My blog is about travel and this post may seem a bit off-topic but I hope you will indulge me because it is the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics and because my fascination with travel is related to all these places on Earth we call countries – which, in turn, get together every few years in peace for an event we call the Olympics. And I am fascinated by seeing all those places…
A Georgia Tech student volunteering for the bid
As a college student at Georgia Tech in the late 1980s, I heard that Atlanta was going to bid for the right to host the 1996 Olympic Games. It sounded a bit far-fetched but, at the same thing, it sounded so exciting. I quickly learned that fellow students had created an organization to help greet the International Olympic Committee (IOC; they would choose the host city) members when they visited Georgia Tech which was suggested as the Olympic Village. This was back in 1989 and the movement was grassroots way before social media existed and people developed hysterics about grassroots campaigns being enabled by social media. The Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition (GTOC) was set up by students and was, initially, staffed by students getting ready for the first IOC visit to the Tech campus in May 1989 when IOC members from five countries would come to check out Atlanta and OUR campus (I only remember Japan, Sweden and Finland of the five but remember creating a massive banner in all the languages!). We not only created the massive banner (an all-nighter) but had students in several locations with balloons ready to show the spirit, and a student from each of the visitors’ countries ready to greet them in their native language.
I left that summer for an internship out of town but when I returned faculty and staff had joined our student-launched coalition. And we loved having the support -and wisdom- of our faculty and staff. We got to work side-by-side, no patronizing the students, with amazing individuals from a EE professor, to the head of Registration (and her awesome staff), to the landscape and physical plant folks, and many more. It was an incredible experience to continue to support visits by the IOC VIPs to our campus (even if some of them turned out to be corrupt as later scandals revealed…).
In any case, my main job consisted of finding students at Tech or at any university in the Atlanta area from the country of the IOC visitor and then get them prepped so we could be sure and deliver the personal touch. That personal touch in everything done by the AOC (Atlanta Organizing Committee) and GTOC, I am sure, won the day after the first round of voting took place in Tokyo in 1990… One thing I will say is that, while GTOC was still a student-only organization, we came up with the idea of selling bid t-shirts for $5 to raise funds to support our expenses! (Namely, helium, balloons, banner raw materials, etc.) Not even the committee organizing the bid had come up with the idea of selling t-shirts! I like to think we were first in commercializing the Atlanta Games…
I personally got to welcome the IOC members from Puerto Rico (Germán Rieckehoff Sampayo; because I grew up in P.R.) and from Hungary (Pal Schmitt, a future president, because we could not locate any student from Hungary; thanks to Frau Venable, my German teacher, who spoke some Hungarian and taught me a greeting that made Mr. Schmitt think I was Hungarian!).
Celebrating winning to be the host city of the 1996 Games
Anyway, fast forward to the day when the 1996 host city decision was being announced in Japan (September 1990). The announcement was expected right before morning rush hour began that day in Atlanta. I had been up most of the night inflating balloons (I actually can be seen in an WXIA Ch. 11 news clip that morning!) for the celebration should we win the bid at Underground Atlanta. I went home for just a little bit and was back early enough to be on the steps of Underground Atlanta as the announcement was made. It was an incredible feeling to see the dream of Atlanta hosting the 1996 Olympics come true!
As a reward for our work, when the victory parade took place, GTOC volunteers walked along the Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Wreck in our loud yellow t-shirts – and, again, I can be seen in video from newscasts about the parade (yes, I have those news shows in DVDs now that I converted my old VCR tapes!).
So, I end this write-up here but the best part comes when in 1994 I was selected, after interviewing, to be an Envoy for the delegation to the Games from Chile, where I had worked three years before. The Envoy was a relatively new role in the Olympics and it was focused on being the liaison between a country’s delegation and the Games. I would spend two years of weekly meetings preparing for the role and then 6-weeks around the actual Games as part of this role which afforded many, many wonderful experiences that will be with me as long as I have memory – or get to read this blog, as I plan to write about that in the near future.
It’s been twenty years since the Olympics transformed my city and left an indelible imprint in my mind. Wow.