Commentary: Marker Celebrates Atlanta’s Olympic Legacy

Maria Saporta


The Georgia Historical Society unveiled a historic marker at Centennial Olympic Park on Nov. 1 to commemorate the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

The marker is between the Olympic Rings Fountain and Marietta Street across Andrew Young International Boulevard from the Metro Atlanta Chamber building.

The last sentence on the new historic marker sets the stage: “The 1996 Olympics promoted Atlanta’s image as an international city, positioning it to play an important role in global commerce.”

The plaque credits Atlanta attorney Billy Payne and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young for being the prime architects of the winning bid.

Both men were on hand for the unveiling of the historic marker.

Young remembered how his mayoral staff in the late 1980s initially did not want him to meet with Payne, who had the crazy idea that Atlanta could host the Olympics. They worried the mayor would be swept up with the idea and it could reflect badly on him if Atlanta lost the bid.

But history played out differently. Young caught the Olympic fever, and he became Atlanta’s top promoter – selling the idea to members of the International Olympic Committee.

Payne said his friendship with Young taught him that no obstacle was too difficult. And he wanted to set the record straight about how Atlanta won the Games.

Payne said it was Young who was known around the world and was able to open doors.

Those are just the kind of stories the Georgia Historical Society is trying to capture with its business history initiative – letting the public know about the people and business that have built the and placed it on a world stage.

But Young, a preacher by training, pushed back, saying the story of the Olympics was not so much a business phenomenon as it was a spiritual one.

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