Atlanta runs 83-day sprint to Olympic start


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - The still of Saturday morning is broken by the belch of a blowtorch and the jarring noise of a jackhammer. The Olympic Stadium is nearly done, but the work still spills into the weekends.

Only 83 days remain before the Summer Games of 1996, and there is no time to dawdle. The Olympic torch arrived in Los Angeles Saturday, and Atlanta will not rest until its flame has been extinguished.

Nowhere in the world is so much overtime pay available, or are so many details in danger of neglect. Less than 12 weeks before the Opening Ceremonies, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) is looking for 42,000 more volunteers and $2 million per week in additional funding.

You figure the finishing touches on the Olympic venues for a mad dash against immovable deadlines. You wonder if the 100 meters will be so close at the wire. You look for embryonic evidence of organizational panic. You see nothing of the sort.

"Are we ready to host the Olympics today?" said Dave Maggard, managing director of sports for ACOG. "No. Will we be ready on July 19? Yes. We will accomplish a lot in the next 80 days. We need the time, but it's enough time."

Eighty days is plenty of time if your pursuit is well-defined and your plans are carefully constructed. Jules Verne's intrepid Phileas Fogg circled the globe in such a span, but ACOG's aims are considerably more ambitious. It seeks to stage a sporting spectacle involving 10,000 athletes from 197 nations; to house, transport and feed some 2 million spectators; and to complete 181 venues for competition, training and other assorted Olympic needs.

The bulk of the preparation is complete, but the remaining balance is daunting. Atlanta's Olympic road repairs are not finished, and the city's mass transit system was overtaxed during a recent test. It remains to be seen if this town is big enough for its britches.

ACOG President Billy Payne, whose native language is hyperbole, referred to the Atlanta Games Saturday as "the greatest event that modern history has yet to produce." Presumably, this would include both the Allied invasion of Normandy and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis auction at Sotheby's.

Payne's exaggeration, though, is only slight. Dave Kittell, executive director of the Olympic Villages, says the athletes' compound at Georgia Tech would be the state's 13th biggest city when it is occupied this summer. It will include six cinemas, a bowling alley, a billiard parlor, a video arcade, a dance club, a coffee house, a nail salon and a McDonald's where athletes may gorge themselves gratis.

Hootie & the Blowfish will hold a concert there, provided they can clear the Olympic checkpoint. No small feat, that.

In order to gain access to the Village, athletes will be required to place a hand in a contraption that compares the contours of the palm against those of a computerized sample. ACOG's security is so elaborate that even the linen will be trucked in from a secured facility.

Security is one area where you can't cut corners at the Olympics. Still there are no guarantees against terrorism. When pipe bombs were found Friday in Macon, Ga., early reports suggested they were designed to disrupt the Atlanta Games. Law enforcement officials later denied there was any connection between the extremists responsible for the explosives and "the greatest event that modern history has yet to produce."

You would like to think that's the end of it. The modern world allows for no such assurances.

"Who would want to spoil an Olympic dream?" said American gymnast Dominique Moceanu. "So many people will be here, who would do something like that?

"I think they should be happy there's such an event like this in Atlanta and in our country, where we can be proud of it, where people can see how nice our country is, instead of having them watch something bad."

Moceanu is 14 years old, and retains a rare innocence. She believes in the Olympic dream, reality notwithstanding.

So does Atlanta. Let us pray neither party is disappointed.

Published April 28, 1996.