When Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Olympic games, I and my wife Sue rushed to volunteer for a once in a lifetime experience. We registered, received our official soon to be modified uniforms, and looked forward to being a part of the ultimate global athletic competition.
Given my educational partnership with the Mainor School of Economics in Tallinn, Estonia, I volunteered to drive the athletes, mostly wrestlers and cyclists, to their practices and competitions. Our envoy team was led by Mr. Aadu Allpere and his wife Kristi Allpere. Mr. Allpere is the current Consul for Estonia in Atlanta. May the two other nice ladies pictured please forgive me – I’ve forgotten their names and am unable to locate the data.
The Estonian Envoys operated out of a makeshift office in a parking garage under the below dormitory that was built to house the athletes. After the games, the dorms became part of Georgia State University – Georgia Tech, across the street, was not interested in these dorms at the time but ultimately inherited them.
My wife Sue served as an usher for the international baseball competition held at Atlanta – Fulton County Stadium, home of the baseball Braves at the time. The Olympic Stadium was transformed into Turner Field after the games and is now the Georgia State University football stadium.
The baseball competition was virtually a three-week long season and the level of competition was major league. Each night I walked from the Tech campus on North Avenue over to the stadium several miles away. While Sue ushered, I took my place in the center field seats and marveled at the greatness of the Cuban team that defeated a terrific Japanese team led by Ichiro and Hideki – both beat the US. I was surprised at the level of talent, especially the Dutch, Australian, and Nicaraguan teams.
The Georgia Tech campus served as the center of Olympics operations: athletes were housed, fed, and entertained there. Many also trained there but athletes trained elsewhere too – for example, wrestlers often worked out at the Grady High School gym.
The Athletes Village on the Tech Campus was the place to be during the day. To me, the athlete’s extraordinary shapes and bodies were the stars of the village that saw dignitaries and celebrities regularly appearing to add to the excitement; tents housing cultural exhibits, information sources, artistic goods were everywhere. TV news shows openly broadcast interviews, updates or other breaking news to their listeners.
Centennial Park, a gift from ACOG, served as the Olympics great public space and has come to occupy that role since the end of the games. Downtown’s center of gravity has shifted westward because of the park. CNN Center can be seen in the background; the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce (far right with glass dome) was recently torn down to expand the park and better showcase the NCAA College Football Hall of Fame near the Georgia World Congress Center.
Centennial Park was the site of many concerts and other Olympics celebrations and has matured over the years into a great central city park. The famous fountains that bring smiles to children’s faces are in the center of the photo. Unfortunately, Eric Rudolph, a far-right fanatic used the games to set off a bomb on the last night. The death of a woman and many injuries cast a pall over the first privately financed Olympic Games in history that even turned a small profit.
Art pieces like this sculpture that occupies the plaza of the 191 Peachtree building were commissioned or purchased before the Olympics to spruce up the city.
There is no doubt that the city received a boost from the Olympics and a rich and vital legacy.