Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

1996 Summer Olympics

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Nations participating

Opening ceremony
July 19

271 in 26 sports

1996 Summer Olympics

The Celebration of the Century

Athletes participating
10,320(6,797 men, 3,523 women)

The 1996 Summer Olympics, known officially as the Games of the XXVI Olympiad and unofficially as the Centennial Olympic Games, was a major international multi-sport event that took place in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, from July 19 to August 4, 1996. A record 197 nations, all current IOC member nations, took part in the Games, comprising 10,318 athletes. The International Olympic Committee voted in 1986 to separate the Summer and Winter Games, which had been held in the same year since 1924, and place them in alternating even-numbered years, beginning in 1994. The 1996 Summer Games were the first to be staged in a different year from the Winter Games. Atlanta became the fifth American city to host the Olympic Games and the third to hold a Summer Olympic Games.



Atlanta was selected on September 18, 1990, in Tokyo, Japan, over Athens, Belgrade, Manchester, Melbourne, and Toronto at the 96th IOC Session. Atlanta's bid to host the Summer Games that began in 1987 was considered a long-shot, since the U.S. had hosted the Summer Olympics 12 years earlier in Los Angeles. Atlanta's main rivals were Toronto, whose front-running bid that began in 1986 seemed almost sure to succeed after Canada had held a successful 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and Melbourne, Australia, who hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics and prior to Sydney, Australia's successful 2000 Summer Olympics bid, they felt that the Olympic Games should return to Australia. This would be Toronto's fourth failed attempt since 1960 (tried in 1960, 1964, and 1976). The Athens bid was based on the fact that 1996 marked 100 years since the first Summer Games in Greece in 1896, though Athens would eventually host the 2004 Summer Olympics. The initial push for 1996 coming to Atlanta came from Billy Payne and then Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, whose main push for the Olympics to come to Atlanta mainly came from a motivation to showcase a changed and resurgent American South which was overcoming racial tensions from the African American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and to showcase a robust and growing Southern economy to help offset international stereotypes that the region was still plagued with poverty.


The Oxford Olympics Study 2016 estimates the outturn cost of the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics at USD 4.1 billion in 2015-dollars and cost overrun at 151% in real terms. This includes sports-related costs only, that is, (i) operational costs incurred by the organizing committee for the purpose of staging the Games, e.g., expenditures for technology, transportation, workforce, administration, security, catering, ceremonies, and medical services, and (ii) direct capital costs incurred by the host city and country or private investors to build, e.g., the competition venues, the Olympic village, international broadcast center, and media and press center, which are required to host the Games. Indirect capital costs are not included, such as for road, rail, or airport infrastructure, or for hotel upgrades or other business investment incurred in preparation for the Games but not directly related to staging the Games. The cost and cost overrun for Atlanta 1996 compares with costs of USD 4.6 billion and a cost overrun of 51% for Rio 2016 and USD 15 billion and 76% for London 2012. Average cost for the Summer Games since 1960 is USD 5.2 billion, average cost overrun is 176%.

The 1996 Olympics was predicated on the financial model established by the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The cost to stage the Games was US$1.8 billion. U.S. Government funds were used for security, and around $500 million of taxpayer money was used on the physical infrastructure including streetscaping, road improvements, Centennial Olympic Park, expansion of airport, improvements in public transportation, and redevelopment of public housing projects but neither paid for the actual Games nor the new Venues themselves. To pay for the games, Atlanta relied on commercial sponsorship and ticket sales, resulting in a profit of $10 million.


Events of the 1996 Games were held in a variety of areas. A number were held within the Olympic Ring, a 3 mi (4.8 km) circle from the center of Atlanta. Others were held at Stone Mountain, about 20 miles (32 km) outside of the city. To broaden ticket sales, other events, such as soccer, occurred in various cities in the Southeast.

