Atlanta, July 27, 1996
With the absence of the XXXII Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, this month (postponed to begin July 23rd, 2021, due to the coronavirus), I was reflecting on the time my wife and I attended the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, in July of 1996. I kept copious notes after that experience, so I’d remember it all. The following is a portion of information from those notes.
It’s Thursday, July 25th, 1996, and my wife and I are headed down to Hotlanta for what should be an incredible experience. When we arrive at Peachtree Street in the heart of Atlanta, the crowds are the largest we’ve ever seen in a setting like this. We make our way on foot downtown to Centennial Park and the Global Olympic Village, the centerpiece of the Olympic experience for fans. A place where citizens of the world mingle together, children play in the Olympic rings water show and fountain, and popular musical guests perform on the main stage each day. There are also plenty of food and drink choices, and fans enjoy the games on huge screens.
When we arrived it was awesome! Though crowded, everyone was in a festive mood. People traded Olympic pins; yes, I got in on the action, obtaining some nice souvenirs from around the globe and a chance to meet lots of different people. We also visited Coca-Cola Olympic City, Nike World, the CNN building, and more.
The next day, Friday, was even more exciting, visiting the Olympic Stadium for the track and field events and taking pictures in front of the torch. Transportation wasn’t bad; we took a cab from our hotel to the Marta (subway) which would take us everywhere. After the event, we made our way back to Centennial Park for dinner before heading to the Georgia Dome to see the Dream Team II play China in men’s basketball action. The U.S. won 133-70.
After the game, we had a choice to make. Do we go back to Centennial Park and listen to the band—Jack Black and the Heart Attacks—or do we go to Atlanta’s Underground for the evening’s entertainment? This would become the monumental decision we made. After a long day in the heat, we chose Kenny’s Alley in the Underground, so we could sit back, relax in large wooden rocking chairs, listen to the bands play, and people-watch from the balcony of the restaurant we dined in. The evening was going perfectly. Friday soon turned into early Saturday morning, July 27th. We were heading back home Saturday, so we stayed late to enjoy the party. Little did we know things were about to change abruptly.
At approximately 2:15 a.m., an announcement was made for everyone to clear the area. The first sign for us of what had occurred nearby. We were unaware at this point that officials were concerned for the safety of those in the Underground. Police officers calmly but firmly informed us to leave immediately. Thinking they were just closing down for the night, we left.
As we walked the sidewalk, we passed an outdoor stage when I overheard a stage-hand describing what had taken place just a small distance away at Global Olympic Village a short time earlier. He mentioned seeing a flash of light and hearing an explosion. When I stopped suddenly and asked about it, he responded, “There’s been a bomb explosion in Centennial Park.” I turned to my wife, our eyes met and nothing was said, we just made our way towards the Marta quickly. I was afraid the Marta would be next, but it was our only option to get out of the city.
The subway car we entered was empty except for two young men from Indiana. They had worked security at Centennial Park that evening and left just before the explosion. They described what it was like, saying the mood late was strange, with FBI Agents walking around and watching from the rooftops. He said he hadn’t been told anything before they had finished their shift, so they didn’t know there had been a threat made. We reached our stop and exited, taking a cab back to the hotel. We couldn’t get one near the Park area because the roads were blocked for emergency vehicles. Along the way, our driver listened to Tom Brokaw report the tragic news on the radio.
When we arrived back at the hotel, the desk clerk had seen the news and looked sad for her city. She even apologized to us. We left early Saturday, knowing everything would shut down immediately around the Olympics. Our most memorable trip had an equally memorable ending. I felt very fortunate we had been elsewhere during the explosion, but I also felt sad. What was once a festive place had now become a place of fear. However, it wouldn’t take away the happy memories we shared. It was still the best party I’ve ever been a part of, because the world was invited.
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