July 21, 1996
Chaos is king in Atlanta
By STEVE SIMMONS
ATLANTA -- The Games of Atlanta are all of two days old and already the question must be asked.
How in the name of Juan Antonio Samaranch did Toronto lose the Olympic Games to this city of confusion, disorganization and so little culture?
How, when one walks the streets, listens to the people, understands the fabric of the cities involved, could a choice so shortsighted and so wrong have been made?
The matter seems even more compelling now in the wake of the early problem-filled hours of the Olympics, where the frustration level has reached a shockingly high pitch.
Today is only Day 3 of the Games.
Already, there has been a bomb scare at the International Broadcast Centre.
Already, there has been a bomb scare at the athletes' village.
Already, security has been called to deal with an angry mob of rowers who blockaded an area outside the athletes village in a not-so-silent protest against the transportation system.
Already, the city is giving gridlock a worse name than it already has.
Already, the city has put on opening ceremonies to welcome the athletes of the world, but the welcome came without emotion. In Atlanta, there is only one country that counts. This isn't really an Olympic Games as much as it is a celebration of corporate America.
And this is only Day 3.
Cyclist Curt Harnett, who has been to four Olympics, already has gone on record calling this the worst Games he ever has attended. He said that before the Games even began.
The Canadian kayak and canoeing team lined up Friday night for lifts to the opening ceremonies. The buses, at first, did not arrive. The Canadian team arranged a number of vans for purposes of transport. That took about an hour. The vans arrived just as four of the five buses did -- more than an hour late. The fifth bus, for the record, never did show up.
A Canadian competitor in the fencing event saw his Olympics crash early yesterday when the bus taking him to his venue got lost. James Ransom had just 10 minutes to get undressed, change and get ready to compete.
It wasn't enough.
There also was a favored competitor in judo who showed up at the wrong venue to weigh in, went back to the athletes' village for instructions, was kept out because of the bomb threat and was disqualified summarily because of it.
Clearly, these are the Games of Maxwell Smart -- in constant battle of chaos. These are an Olympics where a gold medal could be presented for disorganization.
It doesn't matter, for the most part, if the media busing doesn't work -- more buses broke down yesterday.
But it does matter when an athlete's training schedule and performance is altered severely because of an incompetent transportation system.
There is an uneasiness here that I have sensed at no Olympics before. There is a mistrust of the organization. And there is genuine concern on the part of many athletes here that performances will be altered by unfortunate circumstances.
They train their whole lives for one day, one event, one moment. They try to be perfect for one day and plan all their workouts accordingly. They can control their conditioning, their minds, so much of their lives.
But they have lost some control here because of a botched system of transportation that has stress levels rising.
When have you ever seen a group of international athletes -- rowers at that -- standing together in tandem to protest a messy situation? And when has such an action been necessary?
And it isn't only that.
It's the city. It's the feeling. It's the texture. And it is all so very wrong.
Would it have been different in Toronto? Could it have been worse?
I think back to the Games of Calgary and the infectious goodwill that was everywhere. Toronto would have had that same feeling, minus the disasters that loom here.
Yesterday, one of the competitors in judo was injured during a match. After being attended to, it was determined he should be taken to hospital.
The athlete was placed in an ambulance and was set to go.
Except for one problem. The ambulance's battery wasn't working, an unfortunate symbol of the 26th Olympic Games.