Friday Flashback:  1996 Summer Olympics

On September 18, 1990 Atlanta, Georgia celebrated when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected the city to host the 1996 Olympic Games.  I remember the announcement on television and celebrated when Atlanta was picked to be the host.  It was an incredible event for the State of Georgia and the first time in history that the Olympic Games had been held in the Southern United States.  On July 19, 1996 the games were officially opened by President Bill Clinton.  Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch and received a replacement gold medal for his boxing victory in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Almost 200 nations participated in the games.  The United States topped the medal count with 101 overall medals and 44 gold medals.  The United States women’s gymnastics team won their first gold medal.  Shannon Miller won the gold medal on the balance beam event.  The most memorable performance was when Kerri Strug vaulted with an injured ankle and landed on one foot.

In track and field, Donovan Bailey of Canada won the men’s 100 meter to set a new world record of 9.84 seconds.  He also was the anchor in his team’s gold medal-winning 4 x 100 meter relay.  

The U.S. Women’s soccer team won the first gold medal in women’s soccer.

Although Atlanta was the central base for the Olympic Games, several other Southern cities also had a chance to get a part in the Olympic Games.  Columbus, Georgia hosted softball at Golden Park, Lake Lanier was home to Canoeing (sprint) and Rowing events, and Savannah, Georgia was home to sailing events.

One of the more forgettable images from the Olympics was Izzy, a futuristic character which you would have a hard time describing.  Izzy wasn’t very popular and was pretty much a marketing disaster.

At the closing ceremony, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch ruffled a few feathers by simply saying “Well done, Atlanta” when he had traditionally commented after each games that the host had hosted the best Olympics ever.  Most Atlanta and Georgia residents took that as a slight to their hosting of the games.

Perhaps one reason to the perceived slight was that the games were marred by a bombing on July 27 which killed one person and wounded 111 others.  It was later determined that Eric Robert Ruudolph had committed the attack in protest of abortions.  Initially it was believed that security guard Richard Jewell had been guilty of the bombing but was later cleared.

Several structures built for the games have been converted for use today.   Centennial Olympic Stadium became Turner Field and the home of the Atlanta Braves.  Olympic Village now serves as housing for Georgia State University and Georgia Tech.  The Omni was replaced by Philips Arena.  Centennial Olympic Park continues as a lasting memorial of the games that made Atlanta golden during the summer of 1996.

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