July 4, 1999

Olympic Nibbling

Filed under: Atlanta — schroder @ 12:00 pm

Three years ago this summer, our overachieving citizens took a collective deep breath and heaved ourselves across the finish line of one of the greatest achievements by an underdog: the successful winning and staging of the largest Olympics in the 100 years of the global games.

Now we are going through an excruciating process that has become an American tradition in the last years of this century: turning the bright lights of hindsight on the past behavior of (insert name of politician, founding father, pro player or Olympic leader here). This dribbling out of information, draped across daily headlines, must be akin to being nibbled to death by ducks.

It could have been so different.

We spent so much of the early 1990s wringing our hands over our “Olympic legacy.” Who among us, if asked in 1995, would have predicted that as we prepare for the 2000 games, we would be focused on a tug of war over boxes of old documents stored at the Atlanta History Center.

People who complain about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducting Chinese water torture on our Olympic heritage are missing the point. The AJC is only performing its historical watchdog role, albeit a bit late. Why weren’t we asking questions about the incredible odds of Atlanta winning IOC votes back in 1991? Didn’t we have the same open records laws back then?

The media’s current tenacious pursuit is the sad result of a history lesson many of today’s leaders refuse to learn: When You Screw Up, Come Clean.

Surely, they watched the same pursuit of Bill Clinton’s impeachment that we did. When some of the Republican congressmen were confronted with similar charges, they called a press conference, admitted to the wrongdoing and moved on. Do we even remember their names? When one of the more prominent Atlanta Braves went public with his indiscretion, he took his lumps honestly and responsibly. Last time I picked up the sports page, the writers were focused on his on-field batting average.

How different it would have been had the Atlanta Olympic Committee called a press conference, released the facts that they went a little overboard in their enthusiasm to win the games and asked for public forgiveness? I bet we’d be back to reading about the building of an Olympic museum.

So, let’s concede this: In their zeal, our local Olympic leaders broke some rules. Do we really need to know to what degree they were broken? If so, let’s quietly assemble an investigative team and have them give us a full report sometime next year. We’ve waited this long. Why must we get incomplete daily drippings from reporters?

Meanwhile, this month, let’s sit in the warm evening of an Atlanta July and watch old videotapes of gymnasts Kerri Shrug’s injured leap at the Georgia Dome or Michael Johnson’s record-breaking run around our Olympic stadium. While we’re at it, let’s reflect upon some related remarkable events that occurred this decade:

• A lawyer named Billy Payne had an inspirational early-morning vision and defied all odds, bring the Centennial Games to Atlanta. His tenacity and focus is an epic lesson for us all.
• Thousands of volunteers throughout the area gave of their time, their homes and hearts to host a superb show for the world.
• Dozens of athletes showed why a big heart and determination often overcome an opponent of Goliath proportions.
• And we as a city pulled together, planted trees, improved streetscapes, erected facilities and built a park that generations after us will enjoy long after we’ve opened the last dusty box of a dissolved Olympic bureaucracy.

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