ATLANTA -- Six years after receiving news that it would host the 1996 Olympic Games, 16 days after the competition officially began, Atlanta said its long goodbye last night with a nearly three-hour closing ceremony at Olympic Stadium. It matched the emotions from the past two weeks: uplifting on one hand, heart-wrenching on the other.
The central theme of the show was a down-home Southern Jamboree. But with a moment of silence after a poignant speech from Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, it also was used to honor the memory of the two people who died as a result of the pipe bomb blast eight days ago at Centennial Park.
It also was addressed, though not directly, by Billy Payne, chief executive officer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
"Never before in the history of the Olympic Games has the spirit of the people so paralleled the irrepressible heart of an Olympic champion," Payne said in addressing a crowd of more than 82,000 that included Vice President Al Gore and his family. "Called to action when our celebration was interrupted, the people have themselves chosen to reclaim which is theirs -- their city and their beloved Olympic movement."
Samaranch was even more to the point in comparing what happened here to what happened during the 1972 Games in Munich, Germany.
"While we celebrate the success of these Games, we have not forgotten the tragic explosion of last week, nor have we forgotten the victims, their families or their friends," said Samaranch. "Our thoughts also go back to the tragedy of Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes were killed."
And then Samaranch asked for the crowd to rise in a moment of silence.
What followed was a tribute to Australia, where the Summer Games will be held in four years, with imitation kangaroos and Aboriginal music. There also was a fireworks display.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Payne spoke about how the city, its nearly 2 million visitors and 3 million who attended events here, as well as those competing for the 197 countries at these Games, overcame their collective grief and anguish to keep the Olympic ideal, as well as the flame itself, from being extinguished.
"This community is very proud of the way that it bounced back after the tragic bombing last Saturday morning," said Payne, who has taken more criticism than praise for the way his organization ran the bigger-than-life event.
"It is a statement of strength of belief in the Olympic movement. We bounced back even stronger than before even while we carried in our hearts a loss with the families of the victims," Payne said.
Asked if the bombing will be the legacy of these Games, Payne said, "I don't think so. While we will always remember in our hearts the loss, the reclaiming of our city, the defiance the entire Olympic family showed is a more powerful story that will ultimately be the way these Games will be remembered."
The stars certainly came out last night, beginning with an a capella rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Boyz II Men. The Southern Jamboree featured the music of everyone from old-time rocker Little Richard to legendary bluesman B. B. King, from Al Green to Faith Hill, from Gloria Estefan to Stevie Wonder, who gave a haunting rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."
At 10: 50 p.m., the torch was extinguished. It now will go back to its ancestral home in Athens, Greece, before moving on to Sydney, Australia, four years from now. Two-time gold-medal winner Michael Johnson handed the Olympic flag to Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who in turn handed it to Sydney Mayor Frank Sartor.
In Sydney, there was a midday celebration going on at the time of the closing ceremonies in Atlanta.
Olympic Stadium will be turned into the next home of the Braves, starting next year, and Atlanta will begin the task of getting back to normal starting today.
Each nation had its flag carried out, and equestrian silver medalist Michael Matz bore the Stars and Stripes.
"Much like the Olympic champion who on his or her day is the best in the world, the people of this city and state have risen again, this time to embrace the Olympic spirit and in doing so have given the world a stirring performance," Payne said.
Pub Date: 8/05/96