  • Alexander Memorial Coliseum – Boxing
  • Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium – Baseball
  • Centennial Olympic Stadium – Opening/Closing Ceremonies, Athletics
  • Clayton County International Park (Jonesboro, Georgia) – Beach Volleyball
  • Forbes Arena – Basketball
  • Georgia Dome – Basketball (final), Gymnastics (artistic), Handball (men's final)
  • Georgia International Horse Park (Conyers, Georgia) – Cycling (mountain), Equestrian, Modern pentathlon (riding, running)
  • Georgia State University Sports Arena – Badminton
  • Georgia Tech Aquatic Center – Diving, Modern pentathlon (swimming), Swimming, Synchronized Swimming, Water Polo
  • Georgia World Congress Center – Fencing, Handball, Judo, Modern pentathlon (fencing, shooting), Table Tennis, Weightlifting, Wrestling
  • Golden Park (Columbus, Georgia) – Softball
  • Herndon Stadium – Field hockey (final)
  • Lake Lanier (Gainesville, Georgia) – Canoeing (sprint), Rowing
  • Legion Field (Birmingham, Alabama) – Football
  • Miami Orange Bowl (Miami, Florida) – Football
  • Omni Coliseum – Volleyball (indoor final)
  • Ocoee Whitewater Center (Polk County, Tennessee) – Canoeing (slalom)
  • Panther Stadium – Field hockey
  • RFK Stadium (Washington, D.C.) – Football
  • Stone Mountain Tennis Center (Stone Mountain, Georgia) – Tennis
  • Stone Mountain Park Archery Center (Stone Mountain, Georgia) – Archery
  • Stone Mountain Park Velodrome (Stone Mountain, Georgia) – Cycling (track)
  • Sanford Stadium (Athens, Georgia) at the University of Georgia – Football (final)
  • Stegeman Coliseum (Athens, Georgia) at the University of Georgia – Gymnastics (rhythmic), Volleyball (indoor)
  • Wassaw Sound (Savannah, Georgia) – Sailing
  • Wolf Creek Shooting Complex – Shooting
  • Marketing

    The Olympiad's official theme, "Summon the Heroes", was written by John Williams, making it the third Olympiad at that point for which he had composed (official composer 1984; NBC's coverage composer 1988). The opening ceremony featured Céline Dion singing "The Power of the Dream", the official theme song of the 1996 Olympics. The mascot for the Olympiad was an abstract, animated character named Izzy. In contrast to the standing tradition of mascots of national or regional significance in the city hosting the Olympiad, Izzy was an amorphous, fantasy figure. The 1996 Olympics were the first to have two separate opening ceremony events. Savannah, because of its geographical separation from Atlanta, had its own opening ceremonies on July 18, 1996. The event featured "Worldwide Connection", a song composed by Savannah native Jeffrey Reed and a concert by Trisha Yearwood, a Georgia native.

    Atlanta's Olympic slogan "Come Celebrate Our Dream" was written by Jack Arogeti, a Managing Director at McCann-Erickson in Atlanta at the time. The slogan was selected from more than 5,000 submitted by the public to the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. Billy Payne noted that Jack "captured the spirit and our true motivation for the Olympic games."


    All times are in Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4); the other, Birmingham, Alabama uses Central Daylight Time (UTC-5)

    Opening ceremony

    The ceremony began with a flashback from Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in August 1992 which showed the then president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch asking the athletes to compete in Atlanta in 1996. Then, spirits rose in the northwest corner of the stadium, each representing one of the colors in the Olympic rings. They called the tribes of the world which after mixed percussion formed the Olympic rings while the youth of Atlanta formed the number 100. Famed film composer John Williams composed the official overture for the 1996 Olympics, Summon the Heroes, his second overture for an Olympic games (the first being Olympic Fanfare and Theme written for the 1984 Summer Olympics). The song "The Power of the Dream", composed by David Foster, was performed by Céline Dion accompanied by Foster on the piano, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Centennial Choir (Morehouse College Glee Club, Spelman College Glee Club and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus). Gladys Knight sang "Georgia on My Mind", Georgia's official state song. There was also a showcase called "Welcome To The World", which featured cheerleaders, Chevrolet pick-up trucks, marching bands, and steppers, showcasing the American youth and college sporting culture, including the wave commonly seen in sporting events around the world. A showcase entitled "Summertime" focused on Atlanta and the Old South with a placement on its beauty, spirit, music, history, culture, and rebirth after the American Civil War. Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies of the games and received a replacement gold medal for his boxing victory in the 1960 Summer Olympics. For the torch ceremony, more than 10,000 Olympic torches were manufactured by the American Meter Company and electroplated by Erie Plating Company. Each torch weighed about 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) and was made primarily of aluminum, with a Georgia pecan wood handle and gold ornamentation. Note:In 1996, Poledouris composed the "The Tradition of the Games" for the Atlanta Olympics opening ceremony that accompanied the memorable dance tribute to the athletes and goddesses of victory of the ancient Greek Olympics using silhouette imagery.


    The 1996 Summer Olympic programme featured 271 events in the 26 sports. Softball, beach volleyball and mountain biking debuted on the Olympic program, together with women's association football and lightweight rowing.

