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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic triumphs, Olympic failures

My family and I went to Atlanta for one day of the 1996 Olympics. The highlight was attending the finals in heavyweight weightlifting. A Turk and a Greek were the two contenders, and the arena seemed to be 90% vociferous Turks on one side and 90% vociferous Greeks on the other -- an interesting setup because of the history of strife and ill-will between those two nations. After three consecutive world-record lifts, the Turk won. It was a pinch-me-and-tell-me-it's-real experience.

The downside was the performance of Atlanta itself. Residents and former residents were delighted that the city was awarded the games, a coming-out party on the international stage. Unfortunately the city's transportation plan turned out to be woefully inadequate. For example, our park-and-ride bus from a suburb was driven by an out-of-towner who hadn't even rehearsed his route. He got lost and dumped us, literally, in an unsafe neighborhood over a mile from the nearest game venue. Giving in to local political pressure, the city allowed obnoxious street vendors to congest the walkways between the primary competition venues. Their merchandise was shabby, absurdly overpriced, and repetitive. I was embarrassed for Atlanta, and the International Olympic Committee was obviously displeased.

This takes me to London and the games that start tomorrow. London appears to be far better prepared than Atlanta was, and of course London is much larger and more cosmopolitan than Atlanta to begin with. Will there be inconveniences for the locals? Definitely. Will there be a prolonged transportation meltdown like I saw in Atlanta? I doubt it. Will there be an act of terrorism? I pray not. Just a few hours after my family and I walked through Atlanta's Centennial Park to find the fund-raising brick we had paid for, the bomb there went off.