As the 2016 Olympic Games continue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and historic records are broken in the pool, on the court, on the field, and on the track, we’re inclined to remember Olympics and Olympic athletes of yore. The history of the modern Olympics games includes a cadre of characters - both nations and individual athletes - that have not only brought the Games to the international pedestal they sit on today, but also pushed others to live up to the ideals of the Olympic spirit (for better or for worse).
Since 1896, the Olympic Games have traveled the globe - visiting the world’s greatest cities for a two-week athletic symposium - showcasing the world’s greatest athletes competing for the highest honor in their sports: an Olympic gold medal. For the centennial celebration of this international event, the world descended on Atlanta, Georgia - a bustling metropolis in the American Southeast. Atlanta was given a tall order: to not only represent the United States of America on the world’s biggest stage, but also honor the hundredth anniversary of one of the world’s most popular and celebrated events.
But Atlanta was no stranger to large-scale projects. This was a city that had rebuilt itself from the ground up after Union General William Tecumseh Sherman burned it to the ground as he carved a path to the Atlantic through the Confederacy during the American Civil War. This was a city that prided itself on its racial heritage - a city “too busy to hate”.
Atlanta brought the same determination and confidence that it relied on to persevere through the hardships of Reconstruction and the racial tensions of the Civil Rights era to the planning and construction of its Olympic Games, and once again, the results showed for themselves: Atlanta’s Games were a rousing success - both on a local and international level. The Games not only brought about the redevelopment and reinvigoration of Atlanta’s most impoverished and underprivileged neighborhoods, but also established Atlanta on the world stage as one of the world’s brightest and fastest-growing metropolises. The Atlanta Games were one of the few Olympic Games to both turn a profit and add longstanding value to the host city; without the Games, civic icons like Turner Field, Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca-Cola would never have been built, and Atlanta would still be frequently confused with casino-resort destination Atlantic City, New Jersey. Hosting the Games launched Atlanta into international conversation - both as a place to work and live and as a place to visit. The Games of the XXVI Olympiad engendered an “Atlantan Renaissance”, and even 20 years later, we are still feeling the effects of that civic reinvigoration.
But how did the Olympic Games come to Atlanta in the first place? How did a city barely relevant in its own country convince an international panel that it would be the best host for the centennial celebration of the panel’s world-renowned event?
Atlanta - an Olympic City?