Life’s Playlist… The Power of the Dream by Celine Dion

For me, today is day 5 of the Jeff Goins 500 Word Challenge.  A program for writers and those of us writer-wannabes to get in the habit of writing every day.  Write a minimum of 500 words each day for 31 days straight.

Today the challenge is:  describe a day in my life I will never forget.  Without sounding cliché, there are too many to choose from, however being one who enjoys a good challenge I will go with this one.

Not necessarily the greatest day in my life or one that changed the trajectory of my life, but certainly one I will never forget.

Friday, July 19, 1996.

On this date in history, the Centennial Summer Olympic Games began in Atlanta.  I lived in Atlanta at the time, moving there in 1986.

For seven years, the city had been working in overdrive to welcome the world to our town.  The city had been made-over and was glistening with new buildings, sporting facilities and the hoopla that surrounds the largest world-wide sporting event.

Going into the Games, I was working for a Special Events company as Creative Director and we worked directly with several corporate clients to coordinate their housing, transportation, ticketing and company events.

I was assigned to a company that has since gone out of business, CIBA-Vision.

During the final days leading up to the Games, the excitement in Georgia was palpable.  The Olympic Torch Relay was making its way through the State and a few days before the Opening Ceremony I was able to travel to my hometown to watch it pass through.

On that late summer evening, my entire community had gathered to watch some of our hometown heroes carry the torch, and as they passed we stood draped in red, white and blue cheering them on, the excitement of the Games had invaded my little Appalachian community and we were overjoyed.

The next day I reported to CIBA Village.  A new apartment complex on the outskirts of Atlanta that was close to the Equestrian Park where the horse competitions would take place.

My team and I readied the apartments for over a thousand guests who would visit over the next 18 days.

Two days before the Games began, a group of ten to twelve of us stood along the street outside our apartment village and watched as the torch made another pass.  Those moments of seeing the Olympic Flame pass within feet of me stirred my soul and gave me a feeling of pride in my community and nation that is difficult to put into words.

Finally, the day of the Opening Ceremonies was upon us.  All the years of planning and execution were now in full swing, the Centennial Olympic Games were about to open in my adopted town, Atlanta, GA.

On the night the ceremonies took place, we hosted several hundred people in a quaint pavilion not far from our complex.

Dinner and decorations and large screen televisions had been brought in for everyone to enjoy the festivities.

From the moment the Opening Ceremonies began the spectacle of the night was enthralling.   Dance routines and aerobatics and Georgia celebrities welcomed the World to our homes.   It was a magical night that still fills me with pride to this day.

One of the great mysteries of the Opening Ceremony was who would be the final torch-bearer to light the Olympic cauldron.

Many names were speculated, but only a very few people knew for sure who it would be.

As Evander Holyfield made his way into the stadium carrying the torch a loud road was heard, not only in the stadium, but in our small pavilion located miles from the official gathering.

Holyfield would have been a perfect choice, a Georgian, Olympian and worldwide sporting champion.  However, Evander Holyfield was met on the field by Janet Evans, an American Olympic hero in swimming, it would be amazing to have a woman light the torch.

As Janet Evans made her way towards the cauldron it appeared that she had been bestowed the honor, but then it happened.

Out of the darkness a lone figure appeared, frail but mighty.  The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali walked out to greet Evans and receive the flame and the adulation of thousands in the stands and watching on television who cheered his presence.

I still remember hearing NBC’s announcer, Dick Enberg joyfully shout into his microphone, “Oh my, it’s the Greatest!” and with that, Ali turned and pressed the flame to a bal that passed through the night sky and into the cauldron,  the flame was lit.  Set aglow by the greatest athlete of all-time, a legend in sports and an American treasure.

Over the next weeks, Atlanta and the World celebrated the excellence of athletes from around the world.  There was drama, grace and unfortunately a terrorist attack the forever marred the wonder of those days in Atlanta.

As amazing as the Games of Atlanta were, that one night, when the excitement of the world focused on a flame set aglow by Muhammad Ali will live within me forever.

Life’s Playlist…. Georgia, On My Mind performed by Gladys Knight

On this date in 1990, Atlanta was awarded the Summer Centennial Games Host City Designation.  Below is a blog post I wrote in 2009 remembering that day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It’s Atlanta

As I watched the excitement this week in Rio, when they were awarded the Summer Olympic Games of 2016, I couldn’t help but reflect back on a summer, not so long ago, when I lived in Atlanta and the same excitement exploded in the City, placing the capital of the South on the world stage.

