Twenty days at the Atlanta Centennial Olympics: a final
by Roman Woronowycz
Spending 20 days in Atlanta during the Centennial Olympics would leave
anybody with information overload. So as not to forget the vast array of
information, impressions and behind-the-scenes looks that were availed The
Ukrainian Weekly by reason of the 3x5 card called a press credential which
hung around my neck, I kept a journal. Not everything fits into a story.
I accumulated many little tidbits and blurbs that I found interesting, but
which were of themselves not sufficient to turn into an article. With so
many snippets of information, a final wrap-up story on the Olympics could
have become a meandering and disjointed piece on various reminiscences.
So we decided a list of short anecdotes, stories and impressions of 20 days
at the Olympics would be more appropriate. Here they are.
- The computerized information system instituted by IBM was initially
an outright disaster, later a minor irritation and at the end of the Games
even helpful. When I first arrived in Atlanta, I met a writer for the Associated
Press who made an interesting comment regarding this first attempt at widespread
computer usage at an Olympics, which would connect the dozens of venues
and provide reporters immediate access to events results. He said, "This
is my sixth Olympics, and I haven't used a computer to get information
yet. If that's what you need to get information, you aren't doing your
- He was especially smug a week later with computer databases not functioning
properly and most reporters reverting to the old system of telephoning
for information or relying on printed matter issued by the various federations
and the organizing committee.
- Particularly screwed up was data on the Ukrainian team. Although the
system was set up to give biographies on the athletes, medal and competition
histories, team and sport histories, medal results and a rundown of how
the competitions went, little was available when one prompted the menu
on Ukraine. Most often "This data is not available at the present
time" would appear on the screen.
- The information that was there was in at least one instance glaringly
erroneous. One screen, a general history of Ukraine, showed the blue-yellow
flag, named the Ukrainian national anthem and gave other data accurately.
However, it identified Pavlo Lazarenko as head of state (should be Leonid
Kuchma) and listed the official language as Ukrainian/Russian. ACOG said
that each country's National Olympic Committee was responsible for providing
- The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games provided information on
the current Games, events and medal results, all of which was accurate,
although much of it appeared in the data banks many hours after individual
events were completed.
- NOC-Ukraine was disorganized on another informational level: printed
materials as sources of information for journalists. It had no team guide
books available at the information desk. On a sheet that was supposed to
list the phone numbers of the 197 NOCs at the Games, NOC-Ukraine's number
was one of about five that were not listed.
- With better information, maybe more would have been printed about Ukraine's
- In the Olympic Village, the office of NOC-Ukraine was well-staffed
and seemed to have all the components that would make it a real headquarters.
- One noticeable inadequacy was a dearth of escorts for guests, including
journalists. Everybody except for authorized individuals who wanted to
go from the international area of the Olympic Village, which was accessible
to all who had daily passes, to the inner confines where the residents
stayed, was required to be escorted by authorized individuals at all times.
- NOC Envoy Oksana Foltyn explained that there were not enough volunteers
to keep running to the gates to escort the dozens of guests they received
every day. That left me on my own as I entered the "forbidden zone"
after several NOC members got me past the gates and the guards. No problem,
except that my accreditation would have been pulled had I been caught roaming
the area unescorted.
- Atlantans were friendly and eager to show how happy they were that
you were visiting their city. Their sugar-coated greetings of "Hi
y'all" and "Y'all have a good time now," became almost nauseating
to hear, although I must say everyone seemed sincere in greeting out-of-towners.
- One incident in particular was memorable. I was on the MARTA (Atlanta's
subway system) and ready to exit at the next stop. A couple was staring
at my press accreditation (which was hanging from my neck), as many people
did, trying to figure out what it meant. The couple must have noticed "The
Ukrainian Weekly" and my obviously foreign name inscribed on it, for
as I was disembarking, the lady blurted out, "I don't know if you
understand English, but I would just like to welcome you to Atlanta. "I
couldn't restrain myself. As the doors were about to close, I turned around
and said, "Thank-you, but I'm from the New York area," and walked
away, probably leaving her somewhat puzzled.
- Some people were less hospitable, especially the United States' Olympic
press office. The gymnasts' press representative, Luan Peszyk, just did
not seem to have time for The Ukrainian Weekly. During gymnastics events
she would service, seemingly hand and foot, every need and whim of the
three reporters who sat in front of me, from the Houston Chronicle, the
Indianapolis Star and the Seattle Times.
- I asked her at one point if she could tell me the title to the music
to which Dominique Dawes danced during her floor routine, music that was
interesting to The Weekly because it sounded very much like traditional
Ukrainian folk music. Her answer: "I don't know." She did not
offer to find out (isn't that part of her job?) until I asked her specifically
to do so. I never received a response, although I e-mailed her and paged
her several times.
- When I saw her again I asked her if she had found out. She said she
hadn't "yet," and then pointed me to a gentleman who she said
was a gymnastics coach. Well, he wasn't, and when I went back to where
I had spoken with her, she was gone.
