Atlanta's flame ready to ignite

It was nine years ago that Billy Payne, an Atlanta attorney, approached Andrew Young, the city's mayor, and suggested a bid to stage the 1996 Olympic Games.

Three years of diligent campaigning later, the grandees of the International Olympic Committee decided to ignore the romantic attraction of Athens as a proposed site to celebrate the centenary of the modern Olympics and chose instead to realise Payne's ambition to bring the Games to the capital of the state of Georgia.

The lighting of the Olympic flame on Friday night will bring to fruition six years of planning and preparation and will be the signal for the eyes of the world to focus on Atlanta for what promises to be a fortnight of outstanding sport.

For the millions around the globe who will follow the Games, the action begins on Saturday, with women in the 10 metres air rifle event literally firing the first shots of competition.

For the 10,000 men and women taking part in the Games, however, Saturday will represent an end rather than a beginning. For many, planning began with the ending of the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

In the third of our special pull-outs, we focus on the preparations of competitors from five different continents and pick out 20 men and women who promise to make this a Games to remember.

Throughout this week we will continue to look ahead to the Games, with further supplements on Wednesday and Saturday.

On Wednesday, in our 12-page Summer of Sport broadsheet section, Mike Rowbottom will report from Atlanta as final preparations are made. On Saturday a 48-page guide to the Games will include a day-by-day timetable of events, profiles of 32 leading men and women, and features on the city of Atlanta, the Olympic sites and how competitors will prepare for the testing conditions.

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