    In women's gymnastics, Lilia Podkopayeva became the all-around Olympic champion. Podkopayeva also won a second gold medal in the floor exercise final and a silver on the beam — becoming the only female gymnast since Nadia Comăneci to win an individual event gold after winning the all-round title in the same Olympics. Kerri Strug of the United States women's gymnastics team vaulted with an injured ankle and landed on one foot. The US women's gymnastics team won its first gold medal. Shannon Miller of the United States won the gold medal on the balance beam event, the first time an American gymnast had won an individual gold medal in a non-boycotted Olympic games. The Spanish team won the first gold medal in the new competition of women's rhythmic group all-around. The team was formed by Estela Giménez, Marta Baldó, Nuria Cabanillas, Lorena Guréndez, Estíbaliz Martínez and Tania Lamarca.

    Amy Van Dyken won four gold medals in the Olympic swimming pool, the first American woman to win four titles in a single Olympiad. Penny Heyns, swimmer of South Africa, won the gold medals in both the 100 metres and 200 metres breaststroke events. Michelle Smith of Ireland won three gold medals and a bronze in swimming. She remains her nation's most decorated Olympian. However, her victories were overshadowed by doping allegations even though she did not test positive in 1996. She received a four-year suspension in 1998 for tampering with a urine sample, though her medals and records were allowed to stand.

    In track and field, Donovan Bailey of Canada won the men's 100 m, setting a new world record of 9.84 seconds at that time. He also anchored his team's gold in the 4 × 100 m relay. Michael Johnson won gold in both the 200 m and 400 m, setting a new world record of 19.32 seconds in the 200 m. Johnson afterward began disputing Bailey's unofficial title as the "world's fastest man", which later culminated in a 150-metre race between the two to settle the issue. Marie-José Pérec equaled Johnson's performance, although without a world record, by winning the rare 200 m/400 m double. Carl Lewis won his 4th long jump gold medal at the age of 35.

    In tennis, Andre Agassi won the gold medal, which would eventually make him the first man and second singles player overall (after his wife, Steffi Graf) to win the career Golden Slam, which consists of an Olympic gold medal and victories in the singles tournaments held at professional tennis' four major events (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open).

    There were a series of national firsts realized during the Games. Deon Hemmings became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for Jamaica and the English-speaking West Indies. Lee Lai Shan won a gold medal in sailing, the only Olympic medal that Hong Kong ever won as a British colony (1842–1997). This meant that for the only time, the colonial flag of Hong Kong was raised to the accompaniment of the British national anthem "God Save the Queen", as Hong Kong's sovereignty was later transferred to China in 1997. The US women's soccer team won the gold medal in the first ever women's soccer event. For the first time, Olympic medals were won by athletes from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burundi, Ecuador, Georgia, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Mozambique, Slovakia, Tonga, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Another first in Atlanta was that this was the first Olympics ever that not a single nation swept all three medals in a single event.

    Medal count

    These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1996 Games.

    Participating National Olympic Committees

    A total of 197 nations were represented at the 1996 Games, and the combined total of athletes was about 10,318. Twenty-four countries made their Olympic debut this year, including eleven of the ex-Soviet countries that competed as part of the Unified Team in 1992. Russia competed independently for the first time since 1912, when it was the Russian Empire. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia competed as Yugoslavia.

    The 14 countries making their Olympic debut were: Azerbaijan, Burundi, Cape Verde, Comoros, Dominica, Guinea-Bissau, Macedonia, Nauru, Palestinian Authority, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The ten countries making their Summer Olympic debut (after competing at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer) were: Armenia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Slovakia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The Czech Republic and Slovakia attended the games as independent nations for the first time since the breakup of Czechoslovakia, while the rest of the nations that made their Summer Olympic debut were formerly part of the Soviet Union.


    Atlanta's heavy reliance on corporate sponsorship caused European Olympic officials to consider the Games to be overly commercialized. Coca-Cola, whose corporate headquarters is in Atlanta, received criticism for being the exclusive provider of soft drinks at Olympics venues. In addition, the city of Atlanta was found to have been competing with the IOC for advertising and sponsorship dollars. The city licensed street vendors who sold certain products over others, and therefore provided a presence for companies who were not official Olympic sponsors.

    A report prepared by European Olympic officials after the Games was critical of Atlanta's performance in several key issues, including the level of crowding in the Olympic Village, the quality of available food, the accessibility and convenience of transportation, and the Games' general atmosphere of commercialism. At the closing ceremony, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said in his closing speech, "Well done, Atlanta" and simply called the Games "most exceptional." This broke precedent for Samaranch, who had traditionally labeled each Games "the best Olympics ever" at each closing ceremony, a practice he resumed at the subsequent Games in Sydney in 2000.

