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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

If They Gave a Gold Medal for Gridlock It Would Be No Contest

Organization: Committee's lack of progress in finding remedies to chronic transportation and technology problems is called "incomprehensible" by one IOC official.

July 22, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The glow from Friday night's opening ceremonies did not last through the weekend. In separate meetings Sunday, International Olympic Committee officials expressed their distress about problems during the first two days of competition to local organizers.

For the past year, IOC officials have been concerned that the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) and some of its corporate partners, including IBM, could not deliver on promises in areas related to transportation and technology.

So far, there have been far more glitches even than anticipated--so many that IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch appointed a U.S. member of the executive board, Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles, to oversee ACOG's efforts to find solutions.

"We're working very hard with them," DeFrantz said. "We're getting things solved where they're solvable."

But another high-ranking IOC official, who asked not to be identified, said that the lack of progress during the first 48 hours of competitions is "incomprehensible."

"It is normal for some things to go wrong on the first day or two, but I don't ever remember seeing anything this bad," the official said. "It's a surprise because we believe that everything will be efficient when we come to the United States, especially the technology."

When Atlanta won the IOC's vote six years ago over Athens, Greece, to stage the Centennial Games, ACOG officials boasted that one of the primary reasons was the superiority of their bid, technologically.

But the Info '96 system designed by ACOG and IBM to deliver results of the competitions to the media was so slow during the first 48 hours that some volunteers working for the organizing committee began calling it "Info '97."

Complete results from two sports Saturday were not available in time even for West Coast deadlines, and although an organizing committee spokesman said Sunday that the system was "rapidly improving," there was still nothing rapid about it in some events. By Sunday afternoon, volunteers were hand-delivering results to the offices of newspapers and wire services in the main press center.

"The system was up and running this morning," the IOC official said. "Then it crashed again. They thought they had a victory and they didn't."

IOC officials are sensitive about the issue because they believe athletes in Olympic sports that are not widely televised will receive no attention for their achievements unless the results are reported by the press. They tried to meet with IBM chairman Louis Gerstner on Sunday, an IOC member said, because "they wanted to make sure that he understood the magnitude of the problem and that the Games cannot be a success unless it is solved." Scheduling conflicts prevented that meeting. Gerstner could not be reached for comment.

The IOC also zeroed in on transportation in a meeting with the organizing committee described by an IOC official to the Associated Press as "the toughest . . . ACOG has had to sit through."

The start of one baseball game Saturday was delayed for half an hour, another by an hour when buses carrying players were late. The U.S. team was involved in one of the delays, arriving at the stadium only eight minutes before its game against Nicaragua was scheduled to start.

After a driver heading for the Georgia Congress Center Saturday got lost, the bus carrying Canadian fencer James Ransom arrived 10 minutes before his match. He lost.

A four-time Olympian, British rower Steven Redgrave, told the AP that he has never experienced such problems. He and teammates flagged down a van carrying British officials to carry them to the rowing venue Sunday at Lake Lanier. He said that that ACOG buses were routinely taking two hours Saturday for the 30-mile drive.

"We've given up on transportation," he said. "It took us four years to get here. We're not going to let someone's organization stop us now."

Also, part of the British women's rowing team, aided and abetted by an undetermined number of Polish and Ukrainian rowers, hijacked a bus, ordered the driver to ignore police trying to stop it and took it 65 miles to the Lake Lanier rowing venue at Gainesville, Ga.

Frustrated when the bus they were awaiting failed to show in the athletes' village, the rowers simply took matters into their own hands and jumped on a bus waiting to take other athletes to another venue.

The media have also reported difficulty in reaching events. A bus assigned to take reporters from Atlanta to Columbus, Ga., for the U.S. women's softball game Sunday at 4:45 a.m. did not show. An ACOG volunteer commandeered a van and drove the reporters himself.

ACOG was caught short, the IOC official said, when many buses it had arranged for the 17 days of the Games were not delivered. Other problems were caused, the official said, when ACOG hired some drivers from outside Atlanta who are not familiar with the city. They have been caused additional headaches by highway construction that was not completed in time, roadblocks and traffic congestion.

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