- Yes, Olympic Rings Fountain in Centennial Park, with its water show
and the kids romping beneath the spray, was a delight. But the rest of
the park was more like a commercial trade show or a very commercialized
World's Fair. It was a series of pavilions sponsored by some very major
corporations, including IBM, Swatch, Coca Cola, Budweiser, AT&T, Nike,
- One of the best quotes in my three weeks here was spoken by a person
passing the Budweiser pavilion, which featured free beer and, of course,
the accompanying long lines. As the dense pedestrian traffic moving past
the pavilion slowed and thickened before getting around those waiting to
get inside, he said, "It figures there's a 'bottleneck' at Budweiser."
- The day after the bombing, everything changed in and around Centennial
Park. The guards at the Main Press Center, which was located about 200
yards from the site of the explosion, were no longer as cheery in their
greetings. Lines became even longer as police and security became more
thorough in their searches of people and possessions. More areas were cordoned
off from public access. Even the weather changed: it was the first dreary
overcast and rainy day in the 11 days I had been there.
- One of the highlights of my time here was "golden" Monday,
when Ukraine took three gold and two bronze. I heard the Ukrainian anthem
played three times - twice at the gymnastics event and once after the
- It felt good to see the Ukrainian flag being raised in the auditoriums,
first rising above the U.S. banner and then above Russia's.
- During the medal ceremony, after Rustam Sharipov won the gold medal
in parallel bars and just as Ukraine's national anthem was about to be
played, a person screamed out in the quiet arena, "U-kra-yi-na,"
which resounded throughout the hall (and was distinctly heard on NBC's
- A Russian journalist who was sitting between correspondent Pavlo Shilko
of Gala News Radio of Ukraine and me, turned to Mr. Shilko and said, "Your
people?" To which Mr. Shilko replied rather proudly, "No, that's
- If anybody is wondering why The Weekly did not get an interview with
multi-medal winner Liliya Podkopayeva, well, we thought we had arranged
it. She and I had agreed that we would meet in the Olympic Village on August
1 for an interview, just before she left for Ukraine. I asked that we do
it after 12 noon, when I was to speak with fellow gold-medalist and gymnast
Rustam Sharipov. She held out for 6 p.m. because she wanted to go shopping
before the delegation left, she explained. I agreed.
- The next day Mr. Sharipov, when told when I was to meet Liliya, said
that would be impossible. The team was scheduled to leave Atlanta for the
airport at 4 p.m. A misunderstanding? Maybe a sly way out of another interview?
We'll never know.
- It was obvious Ms. Podkopayeva felt burdened by the many interview
requests. In her defense it must be mentioned, as Mr. Sharipov explained,
that she was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, and, after all, she
is only 17 years old.
- One more note on NOC-Ukraine. When I called NOC-Ukraine the day after
Liliya won her gold and bronze in the individual all-around competition,
to get a second source on the fact that her grandmother had recently died,
the person who picked up the phone and hung up before I could get his name
said, "Why do you want to know about that, that is not important."
Duh. After explaining that maybe it had an effect on her performance, he
mumbled a confirmation, that she had passed away a week before the Games
- On a tram between the Omni Dome and the Georgia Dome I met a volunteer
from ACOG who, after noticing my credentials, explained to me that her
grandfather had lived in Ukraine. It seems that he was born in the Bukovyna
region of Ukraine (and she surprised me with her knowledge of the tangled
political history of that region), and that he had been forced into the
Red Army during the Revolution, even though he was Romanian and at one
time a Romanian officer. He served a short period of time in Ukraine with
the Red Army, before escaping to Vienna, from where he emigrated to the
- Three Ukrainian fencers trying to sell their Adidas warm-up suits at
the soiree for the Olympians were an embarrassment. So they wanted to make
some money to take home, that's fine. But it was plain rude and offensive
to dismiss an older gentleman, after he said he was sorry but he had not
brought that kind of money with him, by excusing themselves with the words,
"Come on, boys, the 'diadko' (old man) has no money."
- People with Ukrainian blood in their ancestry seemed to come out of
the woodwork in the last days of the Olympics. One woman's must be blue
and yellow. I met Janet Mykytyn, 35, on the Saturday before the final day
of the Games as I walked just outside Centennial Park looking for souvenirs
at a discount (there weren't any real discounts until Monday). I stumbled
onto the most blue-and-yellow draped person I had ever seen. She wore a
blue-yellow baseball cap, a blue-yellow t-shirt, yellow shorts, blue-yellow
socks. Sticking out of her knapsack was a (you guessed it) ...flag.
- She said she was wearing the garish ensemble because, "I like
my heritage." I discovered that she is a fourth-generation Ukrainian
American whose great-grandparents arrived at Ellis Island just after the
turn of the century and settled in Philadelphia.
- By the way, she had purchased the shirt and cap at officially sanctioned
kiosks, and they were both Hanes products.
- Then there was the reporter from the Atlanta Constitution, Elizabeth
Kurylo, who had been invited as a guest to the party for the athletes held
the night before the first contingent went home. She approached me as if
I reeked of ink and newsprint and said, "Are you a reporter?"
She explained that she was a third-generation Ukrainian born and bred in
Iowa and had been a reporter in Atlanta for more than a decade. She said
that although her father knew the language, she had forgotten what little
she had learned. She did admit that since Ukraine's independence she was
slowly getting back in touch with her ethnic heritage.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August
18, 1996, No. 33, Vol. LXIV
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