On September 18, 1990, my father woke me up for school way earlier than usual and I was certainly not happy about it. In fact, I was shocked when he flipped on the light because it seemed as if I had just gone to bed a few hours ago.
I don’t remember what time it was exactly, only that it seemed like insane o’clock.
As I glared at him somewhere between angry and frightened, he asked, “Want to do something cool today?” Blinking the sleep out of my eyes and the fog out of my head, I shrugged and hazily mumbled, “sure.”
I got dressed, ate a little breakfast and started to wonder what was up. Both parents wore secret-sharing smiles, yet they refused to tell me what this “cool” something was.
As we began to drive in the opposite direction of school, my curiosity really got the best of me. Where in the world were we going so early? Soon I realized that not only were we not headed in the direction of the school, but we were, in fact, headed downtown! Downtown Atlanta!
Once we turned off the highway onto the famous Peachtree Street, I was buzzing with excitement. Downtown cruising on a school day in the dark early morn’, yo! I knew it had to be something special. It was still dark and a bit nippy out, but I soon noticed that the streets were curiously packed with people.
As we zipped down Peachtree, my eyes lit up when I finally took notice of the banners lining the streets, “The Olympics?” My father smiled and said, “Yep! Today’s the big day, kiddo.”
Dad had decided that, no matter what, we would be watching the live announcement of the 1996 Olympic Games location with the thousands of other crazy people in downtown Atlanta that morning.
Once we found our space in the crowd, it seemed like forever as we waited through the entire ceremony. We painfully watched every single video from the competing cities (Atlanta, Athens, Toronto, Melbourne, Manchester, Belgrade). By the time they got to the actual announcement, the crowd had swelled to an impatient mass of buzzing anticipation.
And finally, at that moment I will never, ever forget, they said,
“The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the city of …………. Atlanta.”
And the crowd exploded.
I saw tears streaming down my father’s face as we jumped and high fived and hugged and then high fived and jumped some more with all of the people around us. We were all family at that moment. There were fist pumps and tears and strangers embracing and kids dancing and music and noisemakers, and man, it was one hell of a celebration.
I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live. There really are no words to express how happy I felt that they had chosen Atlanta. It was an odd feeling because I had never really put a lot of thought into what my hometown meant to me. Hell, I didn’t even really think that much about the Olympics. But right at that moment, I found myself … well, jubilant. Yes, certainly, “jubilant” describes that moment well. Seems appropriately southern enough, at any rate.
And yes, maybe the Atlanta Olympics weren’t the best games ever held. They were great up until well, that bombing was certainly horrible. Damn it.
But, the truth is that I remember the morning of the announcement way more than any of the actual Olympic events. That bursting pride was something so very distinct and completely new to me.
Over the last week, I’m starting to relive that moment again in the days before the 2020 Olympic announcement. And I’m thinking of my father who’s not around anymore and how damn proud he would be of Madrid for me.
City pride may not live with you on a day to day basis, but when your city gets it right, you feel it. I was so proud of little old Atlanta for going the distance, for the work they put into the campaign, for representing our city in a positive light.
A positive light.
Seems like a long time since we’ve had one of those in Madrid, huh? A positive light sounds really good about now, doesn’t it?
Will Madrid be chosen for the 2020 Olympics? I don’t know, but I hope so. And you know what? Take your cynical shit and your negativity and throw it out the damn window for just one day. No, supporting the bid doesn’t mean we have to ignore the multitudes of problems in this country. At this point, that would just be ridiculous to even try. But rather, just for a short period of time, lets recklessly give in to the glimmer of light that maybe exists somewhere down the road. Let’s try and show that Madrid and Spain are more than this damn crisis. More than the greedy, filthy, corrupt politicians. More than the excruciating unemployment.
Because the fact is that Spain, as I think most of you would agree, is way more than its current state of being.
So, yes, I’ll be thinking of my father this Saturday as I head out to watch the announcement. And you can bet that I’ll be trying not to cry the entire time as I think of our special Olympic morning.
Go head and call me a blind, sentimental optimist, but I’m proud of Madrid and if we don’t get chosen on Saturday, I’ll still be proud. And you know what? I’ll still be just as supportive of the city the next time when we go in for another beating. Because, as ornery as she is, Madrid just doesn’t give up. And neither should we.