing revenues to pay for a venue used by a professional baseball team.

But there is no Olympic Stadium built for recent Games that can even come close to the level of regular activity for the Atlanta stadium.

As painful as the Olympic Park bombing was, the venue established the value of live sites as part of the ambience of the Olympics. And the catastrophe of Atlanta helped make sure that security was part of future live sites.

The 21-acre park, conceived by Atlanta Olympics chief Billy Payne two years after winning the Games, became a catalyst for new development in the center of Atlanta. The post-Olympic boom around the park includes the World of Coca Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, new hotels, restaurants and retail.

The Atlanta Olympics also generated a makeover of housing near the stadium, park and other venues. Dilapidated, crime-plagued housing and buildings were removed and replaced with new public and private housing that remains an often-overlooked legacy of 1996.

Atlanta’s foibles with media transport and the results system were other lessons learned by future organizing committees, which have largely avoided those glitches.

What hasn’t happened in Atlanta is much of an interest in Olympic sport, whether hosting events or inspiring new generations of fencers, judoka or heptathletes.

The Atlanta cauldron was moved a half a mile north from its original location and now anchors a corner of a parking lot for the former Olympic Stadium. (ATR)

While no white elephants remain, it might have been nice to see a world-class athletics track as part of the Atlanta legacy to the sport.

Others need some work. The rowing course at Lake Lanier is in need of repairs and maintenance to keep it as a competition venue. It’s the only one of the Atlanta venues that has hosted a world championship (canoeing, 2003) since the Olympics.

Then there’s the orphaned cauldron, lit in storybook fashion by Muhammed Ali. Moved half a mile north from its original location, the steel girder structure anchors a corner of a parking lot for the stadium. There’s talk of moving the ungainly tower and walkway to a place where more people can see it, such as Centennial Olympic Park.

But at least it has a home, unlike Beijing, which dismantled its cauldron last year. And my travels in Atlanta frequently pass the cauldron, often to or from the Atlanta airport, many of those times for trips abroad to the cities that have followed Atlanta as Games hosts.

The flame may have gone out in that cauldron 15 years ago today, but it’s kept me constant company since them.

Written by Ed Hula.

Leave a comment and share your memories from the 1996 Atlanta Games with us!  We’d love to hear from you!

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Today marks 290 days until the start of the first-ever Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Gathering the youth of many nations for this event signifies bringing unity to a new generation. The 2010 Games will manifest a new passion, hope and promise for future generations to come.

The Singapore Youth Olympic Games (SYOG) found inspiration from a group of Singapore students who came together to discuss how to bring the values of the Olympics to the youth around the globe in order to make a positive difference. The passionate thoughts and ideas of “Excellence, Friendship and Respect” were then brought before a student leadership conference filled with students from 16 different schools all ready and eager to activate a plan. From the wisdom of these youth, the “Million Deeds Challenge” was born.

“Small acts add up to big changes and everyone can make a difference. That’s what the Million Deeds Challenge is about.”

Today 47,659 deeds have been submitted to the official Million Deeds Challenge website. The deeds span the continents as young people  post their deeds under one of the Olympic Values categories. The deeds can be as small as helping their mother wash dishes, yet the challenge speaks the truth that “no deed is too small to make a difference today”.

The homepage of the site displays a virtual globe. Red markers indicate the location where deeds have been posted. This truly is a brilliant way to help make a brighter tomorrow one deed at a time.

Help spread the word about this project so the challenge can meet and exceed one million deeds. This is a project that should never end and be the beginning of true unity and change for us all.

Just a little reminder: you help out the world more by doing as many good deeds a day as possible. You are never limited to just one. This is also for people of all ages, even if you are 100. I’m personally inspired by this activation of positive selflessness in a world that needs to be re-ignited by the powers of Excellence, Friendship and Respect. To put others before yourself and to give is an expression of love, kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity.

