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Olympics Past: Atlanta

I grew up in Atlanta, and I can still hear the IOC announcement awarding the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games to "the city of...Atlanta" clearly in my head. My dad was dropping me off at middle school and I stayed in the car a few minutes to listen to the announcement on the radio -- and then I heard everyone who was inside cheering their heads off.

In the lead-up to the Games, I was part of a group of school kids selected to tour and photograph the then-fairly derelict neighbourhoods that were soon to be demolished in preparation for building Centennial Olympic Park, the Olympic Stadium (now Turner Field), the aquatic center and the Olympic Village. It's been 16 years since Atlanta hosted the games, and all of these sites are in use in Downtown Atlanta.

The Olympic Flame still welcomes visitors from its new location, a block from where it presided over the Games. Atlanta was incredibly excited (almost universally so) about hosting the games, and it's obvious that we are still proud to have had the opportunity to be part of Olympic history. The Games benefited from a somewhat frowned-upon commercialism, but that, coupled with planning in advance what would happen with main venues after the Games left town, has a lot to do with why you can still see a lot of major venues and why the Olympic Rings still fly in more places than many would expect.

Centennial Olympic Park, which was built on top of the first crack den I ever saw, is unfortunately most famous for a bomb that detonated in the early days of the Games, resulting in two deaths and scores of injuries. However, even days later, and possibly more so now, Atlantans and their families head there to run through the Olympic Ring-shaped fountain on a scorching summer's day or watch concerts with the city's skyline as a backdrop.

Almost right after the Paralympic Games closed, work began on the Olympic Stadium, built in a purposely awkward shape in preparation for its future incarnation (and where I got to watch Olympic baseball, football and a day of track & field events). Now visitors can still see parts of the original in Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves.

Both Georgia State and the Georgia Institute of Technology now maintain former Olympic facilities. The latter took on the aquatic center (which has a pool that can be adjusted by both depth and length, and yes, I went there too, for diving and synchronised swimming) for both its students and local classes. Both universities now use buildings that were once part of the Olympic Village as dormitories for their students.

While the area looks nothing like what it did when I took pictures in 1995 (which makes me wonder, why take a bunch of high school students to photograph crack dens and people about to be evicted from their homes?), much of what was created for the Olympics remains because adoptive parents were found for the facilities before they were even built. That's why, while we are mocked for it by some, Atlantans will still show you the Olympic Rings flying over so much of the city.

Sara Kriegel is the editor of the UK website.

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Deal Expert, London
Monday, 28 May 2012
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Sara Kriegel