ATLANTA - When Juan Antonio Samanranch stepped to the podium in Tokyo at precisely 7:47 a.m. EDT Tuesday, holding Atlanta's dream in his hands, the buzz of 5,000 Atlantans faded into an eerie silence.
This was the moment, and history had plenty of witnesses. For nearly two hours, they had filed into the courtyard surrounding Underground Atlanta, the downtown entertainment complex, waiting in the unseasonably cool September morning air for a reason to jump up and down and kiss somebody. Anything less than the bid for the 1996 Olympic Games would make this the biggest wake in Atlanta history.
Why, what would they do with the balloons?
It wasn't something most of them could put into words, these students, executives, shop clerks and housewives who got up before dawn and waited in business suits, T-shirts, shorts and dresses to watch television pictures they could have seen from the comfort of their homes. They just knew it was important. A big day for Atlanta, win or lose.
"History," bank teller Tammy Faulkner said. "I came here to see history."
A cool breeze blew through the crowd as the master of ceremonies on the podium abutting the east edge of the complex announced the appearance of Samaranch, and even the disc jockeys from the four radio stations broadcasting live shut up. Construction workers standing on scaffolds alongside an old hotel turned away from their work.
All eyes watched as Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, fumbled for a moment with the envelope containing the name of the winner of the 1996 Summer Games.
"I hope they went with their heads and not their hearts," David Burkley said to his wife, squeezing her hand for luck. "I'm afraid sentiment might win it for Athens."
Then Samaranch said it: "Atlanta."
And people screamed and jumped into the air and kissed 'em if they had 'em.
Bob and Sue Astley tried all three.
"Wow, what a feeling!" Sue said. "This is the greatest day in the history of Atlanta."
The Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee Band struck up the Olympic anthem, followed by the national anthem, during which balloons were released and fireworks fired. After a few minutes, people just started looking around because they didn't know what to do. This wasn't quite a sporting event, and there were no cheerleaders. They came for the announcement, and it was over, but they didn't really want to leave, even though it was getting late and work and school beckoned.
"I'm gonna be late for work, but I don't care," Kathy Braverman said. "I just want to hang around and soak this up. I want to be able to tell my grandkids about this."
Copyright 1990 by Keith Dunnavant