When Atlanta got the Games at the IOC congress in Tokyo in 1989, it came as a huge surprise. Everyone was betting on Athens, which seemed like the logical choice considering that Athens had hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, 100 years earlier.
- Participating nations: 197
- Number of athletes: 10,320 (6,797 men - 3,523 women)
- Time of year: July 19 - August 4
- Number of events: 271
The other bidding cities, Belgrade, Manchester, Melbourne and Toronto were going to remain in the background. And so they did, Toronto being the longest lasting of the four in the final election.
Before the final round, Atlanta had 34 votes and Athens had 30. Now the 22 votes given to Toronto were at stake. Athens only received five of these votes, the rest went to Atlanta, which thus became a strong winner.
The decision was quite heavily criticized. Many were of the opinion that the Olympic movement had been “bought" by the sponsors, and particularly Coca Cola, which has its main office in Atlanta.
But the truth was probably that the IOC members liked Atlanta´s concept better, and that the Athens bid committee was a little too confident and more or less assumed that the 100-year anniversary of the Games should be held in Athens.
The Critics Were RightThe critics did get support for their claims. The American organizers did not have an easy time.The information failed. It´s a bit ironic that in the country which invented computers, the computer system would turn out to be the major concern. Journalists had problems writing their texts when results, which they had been promised within seconds, took hours before becoming available. The athlete biographies were often a joke.
The transportation of both athletes and the press functioned poorly. The bus drivers didn´t know the way, which turned every bus trip into something of an adventure. Were you going to arrive at the venue listed on the sign in the front of the bus and, more importantly, were you going to get there on time?
And during the closing ceremony, IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch didn´t call the Games in Atlanta “the best Games ever", as he usually did, but instead said “well done Atlanta".
All of the member countries of the IOC - there are 197 of them - came to Atlanta, which marked a new record.
Terror attackBut the Atlanta Games were not only the victim of organizational problems, they were also subject of a terror attack.
The night preceding July 27th, which was a Saturday, a bomb went off in the middle of Centennial Park, in the center of Atlanta. The park gathered many visitors throughout the Games and featured performances and other events.
Two people died, one of them as a direct result of the bomb, and more than one hundred people suffered various kinds of injuries.
The Olympic movement quickly got back on its feet after the initial shock and it was declared that “the Games will go on". The flags were at half mast that Saturday and all the competitions started with a minute of silence.
The strange thing about the attack was, and still is, that no one has come forward to admit to the crime. Despite spending enormous resources on the search for the perpetrator, only one suspect was found, and he was later released.
At the closing ceremony Samaranch said the following:
“Acts of terror have never been allowed to destroy the Olympic spirit or the Olympic movement, and no act of terror ever will".
As we´ve mentioned earlier, the Games in Atlanta were heavily criticized, and much of it was warranted. But when it came to the competitions, everything was done perfectly.
American FocusThe American audience was, as usual, very nationalistic and this didn´t come as a surprise to anyone. But what got on a lot of people´s nerves was how the television broadcasts focused too much of their attention on the American athletes.
But many of the brightest shining stars were American so it´s perhaps not too surprising.
The United States took a total of 101 medals, 44 of them gold, which took the Americans to the top of the nation ranking-list. The Americans had actually taken more medals in Los Angeles in 1984, but most of the former Eastern block wasn´t present then. Everyone came to Atlanta.
One of the greatest stars on the track field was Michael Johnson. He started out by winning the gold medal on the 400 m. He won by about a second, which is a lot these days.
For Johnson to be able to win his expected two gold medals, the officials had rearranged the schedule to his advantage. We should also note that the track had been especially designed for sprinters, to the dismay of the long-distance runners. But the organizers got the world record they had been hoping for.
No one could match Michael Johnson, he was superior to all his contestants. He ran the first 100 meters in 10.12 seconds and the last hundred meters in incredible 9.20 seconds.
