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Something Old, Something New, Something in Chrome

July 19, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Something old and endangered. Something new and encroaching. Lots of red, white and blue.

When the world tunes in tonight, the stadium spectacular that opens history’s biggest Olympics will offer a grand tradition on its way out, some upstart commercialism on its way in and a sassy, brassy celebration of America and of global brotherhood.

The inaugural ceremony, starting at 8:30 p.m. EDT, is scheduled to last almost four hours. And that’s the problem with tradition.

Almost half that time will be taken up with the ``Parade of Nations,″ the customary processional of athletes and officials into Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium _ this time more than 10,000 from 197 nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

The numbers have become so unwieldy, the parade so time-consuming, the stadium infields so jampacked with delegations that planners are looking for a way out.

``This may be the last time that athletes march into the stadium,″ said Don Mischer, the Hollywood producer who is staging tonight’s ceremony.

Organizers of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, are considering simply opening the ceremony with the athletes seated in the stands, Mischer told reporters Thursday.

And today may be the first time the world gets to see a gleaming display of a sponsor’s products in the midst of musical tributes to Olympic ideals.

A fleet of 30 chrome-plated Silverado pickup trucks _ each with a bright blue ``CHEVROLET″ painted on the tailgate _ will roar onto the field as platforms for spotlights illuminating hundreds of cheerleaders and dancers who perform a show-stopping prime-time number, ``Atlanta’s Welcome to the World.″

The trucks sometimes face inward toward the field, sometimes circle in convoy around the stadium track.

General Motors issued a news release boasting it is ``believed to be the first Olympic sponsor to ever be included in the opening ceremonies.″ A top GM executive was quoted saying the audience ``will recognize that we elevated GM and the Chevrolet brand way above the field.″

But some who viewed a dress rehearsal Wednesday night expressed surprise at the glaring brand-naming of equipment in what is supposed to be a ceremony focusing on lofty principles. Atlanta Olympics organizers, who also were there, apparently agreed.

``Those trucks are not going to look that way Friday night,″ an authoritative source said.

On Thursday, Mischer added his misgivings. ``I was sorry to see what GM publicized regarding this,″ the producer said.

But what might be done to soften the commercial image could not be learned. And GM spokesman Dean Rotondo said the company had not been asked, as of late Thursday, to modify the vehicles.

Rotondo added a corporate apology for the news release, saying, ``We never intended to put (organizers) in any sort of compromising and embarrassing position.″

The International Olympic Committee has sanctioned the presence of standard stadium billboard ads during such ceremonies. But Olympic specialists could not immediately recall any previous on-field product display.

Trucks aside, the Olympics opener promises a rousing, diverse night of entertainment that touches on themes both local and universal.

Mischer said the ``Atlanta Welcome″ number, a stirring musical explosion of humanity in motion, was based on suggestions by local high school and college kids who demonstrated their stepping, clogging and cheerleading moves for him and became the volunteer cast.

The program also includes the vast, symbolic choreographies that have become standard for recent Olympics _ swirling colors, flocks of performers in fantasy costumes and vague story lines and messages.

Big-name singers _ Gladys Knight, Celine Dion, Jessye Norman _ are also on the night’s program, along with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a 300-strong Centennial Choir.

Organizers worked hard to keep elements of the opening ceremony under wraps until tonight, including the method to be used for the climactic lighting of the stadium cauldron with the Olympic torch.

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the moment was spellbinding: An archer fired a flaming arrow at the cauldron from midfield. Mischer hinted the Atlanta lighting ceremony might be simpler and more traditional.

``Sometimes simplicity is the easiest,″ he said.

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