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The World Comes to Atlanta: ‘It’s a Zoo’

July 20, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ The big Olympic crowds finally hit Atlanta Saturday. And there they stood. And stood. And stood.

Squeezed into subway trains, then let out to slither through narrow security checkpoints at athletic venues, spectators complained of long waits and confusing directions as downtown turned into throbbing, sweating, slow-moving mass of people.

These are the Olympics where Old World charm supposedly was sacrificed for New World efficiency. On the first competition day of the Summer Games, people asked mantra-like, ``Where’s the organization?″

``My experience has been a lot of waiting in very long lines. It’s incredibly disorganized,″ said Kee Holt of Dallas, who was stuck in a thick pack waiting to see wrestling at the Georgia World Congress Center at the same time tens of thousands of people were pouring out of nearby venues from just-ended gymnastics and volleyball matches.

Earlier, Holt said, he got stuck in a mob crowding a single will-call window for tickets to the morning gymnastics event.

Efforts to control the crowds were futile, he said.

``Here you have one person who knows one thing, there you have another person who knows another, and never do the two meet,″ he said. ``I personally think they’re overwhelmed.″

Olympic organizers insisted they could control the crowds, and said some delays were to be expected.

``The fact is we invited the world, and they all came. When you invite the world, you can expect huge throngs of people,″ said Bob Brennan, spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

It wasn’t only spectators trying to get in and out of venues who were having trouble navigating Atlanta.

A member of the judo team from Georgia forfeited his match after he went to the wrong site for a weigh-in. A bomb threat at the Olympic village held up team buses and caused the U.S.-Nicaragua baseball game to be delayed 30 minutes.

Journalists complained of long waits for media buses. Several reporters and photographers, tired of waiting after the Olympic opening ceremony Saturday morning, stood in front of one bus, pointing and hollering, when the driver refused to open the doors until he reached the street corner.

There was no bus to take journalists to the boxing competition, one of the major events that began Saturday, and a van that was finally brought in was then delayed 20 minutes for a security check.

There were reports that some drivers, tired of long hours and verbal abuse from passengers, were quitting. Sharon Wallace, a spokeswoman at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said she was unaware of any drivers quitting.

She said ACOG was aware of some complaints from media, and was working on correcting them.

``The first couple of days are trial by fire,″ she said.

Other organizational problems were reported.

At the Wolf Creek shooting venue, it was difficult to see the shooters from the spectator seats and hard to see the targets from the press seats, leading to crowding in the aisles.

``It’s a zoo,″ said Bryan Berrol, an ACOG press operations manager at Wolf Creek.

It really did seem like a zoo at the plaza of CNN Center, which overlooks the ``Olympic Cluster″ of three major competition venues. People were lining behind the 9-foot chain link security fence and taking snapshots of the immobile crowd trying to push its way out of the venues.

``Look at those people,″ marveled Dawn Walker of Atlanta, snapping away. ``This is unbelievable.″

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority trains, which have been running full all week, handled 500,000 passengers Saturday. In the middle of the afternoon, it took 45 minutes to pass through the turnstiles, board a train and travel one stop downtown.

``We’ve said all along there will be delays getting on MARTA due to the volume of people,″ Wallace said. ``They are queuing people up to keep people from being pushed on the track. It slows things down, but it’s necessary to be safe.″

Yet some Olympic visitors wondered why, with all the planning that went into these games, the crowds couldn’t move smoothly.

``We’re used to crowds. We’re not used to this controlling of the crowds,″ said Laura Finne, comparing her hometown of Chicago with Olympic Atlanta. ``We just run each other down, and it works fine.″

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