I moved to Atlanta immediately after graduating college in 1986 and the City was just beginning to gear up for its bid to host the Centennial Olympic Games. Atlanta was considered a long shot with Athens, Greece the sentimental favorite. Other competing cities for the bid were Melbourne, Belgrade, Manchester and Toronto.

For years Atlanta pushed its bid, Olympic officials visited the city and the excitement of what could be pulsed through the veins of the city like an impeding Christmas morning. Those of us who lived in Atlanta knew what winning the Games could do for our town, transforming an otherwise sleepy metropolis into a bustling world-renowned focal point.

As the days grew near, leading up to the bid announcement, preparations were made and a grand victory announcement party was planned for downtown on the morning of September 18th, 1990.

In the days before the awarding, my family suffered a crisis, Aunt Laura Bea, was hospitalized and family was called to Atlanta as her status was not good. Aunt Laura Bea was ma-ma’s sister, my great aunt, a sweet southern belle with a loving strength that kept us all in line. Cousins from around the country flew in to be with Aunt Laura Bea and during the time I reconnected with my cousin Dede from Houston who I had not seen since we were both children.

Dede and I hit it off immediately, becoming fast friends, a relationship that remains strong today.

On the night before the bid announcement I was visiting with the family when my cousin Tina, who also lived in Atlanta, mentioned that we should go to the announcement party together. I jumped at the chance to go to the event with Tina and we invited Dede to go along with us.

On the morning of the 18th, I met up with Tina and Dede before sunrise. The announcement would be made in Tokyo, many hours ahead of us, making it necessary for the announcement party to begin during the early morning hours.

Mass transportation was filled that morning, it seemed as though everyone was headed for Undergound Atlanta, the cities gathering spot and host of the Olympic announcement party. Arriving on the site, Dede, Tina and I found a spot on the plaza steps to be a part of the festivities.

As Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee strode up to the microphone to announce the winners after the fifth and final round vote, the only two cities left in the competition were Athens and Atlanta. He took the stage and in one breath made the announcement, a hush fell over the crowd and Mr. Samaranch said “the International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the City of …Atlanta!”

Hearing those words, the crowds assembled took one collective breath and then PANDEMONIUM! Underground Atlanta, the City of Atlanta and the entire United States erupted in a celebration that I had never experienced up until that time.

We hugged, jumped, clapped and cheered!

No work was done that day as people filed out of their offices and into the streets for a giant celebration. Tina, Dede and I toured the city, we walked from location to location and within an hour had our collector’s edition newspaper with the headline…. “It’s Atlanta!”

Leading up to the Olympic announcement I had been toying with the idea of moving. I knew that I would eventually wind up in Florida and the time seemed right to make that move. As the words rolled off Juan Antonio Samaranch’s lips I decided in that instance to remain in Atlanta until after the Olympics. Living in an Olympic city is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was determined to experience the next six years as a proud Atlantan.

The days party stretched long into the evening. Eventually Tina went home and Dede and I were joined by my friend Charlie. The three of us painted the town gold, we laughed and celebrated one magical day that will live in my memory forever.

Over the next few years, Atlanta moved forward and eventually hosted those Games. We didn’t do everything right, but for the most part the Games were a huge success. The media wasn’t too kind to the City, but as someone who was there, I will tell you the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games made me proud to be an Atlantan.

Life’s Playlist…. Power of the Dream performed by Celine Dion

Twenty-one years ago the eyes of the world focused on Atlanta, GA for the start of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

The stage was set and after almost ten years of planning, Atlanta welcomed the world.

I lived in Atlanta during the build-up and celebration of the Centennial Olympiad.  It was a heady time filled with the most incredible displays of athletic prowess I have ever seen.

Those days and years leading up to the Games also showcased a spirit of community that all of us who lived in Atlanta, and worked on the Games, could be proud of.

Unfortunately, the actions of a mad man tarnished the magnificence of Atlanta 1996, but his actions cannot and should not be what we remember when we think of that magical summer.

I will always remember those days for the joy we felt as years of planning came to fruition.  I will remember the friends I made from around the world, and I will remember the unity of the athletes proving that we as a world can  co-exist, even if only for a couple of weeks.

Atlanta 1996 was a resounding success and 21 years later, the differences the Games made on the City are still evident.

Atlanta’s Olympic flame shone bright and still does today.