19.32 seconds was the new world record. Michael Johnson had slaughtered the old record by 34 hundredths of a second, a huge improvement in this day of age when we´re used to seeing improvements of only a few hundredths at a time. Michael Johnson´s "time cut" can almost be compared to what Bob Beamon accomplished when he added 55 centimeters to the long jump world record in Mexico City in 1968.
The Historical Carl LewisAnd it was the Olympic long jump competition, but this time the 1996 version, which made Carl Lewis historic. He took his fourth straight Olympic long jump gold medal. Lewis was of course praised by the stadium audience, but some thought that he stole too much of the attention from Michael Johnson on the day of his 400 m race.
The fast tracks also led to a new world record on one of modern athletics´ most prestigious distances - the 100 m.
Canadian Donovan Bailey won on the record-breaking time of 9.84 seconds, five hundredths of a second before the eternal “runner-up" of the sprint distances, Frankie Fredricks, Namibia. Fredricks also took the silver medal on the 200 m where he was second to the impossible Johnson.
Sometimes sports contain much of what you would normally see in the average soap opera. This time the audience was offered a glimpse of that when Kerri Strug made her second jump to secure the gold medal for the American women´s gymnastics team.
Strug tore two ligaments in her foot in her first jump, but she made a second jump anyway. More than 30,000 people in the Georgia Dome, and more than 100 million American television viewers followed her struggle. She took the jump and won the hearts of the American people, as well a few sponsor contracts. She didn´t really have to take the jump, the gold medal was already “in the bag". She was carried off the podium after the jump and she also had to be carried back out to receive her gold medal.
Archery Gets AttentionArchery usually doesn´t get much attention in the media. But with American Justin Huish as the main attraction and a new competition format to better meet the needs of audience, archery became a success in Atlanta.
Sweden got its fair share too, with Magnus Petersson in the final against the American. In front of a delighted audience of 5,000, Huish was able to beat Petersson and take the gold.
For the first time, the cycling events featured some of the very best athletes the sport had to offer. Many of the professional cyclists seemed a little tired and uninterested, they had just finished the Tour de France, but the title in the individual pursuit went to one of the very best - Spain´s Miguel Indurain.
The men´s football tournament was a little better than its earlier editions. This time the teams were allowed three exceptions from the rule which stated that the players had to be 23 years old or younger.
The American baseball team lost the semi-final against Japan and was also beaten by Cuba in the group play. Now the question is how long it will take before the professional American major league players make it to the Olympics. Maybe they´ll be in Sydney, the Americans can´t let other nations beat them in their national sport, can they?
“Dream Team III" was, of course, present in Atlanta. “Dream Team II" had won the gold medal in the World Championships in1994. The players on the American team were the kings of the tournament and were also treated as such.
The Chinese totally dominated all the table tennis events and won all of the gold medals at stake!
Karelin Does It AgainAlexandr Karelin won his third straight gold medal in the heaviest of the wrestling weight classes. He was perhaps not as superior to all his competitors as he had been, but an injury earlier in the season could account for his not being shape. Counting the wrestling competition in Atlanta, Karelin had an astonishing record of 83 straight victories. He won his matches in Atlanta by a total of 21-0, and his 83 latest matches had given him a 540-12 point score!
The big talk of the swimming pool was the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith. No one outside her home country seemed happy with her three gold medals. Wherever she went, she was met with suspicion. She had improved her personal best on the 400 meters by 19 seconds since 1992, and the fact that her coach was a former discus thrower who had been barred from competitions for four years, due to a positive doping test, didn´t make things better.
But Smith defended herself by stating that she had been tested on eleven occasions throughout the season and that her test results had come back negative every time.
Tennis turned out to be an all-American affair this time, the host nation took all the gold medals except the one in the men´s double tournament.
The Swedish results in Atlanta were okay. Sweden ended up in 22nd place overall, a position earned through two gold, four silver and two bronze medals.
The expectations on the team were high, Sweden had the opportunity to take gold medals in canoeing, athletics, tennis, handball, wrestling, table tennis, rowing and yachting.
