Do You Remember Why the World Was Watching Atlanta 20 Years Ago Tonight?

The Olympic flag waves at what would become The Ted. Photo: By Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Olympic flag waves at what would become The Ted. Photo: CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Twenty years ago tonight was the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic games. It was Atlanta’s opportunity to become an international city, to be in the world’s spotlight for two weeks, and, sadly, to be remembered for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. This lead to the International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch to call the games exceptional, but not the greatest games ever.

The Olympics did leave a lasting legacy for Georgia and Atlanta. Much of this legacy was remembered in a Facebook post by Chris Allen, a recent graduate of Valdosta State University. The only thing I would add that ended up being a legacy of the games was a huge start on a fiber optic network used to transmit the huge amount of data sent by the Games. It set up the network of traffic cams, some of which are still in use today, and turned the metro area into a desirable location for high tech companies just starting to get into an internet-connected world.

20 years ago tonight, the eyes of the world were on Atlanta for the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. A lot us were young but I do remember watching it on the TV, not aware of the magnitude of the event unfolding upon my eyes. Looking around the city today you’d never know it was the center of the world for those 17 days in the summer of 1996 unless you pass under the cauldron bridge on the way to the Ted or walk around Centennial Park.

Despite what many would try and tell you, the impact of the games are still easily seen around Atlanta, they just aren’t stamped with the 5 rings. MARTA’s Buckhead, Medical Center, and Dunwoody stations were all built for the games with the Sandy Springs and North Springs stations coming along because of this. The aquatics centers was handed over to Tech which enclosed it and uses the facility as their natatorium which just this past March welcomed the best swimmers and divers back into its waters for the 2016 NCAA Championships. The Olympic Village became dorms, first for State and later Tech, and a fixture of the architectural canyon of the midtown 75/85 corridor. The Olympic stadium, as we all know, became The Ted which is about to begin it’s 3rd life as the home to Georgia State’s football team and the cornerstone for the revitalization of a neglected neighborhood just the other side of I-20 from the Gold Dome.

I could go on about how all but one of the venues has found a meaningful purpose after the games, but for now look through the slideshow, go back and watch the Opening Ceremony on YouTube to enjoy the call of the Olympic Spirits, Ali lighting the cauldron, and everything in between.

No, 20 years later Atlanta doesn’t have the Olympic Rings tattooed on its forehead. Thankfully due to great leadership, Atlanta’s five rings were a henna tattoo it wore as it entertained the world. As the days after the cauldron was extinguished wore on the tattoo faded and Atlanta took the infrastructure and experience to grow itself further as a world class city.

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