Billy payne estimates that since 1996 he has made some 3,000 speeches touching on his days as chief of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). He has much to tell audiences. His efforts brought the '96 Games to Atlanta and produced lasting benefits for the city. Atlanta's international profile has been raised and tourism has increased.
But Payne's Olympic legacy is mixed. As International Olympic Committee (IOC) members convene next week in Singapore to select the site of the 2012 Games, few look back on Atlanta's Games favorably. "It wasn't exactly our finest hour," says Canada's Richard Pound, a former IOC vice president. Computers malfunctioned, and results had to be delivered by hand. Some bus drivers got lost carting people to and from venues. Ubiquitous souvenir hawkers made Atlanta seem like a tacky flea market.
Controversy about the Games arose in '99, when a House panel investigating whether Salt Lake City organizers had used improper inducements to win rights to host the 2002 Winter Olympics called Payne to testify about Atlanta's bid methods. Payne acknowledged that his bid committee's largesse toward IOC members had "included excessive actions" and apologized for any embarrassment the city had suffered as a result.
A year later an eight-part series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution alleged that ACOG had given shopping sprees and gifts to IOC members in advance of the '90 vote on the host city and that Payne's private foundation and ACOG's successor organization, the Georgia Amateur Athletics Foundation, had paid Payne almost $1 million for his memorabilia collection, which included product samples he had requested from licensees. "Why did they choose to write that?" asks Payne. "The Atlanta Games are an unbelievably positive memory for everybody who experienced them."
Payne, now 57, had been a real estate lawyer before spearheading the Olympic bid. After the Games, he held several corporate jobs before becoming a partner at an investment banking firm in 2000. Payne, who is married to his college sweetheart, Martha, dotes on his seven grandchildren and is a passionate three-handicap golfer.
Would-be Olympic host cities still seek his advice. He has spoken several times with Dan Doctoroff, head of the New York 2012 bid, which faces stiff competition from Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow. "If New York doesn't win this time, rest assured the Games will return to the U.S. soon," Payne says. "[The IOC] will find a reason to come back." --Brian Cazeneuve