    Centennial Olympic Park bombing

    The 1996 Olympics were marred by the Centennial Olympic Park bombing on July 27. Security guard Richard Jewell discovered the pipe bomb and immediately notified law enforcement and helped evacuate as many people as possible from the area before it exploded. Although Jewell's quick actions are credited for saving many lives, the bombing killed spectator Alice Hawthorne, wounded 111 others, and caused the death of Melih Uzunyol by heart attack. Jewell was later considered a suspect in the bombing but was never charged, and he was exonerated in October 1996. In 2003, Eric Robert Rudolph was charged with and confessed to this bombing as well as the bombings of several abortion clinics and gay bars. He stated "the purpose of the attack on July 27th was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand." He was sentenced to a life sentence at ADX Florence prison in Florence, Colorado.


    Preparations for the Olympics lasted more than six years and had an economic impact of at least $5.14 billion. Over two million visitors came to Atlanta, and approximately 3.5 billion people around the world watched part of the games on television. Although marred by the tragedy of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, they were a financial success, due in part to TV rights contracts and sponsorships at record levels. William Porter Payne and Steve Spinner led the U.S. marketing program which became a model for future Games.

    Beyond international recognition, the Games resulted in many modern infrastructure improvements. The mid-rise dormitories built for the Olympic Village, which became the first residential housing for Georgia State University (Georgia State Village), are now used by the Georgia Institute of Technology (North Avenue Apartments). As designed, Centennial Olympic Stadium was converted into Turner Field, which became the home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team from 1997 to 2016. The Braves' former home, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was demolished and the site became a parking lot for Turner Field. The Omni Coliseum was demolished that same year to make way for Philips Arena. Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the events, is the city's lasting memorial of the games. The park initiated a revitalization of the surrounding area, and now serves as the hub for Atlanta's tourism district.

    After the Braves' departure from Turner Field, Georgia State University acquired the stadium and surrounding parking lots and will reconfigure the former Olympic Stadium a second time into an American football stadium tentatively named Georgia State Stadium.

    Broadcast rights

    revenue for television rights follows.

  •  Argentina: ATC, El Trece, Telefe, América TV, Libertad, MultiSports (now TyC Sports) and VCC
  •  Australia: Seven Network, $30 million
  •  Belgium: BRTN and RTBF
  •  Brazil: Rede Globo, Rede Bandeirantes, Rede Record, SBT, Rede Manchete, SporTV and ESPN Brasil
  •  Brunei: RTB and Astro
  •  Bulgaria: BNT 1
  •  Canada: CBC and Radio-Canada, $20.75 million
  •  Chile: TVN, Universidad Católica de Chile Televisión
  •  China: CCTV
  •  Colombia: Inravisión
  •  Croatia: HRT
  •  France: TF1 and FTV
  •  FR Yugoslavia: RTS, RTCG
  •  Germany: ARD and ZDF
  •  Hong Kong: RTHK, ATV and TVB, $5 million
  •  Hungary: Magyar Televízió
  •  India: Doordarshan
  •  Indonesia: RCTI, SCTV, TPI, ANTeve and Indosiar
  •  Ireland: RTÉ
  •  Italy: RAI
  •  Japan: Atlanta Japan Pool, consortium of four Japanese broadcasters including NHK, $99.5 million
  •  Macau: TDM
  •  Macedonia (11) MKRTV
  •  Malaysia: RTM, STMB, Mega TV and Philips ASTRO
  •  Mexico: Televisa
  •  Netherlands: NPO
  •  Norway: NRK
  •  Paraguay: Paraguay TV, Telefuturo, SNT, Red Guaraní, RPC, CVC Sports (now Tigo Sports) and Mi Cable
  •  Philippines: People's Television Network, SkyCable
  •  Poland: TVP
  •  Portugal: RTP
  •  Russia: Public Russian Television, VGTRK Olympiade
  •  Singapore: Singapore Television Twelve (STV12) Prime 12 and Premiere 12
  •  South Korea: KBS, MBC and SBS, $9.75 million
  •  Spain: TVE
  •  Sweden: SVT
  •   Switzerland: SRG SSR idee suisse
  •  Taiwan: TTV, CTV and CTS, $1.9 million
  •  Thailand: National Sports, $465 million
  •  United Kingdom: BBC
  •  United States: NBC (WXIA-11)
  •  Venezuela: Venevision
  • References

    1996 Summer Olympics Wikipedia