16 years ago Atlanta was London. For 17 days in the summer of 1996, Atlanta was the center of the world.
For as many who may forget, Atlanta does have an Olympic legacy although the untouched remnants of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games may be hard to see.
Atlanta's Olympic Stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events, morphed into Turner Field immediately after the games. The Olympic flame, famously lit by Muhammad Ali, now rests in a parking lot right behind the Varsity and next to Apache Cafe (where I was privileged to play keys with the talented Leslie Mack). Other than Centennial Olympic Park, there are hardly any traces of Atlanta's glorious summer of 1996.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Think about it: What else do you do with an Olympic stadium and gigantic torch after all the metals are won?
Atlanta's Olympic story is unique in large part because the city raised all of its Olympic funds privately- no one was taxed. However because the funds were private, the money couldn't stretch so far as to have Olympic memorials sitting vacantly on valuable real estate collecting both expenses and dust.
So once the games had come and gone, by way of great city planning and foresight, those Olympic buildings and sites were changed and retrofitted to be of continual use. That's why you don't see much of what the summer of 1996 left us in terms of Olympic logos and memoirs. And yes, thanks to the games, Atlanta does now have Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, Lake Lanier's rowing facilities, the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Morehouse College Olympic facilities, and of course Centennial Olympic Park and Turner Field, but none of those blatantly read anything along the lines of "Olympic memorial" or "Centennial Olympic shrine," because they are serving as the multi-purpose recreational facilities they were designed to be.
With that being stated, what you can see in Atlanta, from some result of the festivities, are a city whose economic and business development are continously growing. What you can see are the world's largest and busiest airport in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. What you can see are startups and Fortune 500 companies choosing to call Atlanta home. What you can see and hear are people speaking a large variety of languages moving to Atlanta to pursue their dreams.
Taxpayers paid nothing, unlike Montreal which was still in debt 3 decades after the 1976 summer games, or Sydney in 2000 which ended up seeking government money to keep its games rolling, or even London which spent somewhere between $15 million to $20 million in public funds for its games (imagine the tax hike there).
Centennial may be the only concrete visual highlighting Atlanta's Olympics, but the economic impact is far greater. Nonetheless, London was phenonemal!!! And in 2016, Rio de Jeneiro will take center stage. There's something about the Olympics that brings excitement and unity like nothing else.
... Does anyone remember Izzy????