City explodes in thrill of victory as Athens is defeated on 5th vote

Editor’s note: This article was first published on Sept. 18, 1990.

TOKYO -- Atlanta’s Olympic dream has come true.

Promising to stage the best Olympics the world has known, Atlanta today won the right to play host to the 1996 Games, which will mark the beginning of the second century of the modern Olympics. Atlanta will be only the third U.S. city to host the Summer Games.

The nearly 400 Atlantans scattered around the enormous, ornate ballroom of the New Takanawa Prince Hotel exploded into cheers as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch made the simple announcement.

“The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the city of … Atlanta, ” Mr. Samaranch said.

Atlanta Organizing Committee (AOC) President Billy Payne embraced former Mayor Andrew Young and Mayor Maynard H. Jackson, who were sitting on the front row, in front of a stage where 86 IOC members were standing.

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Charlie Battle, an AOC member whose personal skills at lobbying IOC members were a key to Atlanta’s win, said he was “stunned.”

“I’m excited. I’m elated. I’m shell-shocked, ” he said. “I can’t express it, I’m at a loss for words.”

Martha Payne, Mr. Payne’s wife, sat on the edge of her seat until the announcement and then hugged their daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Porter. Vince Dooley, Mr. Payne’s former football coach at the University of Georgia, had tears in his eyes. Mr. Young sat and wept quietly. Mr. Payne leapt on the stage and was mobbed by TV crews and reporters.

Credit: AP FILE

Credit: AP FILE

Mr. Payne, Mayor Jackson and Gov. Joe Frank Harris signed the IOC contract at a table onstage within minutes of the announcement.

A year ago, Atlanta was given virtually no chance of winning because of the emotional advantage held by Athens, which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. The Games were in Los Angeles only six years ago, which some felt made any U.S. candidate a longshot.

However, the handicaps were overcome by a cadre of Atlanta volunteers led by Mr. Payne, who fathered Atlanta’s Olympic dream in 1987. The IOC members also were swept away by the outpouring of public support they found in Atlanta.

“People, people, ” Mr. Payne shouted above the din to a reporter asking him what won the Games for Atlanta. For a time, there was pandemonium. The stage was packed with Atlantans chanting, “Atlanta, Atlanta … Atlanta ‘96” and “BILL-LEE, BILL-LEE.”

“Somebody asked me did I think Billy Payne was crazy, ” Mayor Jackson said later. “I said, no, Billy Payne was born to do the Olympics.”

In what has been described as one of closest competitions ever, the IOC took five rounds of votes to reach a decision. Atlanta trailed Athens on the first ballot, 23-19. Belgrade was knocked out, then Manchester, then Melbourne. When Toronto, which held 22 votes, was eliminated in the fourth round, Atlanta soared to 51 votes.

“I couldn’t believe it, ” said Horace Sibley, one of the AOC’s key players. “I leaped out of my chair 40 feet in the air, thanked my lucky stars and thanked the people of Atlanta for the wonderful job they’ve done the past four years. I know that we will put on the best Olympics ever.”

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Later, in the calmer atmosphere of a brief news conference, Mr. Payne explained what Atlanta had told the IOC. “We assured them, we promised the members of the International Olympic Committee that we would stage the best ever Olympic Games in 1996. And first and foremost, we’re going to honor that commitment.”

“If you believe that if you surrounded yourself with enough talent, enough good friends, enough people willing to push or pull all in the same direction, there can be absolutely no limitation on what you can achieve, ” Mr. Payne said.

“About three years ago, when we won the designation for the Democratic National Convention,” Mr. Harris said, “I thought that was great. Earlier in the year, when we won the ‘94 Super Bowl, I thought that was outstanding. But tonight, I don’t know that there’ll be the words in my vocabulary to explain the feelings that I feel and the emotionalism that came to the fact that we’re going to have the ‘96 Olympics in Georgia.”

Credit: AJC staff

Credit: AJC staff

The Games are expected to have an economic impact of $3.48 billion, the equivalent of more than 50 Super Bowls, during the next six years.

“I remember the little things, ” Mr. Young said. “I remember the kids in the square in Savannah singing, the people in the hotels who just made everybody who visited Atlanta … feel they were in a special place.”

When asked if the IOC had sold out to the prospect of more money with a U.S. host city, Mr. Young introduced the world press to a Georgia saying: “That dog won’t hunt, ” he said.

In the days leading up to the vote, Atlanta seemed to be gaining momentum, and on the morning of the city’s final presentation, some observers declared Atlanta the clear front-runner.

Atlanta, Toronto and Melbourne had attempted to become viable alternatives to Athens, and all were well received by the IOC.

Dick Pound, an IOC member from Canada, said the historical argument for Athens simply had not been enough. “Really, your centennial Games are the launch of the second century, not a celebratory mass, ” Mr. Pound said.

It has been an emotional week in Tokyo leading up to today’s vote. Some of the Atlantans were overcome with emotion after the crucial, final presentation this morning. Mr. Payne was in tears.

“It went real good, ” Mr. Payne said. “It hit on all four cylinders. We could have done it a thousand times, and it couldn’t have gone any better.”

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In the presentation, the Atlantans, who have been seen as the high- tech candidate, stressed the themes of youth, hope and trust.

“In a world seemingly more uncertain and unpredictable every day, there will be no uncertainty about the Atlanta Games, no question about our ability to prepare and no doubt that the driving force and motivation behind the Atlanta effort is that same volunteer spirit and love of sport which gave birth to the Olympic meovement and which gives hope for the future, ” Mr. Payne told the IOC members.

Mr. Young, the most experienced orator to speak to the IOC, stressed the city’s emotional appeal. “I know that for you - and for all of the people of the world - it comes down to two overriding questions, ” Mr. Young said.

“Where will the Olympic flame burn brightest? Who will make the Olympic spirit soar the highest? You know Atlanta. You know me. You know the rest of our organizing team. You have seen our credentials. You have seen our qualifications. You have asked many searching questions about our city - the answers filled five volumes, ” Mr. Young said. “But there are things about Atlanta that could never be put into a credentials presentation.”