ATLVault: 33 years ago, Atlanta changed forever

Atlanta was named host city for the 1996 Olympic games on Sept. 18, 1990. The announcement came at 7:47 a.m., local time.
Published: Sep. 17, 2023 at 7:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2023 at 8:41 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - At 7:47 a.m., EST, 33 years ago, Atlanta’s world changed forever.

That was when Juan Antonio Samaranch, then-head of the International Olympic Committee, announced Atlanta had won the bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The choice wasn’t made without controversy, however. Athens, Greece, was widely believed to be the favorite, since the 1996 games would mark the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics, whose first games were held in Athens in 1896.

But Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee chair Billy Payne - a former University of Georgia football standout who developed the dream of Atlanta as an Olympic city - persuaded some of Atlanta’s most prominent civic, business, political and social figures that the city could indeed not only bid for the Olympics, but win them outright.

Payne had the idea of Atlanta hosting the Olympic Games in 1987 and began bringing others on board. He first gained support of Atlanta leaders for this effort, including then-mayor Andrew Young, an ally who helped Payne convince International Olympic Committee members to award Atlanta the games. Payne’s plan for the games depended heavily on private support, leading him to convince sponsors to back the games.

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That dream became a reality on the morning of Sept. 18, 1990, when Samaranch made the announcement from Tokyo in a broadcast carried live in Atlanta and around the world.

Payne remained as the head of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, serving as the chief administrator to organize the Olympics. He was the first person to lead the bid effort and then remain to lead the Games.

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