Now that the London Olympics are at a close, everyone seems to be reminiscing about the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Max Blau at Creative Loafing writes:
The city erupted with cheers. The delegates on hand alternately wailed and sobbed. That evening, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a headline on the front page that read, “City explodes in thrill of victory.” Halfway down the page, a secondary headline for a related article noted: “We finally won something!”
It was the biggest upset in Olympic history as Atlanta shocked the world by defeating five other cities — included a flabbergasted Athens, Greece — in its quest to host the Centennial Olympics. Atlanta staged the ultimate heist, joining St. Louis and Los Angeles as just the third American city to host the summer games.
Mark Bradley at the AJC piggybacks on the same angle and writes:
The 1996 Games were characterized in the world press as utilitarian at the center and crassly commercial on the periphery — Frazier: “Frankly, I couldn’t give a damn what the Times of London says” — but nobody can say they left Atlanta in the financial lurch. If some folks were disappointed they didn’t make as much money as they’d hoped, no taxpayer can say he still feels the burden from those 17 days of 16 years ago.
Though I’m biased because a good portion of my youth was spent either basking in the city’s preparation for the Games or enjoying it live in my own backyard, I will go on the record and say, “Atlanta better.” Why?
For starters, though London had the Spice Girls, Atlanta had Gloria Estefan.
But most importantly, while London spent $14.5 billion dollars to host its games, Atlanta spent nothing (and in fact, we got a sweet baseball park, new infrastructure for our research institutions, and “billions” of dollars worth of economic investment to boot), a salient fact considering the city’s leaders are cheerleading efforts to put tax payers on the hook for a large chunk of the costs for the Atlanta Falcon’s new $1 billion arena.
Granted, the over-commercialization was terrible (point taken, Mr. Samaranch, but at least our games didn’t bankrupt the city), as was the unfortunate destruction at the hands of Eric Robert Rudolph at Centennial Olympic Park, but I am of the opinion that Atlanta became a much better city for having gone through the experience. Without the Games, Atlanta would still be another Birmingham, or Nashville, or Charlotte–a sleepy southern city wallowing in a niche industry with little real relevance outside of the American southeast. But instead, the Olympics solidified Atlanta’s regional dominance–racial dishormony, housing bubbles, and traffic gridlock, be damned.