Proud Atlanta Fires Back At Games' Critics Olympic Officials' Displeasure With The Games Was The Talk Of The Town. Residents Felt Insulted.

Posted: August 06, 1996

ATLANTA — Y'all stuff it, you hear?

That's pretty much what Atlanta - ever-zealously protective of its image and always striving to take its place as a world-class city - had to say yesterday to international Olympic officials displeased with its Olympics.

In coffee shops and beauty parlors, on radio talk shows and in corporate boardrooms, the city was giving those officials a big Southern raspberry.

Many Atlantans - who looked toward to these Games for six years, then endured crowded transit trains and traffic woes without complaint - expressed their displeasure that Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, pointedly refrained from calling their Olympics ``the greatest ever.''

``I think it was an insult to [Atlanta Olympics chief] Billy Payne, and to this city, and to everybody who worked so hard to put the Olympics together,'' said Tanya Hamby, 47, of Atlanta.

Payne himself ever the diplomat, has said publicly only that he was not concerned about the IOC's assessment.

Samaranch and other IOC officials made no secret of their disappointment with what they called the over-commercialization of the Games. The Atlanta Olympics were financed with private funds, which led to a corporate-logo clutter and a county-fair flavor.

In addition, there was the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park, which killed one visitor and injured 111 others, and widely reported problems early on with transportation and technology.

That led IOC officials on Friday to state publicly that Samaranch - who had called every Olympics he had presided over the best or the greatest - would be less than effusive in his praise of the city during the Closing Ceremony.

In the hours leading up to Sunday night's extravaganza, the city buzzed over just what Samaranch would say.

A caller to a local radio talk show suggested that those attending the closing ceremony chant ``Best ever! Best ever!'' as Samaranch spoke.

That didn't happen. So when he called these Olympics merely ``exceptional,'' Atlantans knew what he meant.

Yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution characterized Samaranch's remarks as ``the ultimate slap on the wrist, with half the planet watching.''

Most Atlantans clearly were pleased with what they'd shown the world - even though many in the international media ridiculed the city and many American sports columnists were saying the Games did not measure up to the standards set in Barcelonia in 1992 or Los Angeles in 1984.

``I don't think any one person defines these Games,'' said Mayor Bill Campbell. ``We thought they were the best Games ever.

``By any objective criteria, they were the largest, the most athletes, the most female athletes, the most nations, and we think it was very successful. So we will allow historians to judge,'' he said.

Atlantans felt their city had acquitted itself well.

``It's not a backwater town in a lesser developed area of the United States, which is what a lot of people thought it was,'' said Donald Ratajczak, a Georgia State University economist.

Andrew Young, former mayor and cochairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, gave his city kudos.

``When we left Barcelona [in 1992], we were quaking in our boots,'' Young said. ``And yet we did it our way. And I feel as good about our Games as Barcelona did about theirs, as Seoul did about theirs and as Los Angeles did about theirs.''

He urged critics to look instead toward the economic impact of the Games.

``We will probably do another $5 billion before the turn of the century because of the influence of these Games,'' Young said. ``We in the South have been most of our lifetime a very poor region.

``The wealth that has come here we have had to find ways to generate, and the Olympic Games has come through for us at a very wonderful time.''

Meanwhile, on the streets downtown yesterday, the contrast from a day earlier was stunning. Relatively few people were out, and the barricades were gone from Peachtree Street.

But there was a new souvenir making the rounds - a pen, bearing the inscription ``Frankly, Juan Antonio, we don't give a damn.''

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