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Atlanta Thinks Its Games Were Greatest Ever

August 6, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ In a city that often broods over how it is perceived by others, the self-assessment of the Summer Olympics was swift and unanimous: Atlanta thought its games were the greatest ever.

From folks on the street to the halls of power, Atlanta gave itself a big pat on the back Monday and shrugged off a lukewarm review by International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

``When we left Barcelona, we were quaking in our boots. How could we live up to that?″ former mayor Andrew 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.″

Distinguished by spectacular athletic performances and record-setting attendance, but plagued by a fatal bombing and criticized for tacky commercialism, the Atlanta Games failed to get the customary ``greatest ever″ nod Sunday night from Samaranch at the closing ceremony.

``Most exceptional,″ was the way Samaranch described them, drawing a muted response from more than 83,000 people at Olympic Stadium.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described Samaranch’s comment as ``the ultimate slap on the wrist, with half the planet watching.″

Atlanta residents thought Samaranch was way off-base.

``I think he’s wrong,″ said Sylvia Odmark of Norcross, Ga., who watched the closing ceremony on a giant TV screen at Centennial Olympic Park. ``I think they are the greatest.″

The jumble of souvenir tents and refreshment stands that turned Atlanta’s streets into a pseudo-boardwalk and offended some IOC members, Ms. Odmark said, was part of the appeal.

``It’s given this a party atmosphere, like a two-week Mardi Gras,″ she said.

Diane Arabie of Duluth, Ga., didn’t understand Samaranch’s problem.

``It must be a personal thing for him,″ she said.

Mayor Bill Campbell said he didn’t consider Samaranch’s statement to be an insult.

``Not at all,″ he said. ``I don’t think any one person defines these games. 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,″ Campbell said.

Young, co-chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said at a news conference at the top of the Chamber of Commerce building that he believed Samaranch really enjoyed the games.

``I don’t think there’s any question that he feels very good about these games,″ said Young, who wore a gold Olympic Order medallion given to him earlier in the morning by Samaranch.

Young said the closing ceremony remarks didn’t bother him.

``After all, we feel very good about these games,″ Young said. ``I never did like grades.″

Young urged Atlanta residents to focus instead on the economic benefits he said the South will enjoy for years to come because of the Olympics.

Young said the Olympics generated $5.1 billion in business, jobs and tax revenue for the region. Although that was the figure projected before the games, some economists now say the actual economic impact actually was about $4 billion.

Though the visible signs of the Olympics, such as temporary sponsor pavilions and street advertising, were rapidly being taken down Monday, Young said the economic benefits of the games will continue for years to come.

``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,″ he said. ``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.″

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