As it turned out, Sweden took only two gold medals - in athletics and canoeing
Ludmila - A Swedish Matter of The HeartLudmila Engquist who had made her way into the hearts of the Swedish people, became even more popular after the Games in Atlanta. She had crushed the competition at the various European athletics galas before the Olympics, and was the favorite to win the Olympic title.As usual, Engquist got off to a slow start, but she passed her opponents during the second half of the race, one after the other. But Brigita Bukovec refused to give up, she was in the lead up until the end when Engquist managed to throw herself across the finish line. The photo finish revealed that she had won by one tiny hundredth of a second, or six thousandths, to be precise. Engquist made one of her worst races that season, from a technical stand point, but she was able to fight her way to the gold medal on the 100 m hurdles, Sweden´s first women´s athletics gold.
Sven Nylander made a heroic performance on the 400 m hurdles. Nylander´s race marked a new Swedish record, 47.98 seconds, but came in fourth place only two hundredths of a second behind the bronze medallist. Nylander took fourth place, for the fourth time, in Olympic Games and World Championships. After the final, Nylander had to comfort disappointed Swedish journalists who grieved along with him. But he considered his fourth place a success and knew that life had other things to offer. A few days before, he had become a father for the first time, which helped put the competition into perspective.
As for the high jump competition, Patrik Sjöberg wasn´t able to take a fourth Olympic medal. An injured thigh muscle prevented him from competing.
Reliable CanoeistsThe Swedish team took its second gold medal on Lake Lanier, the site of the canoeing competitions. The team manager Kalle Sundqvist had made sure to let the best canoeists paddle the women´s K2 500 m - Agneta Andersson and Susanne Gunnarsson. They had taken the silver together, four years earlier in Barcelona, but had gone their separate ways after a dispute. They had now put their differences aside and were back in the same boat again.In the final, the Swedes showed immediately that they were after the gold and managed to give their opponents quite a shock. Neither the Germans, who were the favorites, nor the Australians were able to do anything to hold back the determined Swedes.
Agneta Andersson took one more medal, a bronze, together with the rest of the Swedish women´s K-4 team.
And so the time came for the members of the Swedish men´s handball team to top their careers with an Olympic gold medal. Their journey toward the final had been relatively painless, and in the final against the Croats, the Swedes were the favorites. But suddenly, the excellent performance of the earlier games in the tournament was nowhere to be found. The Swedes seemed nervous and tense. They had more or less lost the game already after ten minutes. The Swedes fought bravely in the second half, but were never close to taking the game into overtime, even if the final score (26-27) made the game seem closer than it really was.
"Only" One Yachting MedalThe Swedish yachtsmen took only one medal, but the expectations were high on the strong Swedish team before the Games. Now it was Hans Wallén and Bobbie Lohse in the star class who saved the Swedish honor by winning on the last stage, their second stage victory during the competition, and taking a silver medal.
The swim team took one medal, a silver, through the men´s relay team on the 4x200 m.
Anders Holmertz had hopes of medals on both the 200 m and 400 m freestyle, but he was far from finishing among the top three in the final and had to settle for the relay silver medal.
Sweden took a bronze medal in wrestling, in the 100 kg weight class, through Mikael Ljungberg. There were hopes that he might be able to take the gold, but his opponent in the semi-final put an end to that dream. Instead, Ljungberg had to wrestle for the bronze.
The 62-year-old Ragnar Skanåker started in his seventh Olympic Games. After his unexpected gold medal in the 1972 shooting competition, the Swedish media knew that they should keep their eyes on him. But there were no medals with Skanåker´s name on them this time, he was far from making it to the final.
The table tennis was also a disappointment, none of the Swedes made it to any of the semi-finals. The tennis events were equally disappointing.
The rower Maria Brandin had her hopes set on a gold medal, but the World Champion didn´t stand a chance in the final and came in fourth place, almost five seconds from the bronze medal.