Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's Atlanta!

Can you believe it's already 10 years since the '96 Atlanta Olympics?

You probably have some memories of that year. It was a major event in the lives of Atlantans. This was made strikingly clear to me the other day when, in a conversation with Jeff, I jokingly said, ”To Dee City of….Ahtlahnta” in a very Juan Antonio Samaranch accented voice. Jeff is not an Atlanta native, thus he had no idea what I was referencing, as many of you may not. I was imitating that famous early-morning announcement by the IOC President that our city had captured the dream. My school parking lot rang out with honking horns that morning and the city was abuzz for the day, weeks, and years leading up to our chance to welcome the world.

Maybe you didn’t live here, but us Atlantans remember eerily empty rush-hours, United Nations-like representation on Marta trains, the world’s news teams camped out in our city and a corporate “Olympic city” like none the world had seen. It’s like the Fortune100 threw up in downtown, giant chunks of glitzy, neon, Olympic marketing.

Now, I'll admit I was in collusion with this, some would say, uglier side of the Olympic memory. I volunteered at “Nike Park,” a multi-level homage to the goddess herself. The goddess wears expensive tennis shoes and makes lots of money convincing everyone else they should too. I won’t lie to you, my Swoosh summer was exciting: ushering people to one of various interactive stations where they could hop next to a regulation beach volleyball net or line up in track pose next to a cardboard cut-out of…gold-shoes guy…ah yes, Michael Johnson.

I got a neat outfit – a pair of Nike Ked-like sneakers, blue Nike shorts and a couple T-shirts which had “96” and a swoosh emblazoned on them. Rumor has it that in the Olympic memorabilia frenzy one of my co-laborers was offered $500 for the shirt off his back. I said at the time that had it been me I don’t think I’dve sold it. I’m stupid. I also probably thought I'd need that commemorative BellSouth Olympic pin someday. In all, my Nike park experience was a good one. I got to be downtown in the mix, see some celebs and attend the memorable post-bomb re-opening of Centennial Park.

My Nike gig came about as part of my participation in missions organization YWAM's olympic outreach. YWAM worked closely with olympic organizers to provide volunteers at all levels of all ages. So when I wasn’t directing people toward those misting “cooling stations”, I was going to worship services with a thousand other YWAM volunteers, playing hackey-sack and sleeping on a gym floor for 3 weeks with 250 crazy teenagers like me. We shared about 10 showers between us all. To avoid cold water and long waits, I developed a routine of waking up at 4am to shower, then returning to the “comfort” of my spot on the floor for another few hours. I ate lots of peanut butter and jelly that summer.

Its amazing to think that us YWAM kids were just 250 of thousands, tens of thousands of people young and old who flooded our city to work, volunteer, preach, sell stuff, you name it…all to be a part of this global event. We were a community in glorious struggle for 3 hot July weeks. God was very good to us and to our city.

What are some of your recollections or leftover memorabilia from that summer, just 10 summers ago?


Anonymous said...

I have pins, buttons, and t-shirts in a box in my basement. My neighbor still has an Olympic license plate on the front of her minivan.

Went to volleyball and basketball events. The now Tabernacle was the House of Blues, refurbished for the Olympics. I had friends who worked there and heard all the salacious dirt on the VIPs... from requests for hookers to being drunk at 2am before the gold medal basketball match the next day. Dan Akroyd had a conceited air about him and Arnold was quit a nice fellow. I remember the place was covered with oriental rugs many of them cut up to hastily fit certain areas… doesn’t fit so what, just cut that $15,000 bastard and be done with it, besides we have more in the truck out back! For a souvenir I was given the House of Blues VIP pass of “her royal highness the princess of Bahrain” or at least she was one of the princesses, at the time she was a hottie that liked to shop a lot.

I was also harassed by a foreign news team in a helicopter that thought it was fun to film a local redneck on a local lake in his boat casting his net for local shad to use as a local fishing bait. They hovered over me for about 10 min, yes I did eventually give them the finger, but it was done in hospitable Christian love.

I really hated the mascot, created by a bunch of nerd video engineers (what do they know?!) the French even do better! I remember the blue line sprayed on Peachtree Rd for the marathon stated as being left by Izzy's ass as the dragged him away!


Annie said...

My husband has a fishing tackle type box o'pins that he thinks he's gonna keep lugging to our next houses - it will go on E-bay, please God!! My best memory is my siblings & I giving our parents each their own brick in Centennial Park, which I finally found last year w. my youngest brother - took us long enough!! My out-of-town folks got some awesome tickets to several events - I took my mom, mom-in-law and kids to watch the Netherlands play baseball (not sure if it was against us or not, but we were big b'ball fans at the time) and learned that the Dutch LOVE the color orange and are CRAZY fans! Orange wigs like a clown's, orange noodles to waggle in the air, orange clothing (bien sur)...quite funny coming on and off the MARTA trains and buses w. those characters. Saw Women's basketball w. my dad, saw the afore-mentioned "gold shoe guy" win the 100 meters or was a great time that lasted several weeks and gave us lots of quality family memories together.
Muhammed Ali lighting the torch - my husband was thrilled, he's a huge boxing fan, and it was just so cool to see the man pushing thru his physical limitations to make that memorable and to capture the true spirit of the Olympics - the best athletes igniting the flame of passion for their sport.
Thanks for rekindling those days KW!

Matt Elliott said...

We fled Atlanta during that time and went hiking in the mountains near Conifer, Colorado! While there, I did my best to keep up with Braves on their longest road trip in history (their home stadium was just a LITTLE busy during that stretch).