September 14, 2000: Shazam!

My book, “And They Call Them Games – An Inside Look at the 1996 Olympic Games,” is finally in the bookstores just in time for the Sydney Games of 2000.  There was a time not too long ago when I thought the book would be out just in time for the Games of 2012 in a city to be named later. Simply stated, this has not been an easy experience.

The book, published by Mercer University Press in Macon, was printed by a firm in Maryland that put the urgency of meeting deadlines somewhere between cleaning out their sock drawer and betting on soft-shell crab races.  My fervent prayer is that everybody at that plant should have an idea for the World’s Next Great Novel and be forced to have it printed there.  It would serve them right.

One thing I have learned from this experience is that writing a book is the easy part.  Getting it to a stage where someone else can read it – a seemingly fundamental part of the process – is much more difficult.  Somewhere in the world of publishing there exists an unwritten rule that if the author makes his or her deadlines, the printer is thereby excluded from any similar expectations.

But that is all behind us now.  What lies ahead is the opportunity to tell you what really happened on the way to the Games, not what the media would presume you to know.  The big difference is that the media were quick to judge our performance, but now I get a chance to tell you about theirs.  Suffice it to say, it was seen wanting in most cases.

The book exposes all the weaknesses of a city that has lived on bromides for several decades now.  The current meltdown in Atlanta’s Buckhead area puts an exclamation point to my contention that the city is leaderless and rudderless.  Like the ugly days of Freaknik, race has been injected into the Buckhead controversy.  That is nothing new.  Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell could find a racial issue in a lima bean.  His attitude and a “see no evil, hear no evil” business community almost sunk the 1996 Games.  Add to that a news media that saw more inherent danger in our blue slug of a mascot, Izzy, than in the racial chasm that pervades the city, and it is a wonder that the Games were held at all.

The thing that saved us were the people.  Billy Payne had said all along that southern hospitality would define our Games and they did.  The people of Atlanta, unlike its institutions, were outstanding as were people throughout the state.  Everywhere I go in the country, people who attended the Centennial Games still talk about how nice Southerners were to them.

I am sure the Sydney Games will be equally good, but I would be less than honest if I didn’t point out that it hasn’t been a bed of roses for our friends Down Under.  They are on their third or fourth CEO.  They have had at least four instances so far where spectators have tried to disrupt the torch relay.  The aborigines are so upset with the Sydney committee that they organized their own competing torch run.  The relay itself got off to a bang-up start when the International Olympic Committee member from Australia, Kevin Gosper, bumped a young person from being the first to run on Australian soil so that his daughter could have the honor.  Protesters, mad about something (Could it be the Georgia state flag?), are blocking streets already.  Some 27 Chinese athletes have run afoul of the Olympics drug policy and have left in a huff.  The Greeks went berserk when the official medals were unveiled and showed the Roman Coliseum.  Although some believe that Coca-Cola thought up the Olympics, it was actually the Greeks and they aren’t happy seeing the Italians getting the credit.

Had any of these incidents occurred in Atlanta, members of the press would have had to breathe into paper bags to avoid hyperventilating.  God knows, they were grumpy with us from the beginning.  The international press thought we were jingoistic.  The national press thought we were rednecks.  The local press thought we were straight off the bus from Barnum and Bailey.

But, I digress.  Besides, if I tell you too much you might not read the book.  That, in turn, might make the printer mad and I have had enough problems with him already.