Unless you've been among the relatively few Utahns who have had the privilege to spend all or part of the past 17 days in Atlanta, your view of and exposure to the 1996 Summer Olympics have been limited at best.
For the most part, you've seen what NBC has allowed you to see about the Games. You've read what newspapers - including the Deseret News - have had space to print about the Games. Or you've gotten second- and third-hand reports from friends or acquaintances who have been in attendance.In 2002, you and the rest of Utah will have a firsthand look at the Olympics - up close and personal - as Salt Lake City hosts the Winter Games. You'll see the same scenes and scenarios that are being broadcast around the world. But you'll also see what's behind those scenes - the less-spectacular and the less-desirable. You'll see the whole gamut of the Games - from goodwill to greed - in more than just the sanitized, small-screen version.
In other words, you probably didn't see the gaps in the sections of seating during Sunday night's closing ceremonies. Nor did you find the gum under my Olympic Stadium seat.
The Olympics then become a smorgasbord of sights, sounds, smells and sensations - some good, some not-so-good, but all very real and memorable. Here are some illustrations that I recall during my four days around Atlanta's Olympic Ring of venues, villages and boulevards:
- Spontaneous camaraderie was often evident - from the group of African visitors who broke out in native harmonies while riding on the MARTA railway toward downtown to the group of some 10-plus athletes representing a half-dozen different nations who danced and chanted arm-in-arm outside the Olympic Stadium following Sunday night's closing ceremonies.
- So many people tried to make a quick buck, from the ticket scalpers to the vendors to the volunteers. Some came off as either very facetious or very optimistic, such as the man trying to hawk his "Official Bye-Bye Water" to the throngs departing from the closing ceremonies. And then there was the volunteer who, holding a handwritten sign, offering to sell the shirt off her back and a half-dozen different Olympic pins for the nice round number of $5,000. I think she was kidding.
- Talk about your sticker shock - tickets to Sunday night's closing ceremonies ran as much as nearly $636 each, and that was face value. Tickets to featured sports, such as basketball and track and field, ran into several hundred dollars apiece. Many scalpers tried getting face value for tickets, but with the exception of a few headline events, most could be purchased for less. One would hope so, considering the average costs for Olympic competition.
- The makeshift memorial beneath the light tower at the Centennial Olympic Park - the site of the bomb blast that left two people dead and scores injured - was moving in its sincerity and simplicity. It was obvious in word and in deed - and in attendance numbers - that Atlantans were determined to reclaim their Olympic territory.
- Vendors and their sales booths were seemingly everywhere, with Atlanta having been chided for having allowed commerce to overshadow the competition. Perhaps Atlanta oversold opportunity, since many vendors obviously packed up in an effort to cut their losses, leaving behind the skeletons of empty booths and unattended tents. Others suffered from lax security and looting, particularly in the area near the Centennial Olympic Park after the explosion. And even others were trying to make a go of it in areas where foot traffic didn't meet expectations, such as in the Sweet Auburn area that is home to historical black landmarks.
There are more impressions - many more, such as standing for security clearance at park and venue entrances in lines that were understandably long and understandably necessary, sweating profusely inside a packed MARTA train that was inexplicably lacking its air conditioning; and smelling the stench of trash rotting in the sun at high-use areas.
Considering the size and season of the Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City should be facing fewer obstacles and challenges in 2002. But they'll be there . . . just like they've been in Atlanta during the past 17 days.
Expect and prepare for the best, anticipate and alleviate the worst, and playing the part of the worldwide host can go just fine for Utah.