Tuesday, June 23, 2009

100 Days from Olympic Day

Today was Olympic Day around the globe, and the morning started with a great NBC TODAY Show segment about the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid.

It was a low key holiday in Atlanta. I tried, but could not find details on the apparent local celebrations listed by Olympic Day organizers (until tonight, too late, I stumbled upon a listing on a website -- if I missed something big, read the following with a grain of salt).

To pause and commemorate things, this evening I took a walk through Centennial Olympic Park (which has a great virtual tour online) and asked a mix of locals and visitors if they knew what Olympic Day is or when it takes place -- to my surprise, one woman from Puerto Rico, who was posing for a photo with the park's monument to Modern Olympic Founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin, exclaimed "TODAY is Olympic Day, and my birthday, too!" (not surprising, no one else quizzed had any idea).

The walk provided a mixed bag of sentimentality and cynicism about the Olympic Movement and Atlanta's place in Olympic history.

On one hand, the Atlanta Olympic legacy including the vast urban park, other legacy venues and Turner Field (in view as I type this from high rise office downtown) are priceless. Almost every downtown Atlanta structure that borders Centennial Park -- except for The INFORUM, CNN Center and Tabernacle -- would not exist if the Games went to another city in 1996. And now that Centennial Olympic Park is in its adolescence, it is booming (remember when the trees were sticks in the ground? Now a gorgeous urban forest in bloom, and the fountains are all working again, post-drought!).

On the other hand, it seems sad that in spite of an army of employees and even larger army of volunteers rallied with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) from 1989 (bid days) to 1996, very few in Atlanta seem to celebrate or remember the Games on what is supposed to be its biggest day of celebration in a non-Olympic year.

They do come out of the woodwork every so often, getting out the pin collections and donning Olympic shirts from the glory days. There was a good (and large) celebration of ACOG's/Atlanta's 10th anniversary held in 2006, so that balances out some of what's negativity on the brain (the BBC's Kurt Barling filed an excellent report on the Atlanta Games legacy just after the 10th anniversary event -- be sure to watch the videos, too).

And then you look at the Los Angeles area's ambitious 25th anniversary gathering on the horizon and wonder "what will Atlanta remember/celebrate in 2021?"

Looking forward, it is cool to note that the 2016 host will be selected just 100 days from now. Here's hoping the 2009 Olympic Day celebrations across the U.S. only helped in that decision before the I.O.C. And perhaps, sometime in 2041, Chicago will celebrate its 25th Olympic anniversary.

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