1996: The shape of things to come

Olympic Games: Flame acquires new meaning

The "100" which forms part of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics logo indicates the celebration of the Centennial Games. It also stands as an unwitting reminder of the environment in which these Games will take place, namely savage heat.

Summertime temperatures in Georgia's capital city reach up towards the 100F mark. A survey conducted in 1993 over the equivalent Olympic period - 20 July to 4 August - showed an average temperature of 93.7F (34.3C) at 6.00pm. That is less than comforting news for the men's marathon runners, who are scheduled to set off just half an hour after that time in the centrepiece event of the Games' final day. No medals are on offer for the most convincing impression of an Olympic flame.

The leading runners are due to finish at around 9.30pm - which will correspond to 3.30am in Britain, given Atlanta's six-hour relative time lag in the summer. The majority of the athletics finals will be taking place in the early hours in Britain, with exceptions such as the women's marathon, which is due to finish at around 6pm (noon in Atlanta).

To a greater or lesser extent, every competitor at these Games will undergo a trial by fire - excepting, perhaps, the swimmers and divers who will compete in the self-styled Georgia Tech Natatorium, due to be built within the Olympic Ring, an imaginary circle with a radius of 1.5 miles in the heart of the city. The Ring encircles the Olympic stadium, the Olympic Village and the main Olympic Centre, which provides venues for 11 sports including basketball, gymnastics and hockey.

A further range of events, such as tennis, rowing and cycling, will take place in the Olympic Park at Stone Mountain, 27km away from the Olympic Village.

The privately funded $207m (pounds 135m) Olympic stadium, which is still being completed, will seat 85,000 people. Within eight months of the Games, it will have its capacity reduced to 45,000 and become home to the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

An estimated eight million tickets will be sold for the Games. Around two million visitors are expected at the various venues, and the likely TV audience is estimated at about two-thirds of the world's population.

A programme of 26 sports at Atlanta will include several additional events to the last Olympic Games, such as the women's triple jump, beach volleyball and team synchronised swimming. However, there will be no place for solo or duet synchronised swimming, and no demonstration sports.

The Games mascot - "a futuristic, animated, computer-generated character with large starry eyes and a big grin, oversized sneakers and lightning bolt eyebrows" - breaks with Olympic tradition in that it corresponds to no identifiable creature and can assume different forms.

The original name of Whatizit has itself changed to Izzy - a subliminal reminder, perhaps, of the firm which operates out of Atlanta and which many still believe was influential in persuading the International Olympic Committee not to award the Games to the hosts of the original 1896 modern Games, Athens. They call them the Coca-Cola Games.

PREDICTION: China look set to make an even bigger splash than they did at Barcelona in 1992.

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