A look back at Covington's role in the 1996 Olympic Games.
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are a few weeks away from taking place. However, this summer also marks the 20 year anniversary of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Although Atlanta was the host city for the Olympic Games and events during 1996, many other Georgia communities, including Newton County, housed athletes and coaches from other countries.
The Georgia FFA/FCCLA Center, located in Newton County off Highway 36, was a huge housing facility available for many of the athletes and coaches from other nations, especially from Germany.
“I started at the camp July 1, 1996,” said Todd Teasley, Director of the FFA/FCCLA Center. “That was a week before 1,800 Germans were expected to come watch the Olympics, but we actually had 3,600 kids and they had 5,000 Olympic tickets.”
Teasley also told a story that involved a group of the Germans who were staying at the Center and went shopping in one of the local department stores.
“I remember they bought out Goody’s (Department Store) in jeans,” Teasley said. “But I guess they didn’t believe in dressing rooms because they just changed their clothes right in the front of the store.”
Teasley described this experience as one of the many cultural differences that he saw with the Germans. He said that he and many others at the Center had to help the Germans understand the rules and laws of the United States, including many of the youth, under the age of 21, wanting to consume alcoholic beverages.
“I guess they were used to drinking beer over there [in Germany], but, here in America, we have laws that you have to be of a certain age to drink and many of them were not of age yet,” Teasley said.
However, Teasley said that this time period was “a good time” and the Germans that stayed at the FFA/FCCLA Center were “a lot of good people.”
“We had kids sleeping on the ball fields and on the floors,” he said. “It was a good game changer for the camp.”
Dr. Hoyt Oliver, who was on faculty at Oxford College of Emory University at the time, noted that Oxford College was also a facility that many other athletes, coaches and trainers from other nations would utilize for practice as well as meals.
“We even had a couple of German horse trainers staying at a house in Oxford,” Oliver said. “The trainers took their meals at the Ox- ford College dining hall.”
However, everything about the 1996 Olympics was not joyous and celebratory. The one frightening and tragic event is the explosion that occurred at the Centennial Olympic Park.
“I attended the Olympics in Munich (1972) and Barcelona (1992),” said Dr. Judy Greer, faculty member of Oxford College of Emory University. “I attended quite a few of the events in 1996 and [the bombing] brought back memories of the events in Munich. That was sort of frightening to everybody.”
Munich, Germany was the location of the 1972 summer Olympics and the Munich Massacre, which was a terrorist attack that saw eight Palestinian terrorists kill two members of the Israeli Olympic team while also taking nine others hostage.
However, Greer said that, despite the bombing, the 1996 Summer Olympics was a great time for Atlanta for many reasons.
“It was exciting to see Atlanta on the world stage,” Greer said. “It was exciting to go out and here and the different languages that were being spoken on the streets because that had never really happened here before. It was really a cultural experience.”
The 100 m hurdles during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta featured Nicole Ramalalanirina (MAD), Lynda Goode (USA), Natalya Shekhodanova (RUS), Brigita Bukovec (SLO), Michelle Freeman (JAM), Julie Baumann (SUI), Kristin Patzwahl (GER), Angie Thorp (GBR)