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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Postcript

Times staff writers take a look back at the Centennial Games

August 05, 1996|MIKE PENNER

I watched Kerri Strug vault her way into history and an income tax bracket previously not imagined, but then, so did 99 million American households. By the final weekend of these Games, slow-motion images of little Kerri sticking and grimacing were running neck and neck with the peacock as the official logo of the 1996 Olympic television network.

Nine days later and 70 miles to the northeast, I witnessed a scene far removed from prime time, but no less remarkable--76,481 paid spectators at a women's soccer game on a muggy August night in Georgia.

Women's soccer teams from China and the United States were playing for the gold medal at Sanford Stadium, and the small college town of Athens was under siege. Traffic snarls, two-mile walks from makeshift parking lots, desperate fans holding up hand-scrawled "I NEED 2 TICKETS" cardboard signs--all this for a bunch of non-leotarded non-pixies playing the wrong kind of football?

But Herschel Walker never received an ovation as thunderous as the one accorded the U.S. women after the whistle sounded on their 2-1 victory.

For more than half an hour, the crowd stayed and roared as the American women grabbed a few flags, savored a long, slow victory lap and lingered on the podium after receiving their medals.

Mia Hamm, the Americans' star striker, was so overwhelmed she could hardly speak. It was the kind of moment seen too infrequently at these Olympics--unscripted, straight from the heart, unprompted by hype.

According to reports, long before these Coca-Cola Games, that was the Olympic ideal.

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