I am going to do (and submit) as many good deeds as I possibly can and I challenge you all to do the same! Let’s all do our part to help create a brighter tomorrow.


Tristan Written by Tristan Luciotti

Your best source of news about the Olympics is www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.

(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

It didn’t take long for the golden glow of winning the Olympics to turn into a harsh spotlight for Rio de Janeiro. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Fears that Rio de Janeiro is not safe for the Olympics surely were rekindled in the favela gunfire of the past week. Two dozen are dead, including three policeman who perished after their helicopter was shot down.

It was the all-too-common sort of trauma in Rio de Janeiro that could have happened during the closing days of the bid. But it didn’t, sparing the need for explanations and assurances that all will be well in 2016.

Today assurances aren’t needed to win IOC votes. (Given the large margin of victory for Rio, it’s possible that even an eruption of trouble like this might not have killed the Brazilian bid.) Now the assurances must convince the world – including key stakeholders such as media, sponsors and athletes – that their experience in Brazil will be trouble-free.

Other Olympic Cities have faced security challenges. Athens organizers were confronted with bombings from a terrorist group that was dismantled in 2002.

The joy of winning the 2012 Olympics was short-lived in London four years ago when bombs exploded on public transit only hours after the IOC vote. With more than 50 people dead and hundreds injured, it was a scenario that has driven security planners in London to prevent from happening again – whether tomorrow or in the midst of the 2012 Olympics.

This instant jolt in London likely removed any shred of complacency for Olympic security planning – and so too must be the case for Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately for Rio, the ingrained culture of violence that darkens life in the otherwise Marvelous City won’t end overnight. Given the history, more shootouts are likely as Rio de Janeiro prepares for the Olympics – as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

There seems to be an absurdity of tracking urban violence as a milestone of preparation for events meant to symbolize the way people can gather in peace. But such accountings will be unavoidable through the coming years.

People want to feel safe about coming to an exotic destination, a world away from their homes.

By and large, Rio is a safe place. We can say this based on numerous visits to the city by ATR staff members for the past 10 years. We have heard about people (some connected with visits for Olympics-related meetings, others with the 2007 Pan Am Games) who have been victims of street crimes that could take place in any large city. But so far, the nasty gun battles between gangs have not snared anybody connected with world sport.

The 2007 Pan Am Games, hailed as a major boost for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic bid, were free of trouble, aided by a significant presence of local and federal law enforcement.

It’s one thing to build stadiums, roads and other physical manifestations of an Olympic Games.

But how do you eliminate an evil in society that has festered for years?

Gang leaders aren’t about to be shamed into a truce based on the harmful image their malevolence creates about Rio around the world.

Rio de Janeiro and Brazil will have to dig deep to come up with solutions that work quickly.

Over the next seven years, thousands of people will head to Rio de Janeiro to work on preparations for the Games, to attend meetings or to compete in test events. The first time something even minor occurs for one of these visitors, the publicity could be savage, not to mention the reaction should violence be involved.

Rio de Janeiro has to make sure there is no such first time. And if there is – Rio government leaders as well as the organizing committee – need to be open and transparent about the bad news.

At the same time, Rio also needs to spread the word about what is happening to make the city a better, safer place. The world will need to hear about social programs, policing and urban renewal projects as evidence that Rio is changing.

Leaders of the Rio bid never shied away from talking about crime when asked, never downplayed the issue. But despite the city’s standing as perhaps the most violence-plagued among recent bid cities, crime never seemed to emerge as serious concern while Rio de Janeiro was a candidate.

With Rio de Janeiro now under the glare of the Olympic spotlight, dealing with crime is inescapable. That realization could be the good for Rio that comes from this latest spasm of violence.

Written by Ed Hula

Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: comment@aroundtherings.com

(Copyright 1992 2008, all rights reserved. The information in this report may not be published, excerpted, or otherwise distributed in print or broadcast without the express prior consent of Around the Rings.)

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