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ATLANTA 1996

Organizer Hails Games' Success

Olympics: IOC chief, however, may not laud event as the 'best ever.'

August 05, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Disheartened by speculation that International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch would vary from his standard closing ceremony remarks Sunday night by declining to call the 26th Summer Olympics "the best Games ever," the president of Atlanta's organizing committee made the declaration for him.

"From the perspective of the community that hosted the Games, the visitors who attended the Games, the athletes who performed at the Games, I think we have achieved our goal," said Billy Payne, who had vowed to organize the largest peacetime event ever and the best Olympics in the 100-year history of the modern Games.

Yet Payne was struggling Sunday to be heard above criticism from IOC members and other longtime observers of the Olympic movement.

Most agreed that the Games, with few exceptions, were excellent for athletes and spectators and praised the revival of the Olympic spirit in the city after the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in the early hours of July 27 that left two dead and 111 injured.

But they were perplexed about transportation and technology problems never fully solved by the organizing committee and expressed concern about the direction these Games had taken in dealing with commercialism and size.

And unlike Atlanta officials after the Summer Olympics four years ago in Barcelona, Spain, organizers of future Games--in Nagano, Japan, and Salt Lake City for the winters of 1998 and 2002, and Sydney, Australia, for the summer of 2000--were going home today having learned less about what to do than what not to do.

In a news conference Sunday, Samaranch did call the Games a success and said that the IOC is "very happy" with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).

But the former Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union was less diplomatic in an interview with a German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag.

"I don't want to say that in Atlanta they were not doing the best they could for us, but perhaps it could have been better," he said. "Many things in Atlanta went well, but there are many things that we must improve or change."

Anita DeFrantz, an IOC executive board member from Los Angeles, acknowledged that her colleagues were disappointed with aspects of the Games but said Atlanta might not have been judged as objectively as past Olympic cities because it promised so much in its campaign to win the bid six years ago for the Centennial Games over sentimental favorite Athens, Greece.

"They raised the level of expectations so high that I'm not sure anyone could have met those expectations," she said. "It became very easy to find fault when they didn't meet them."

Asked if he believes the memory of Atlanta's Games will be marred by the bombing, Payne said: "No, I think Atlanta will be remembered for the way we charged back into the park, reclaimed it, put a stake in the ground. We bounced back even stronger than before, even while we carried in our hearts a loss for the families of the victims."

ACOG also received high marks for its primary function: organizing athletic contests. Competing for the most part in state-of-the-art venues that DeFrantz said were "spectacular, absolutely spectacular," numerous world, national and Olympic records were set as an unprecedented number of countries won medals.

The athletes in general were pleased, not only with the competition sites but also the villages that housed them.

It was a daunting task for the organizing committee. Involved were so many more athletes (almost 11,000) from so many more countries (197) with so many more spectators (9 million tickets sold) than ever before that Payne referred to it as "two and a half Olympic Games."

But Payne admitted that the organizing committee, the city and even the Olympic movement might have been "victims of our success" because Atlanta's infrastructure, particularly the transportation system, was overwhelmed.

ACOG had difficulty transporting athletes, officials and media. Buses, particularly those borrowed from other cities, often broke down. Some drivers, also imported, were unfamiliar with Atlanta's streets and freeways. Many quit in frustration.

There were more headaches for spectators, who discovered they could not rely on a rapid transit system that was asked to carry about 1.5 million passengers a day, about a million more than usual.

The technology of providing competition results quickly for the media also proved beyond the means of ACOG's corporate partners IBM and Bell South. A less sophisticated backup system was called upon in the second week, belying the organizers' claims that these would be known as the "Technology Games."

DeFrantz said U.S. cities bidding for future Olympics will face more of a challenge because of Atlanta's problems.

"I don't think anybody is going to be able to go before the IOC and say, 'Gosh, golly, we can do this because we're a big American city,' " she said. "They're going to have to be very specific in how they expect to implement their plans."

Largely a privately funded organization, ACOG expects to break even or show a small profit after meeting its $1.7-billion operating budget. But it had little extra money to solve problems in areas such as transportation and technology that it knew as early as a year ago could arise.

"Sports has to take the priority, not marketing as has been the case here in Atlanta," Samaranch said in Sunday's news conference.

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