We cannot take a tailor's tape measure to these Olympics. We
cannot fit the Games into a single tuxedo for this testimonial
banquet--their dimensions are simply too disparate. From the
Nigerian table-tennis competitor who was 17 centimeters tall to
the Ugandan boxer who stood some 19 feet--why, you couldn't even
settle on a single inseam.
This is an article from the Aug. 12, 1996 issue
The figures cited above were provided by IBM's cockamamie
Olympic database. And while it is true that nothing lends itself
to unalloyed, computer-nerd number crunching quite like the
Games, we can only begin to digest the raw data now and to
quantify all those who qualified. The most we can do is sweep
the sands with a medal detector and suss out the superlatives,
the sublime, the silly: the bests, the worsts, the lasts, the
And the trends. These were undoubtedly the most egalitarian
Olympics ever. A record 52 nations won gold medals. Even if the
former Soviet Union were extant--a Big Red Machine reassembled
from rusted component parts (15 former Soviet countries attended
the Games, 11 of them won events)--42 countries would have won
medals, still the highest number in history. Meanwhile, back at
the Samaranch, the international Olympic movement has never been
larger: Never had so many athletes (10,750) from so many nations
(197) participated in the Games.
The centennial of the modern Olympic Games was not simply an
occasion to recall firsts but to create them. Leave it to Greece
to gloriously combine the two in Atlanta and win its most medals
(eight) since Athens first hosted the world in 1896.
For the first time in Olympic history, Costa Rica, Ecuador and
Syria won gold medals. Hong Kong won its first and last gold
medal; it will become part of China in 1997.
The second-place finish in the men's 100-meter sprint, by
Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, was good enough to have won gold
in every previous Olympics.
By anchoring the Jamaican team that finished third in the
women's 4x100 relay, sprinter Merlene Ottey became the first
woman to get five bronze medals (in four Olympics). If not for
her silver medals in the 100 and 200 in Atlanta, she would have
earned everlasting, RC Cola-caliber renown as a synonym for
The fourth-place finisher in the men's 800, Norberto Tellez of
Cuba, ran fast enough to have won every previous Olympic 800.
With her fifth gold medal, in the 4x200 relay, swimmer Jenny
Thompson joined speed skater Bonnie Blair as the most gilded
U.S. women Olympians ever.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN ONE SIXTH OF A MIRACLE?
The former Soviet Union (that is, the aforementioned countries
that once helped make up the Evil Empire) outmedaled the U.S.
123-101. Likewise, the former East Germany outmedaled the former
West Germany 33 5/6-31 1/6 (teams in some events included
athletes from both Germanys).
WE THREE KINGS
The top three Elvis impersonators in Atlanta were:
1) Elvis Konamegui of Cameroon, who lost his first-round bout in
2) Elvis Gregory of Cuba, who lost in the third round of the
men's individual foil but continued to fight his opponent,
defending Olympic champion Philippe Omnes of France, away from
the dueling piste. The two eventually were separated by police,
who were, you better believe it, duly piste themselves.
3) Yoelvis Quesada of Cuba, who won the bronze medal in the
triple jump with a bound of 57'23/4". Ladies and gentlemen,
Elvis has leapt the building.
The Games' biggest oxymoron was Great Britain, which equaled its
worst Olympic performance by winning only a single gold medal,
in the men's coxless pairs. Rowing with Matthew Pinsent, Steven
Redgrave earned his fourth gold in as many Olympics. Asked
afterward how he felt, Redgrave seemed to speak for all his
countrymen when he said, live on the BBC, "I'm f-----'
knackered," which is Brit for beat. Meanwhile, 26 miles across
the English Channel, France, with 15 gold medals, quietly
celebrated its best Olympics since the Summer Games were held in
Paris in 1900.
22.54 Average speed at which Donovan Bailey traveled during his
world-record-setting 100-meter sprint.
23.14 Average speed at which Michael Johnson traveled during his
31.00 Speed at which 10-meter platform divers were traveling
when entering the water.
Point: Sprinters, gold shoes and all, are still slower than
The first eight finishers in the men's 10,000 meters were
African. Eleven of the 12 medalists in table tennis were Asian.
The 12th was certainly not from Jamaica: The two-man Jamaican
table-tennis team of Hyatt & Hylton (Michael and Stephen,
respectively) opted for express checkout, losing all of its
matches. The duo thus failed to live up to the legacy of a U.S.
men's rowing pair that got silver in 1976: Coffey & Staines.
(Olympic rings, indeed.)
THEY'RE NOT BOOING, THEY'RE...OH, WAIT A MINUTE, THEY ARE BOOING
The four best names to fail to make names for themselves in
1) Hungarian badminton player Andrea Odor.
2) Slovakian wrestler Roman Kollar.
3) Hungarian gymnast Eszter Ovary.
4) South Korean shooter Boo Soon Hee.
GONE WITH THE WIND...
...was the only thing set in Atlanta. On average, 9.25 track and
field world records were established at each Olympics between
1968 and '80. From '84 to '96, that number shriveled to 2.25.
Atlanta could conjure only two world records. As for swimming,
the four world records of the Centennial Games are half as many
as were set in Barcelona four years ago; they made Atlanta and
Mexico City in '68 (also only four records) the hosts of the
most unimposing pool parties in four decades.
SWIFTA, HIGHA, STRONGA
The U.S. won the most medals (101), but the Yanks ranked 39th in
medals per capita, with one for every 2,612,020 American
citizens. India (one medal for its 936 million residents)
finished dead last. The most densely decorated nation, with one
medal for its 105,600 inhabitants, was Tonga, sport's newest
1) The nonworking toilets at the tennis stadium in Stone
Mountain, Ga., which became a notorious, malodorous Unflushing