In May managing editor Bill Colson had the idea that we should know more about the athletes who will represent the U.S. in Atlanta. Who are these Olympians? Where are they from? What do they like to eat, to read, to see at the theater? The one way to find out was to interview all 649 for our preview issue. Given that time was short and the athletes far-flung (and in many cases high-strung), Colson realized that completing the project was probably impossible. "So let's do it," he said.
We did. Beginning on page 50, you can see the results, the product of work by 23 interviewers, two finger-tapping librarians, several photographers, copy editors and frantic fact checkers, one writer and a few editors, including assistant managing editor Jerry Kirshenbaum and senior editor Sandy Bailey, who have been overseeing the issue for more than a year. Then there was our graphic artist genius, Nigel Holmes, 54, who served as TIME'S graphics director for 16 years, until 1994, when he went out on his own; he now lectures on his specialty all over the world. "The challenge was the deadline pressure, but it's been fun," said Holmes. "Others did the dirty work." That would include Katharine Van Itallie and Karen Meneghin, who designed the issue.
But perhaps the dirtiest job was handled by our intrepid interviewers, dispatched by chief of reporters Jane Wulf, who kept track of where each athlete might be found. Questionnaires in hand, they stalked their prey, asking about politics, smoking, superstitions, tattoos and body piercings. Only 40 athletes escaped us, a number far smaller than we ever thought possible at the beginning. Writer-reporter Brian Cazeneuve was the busiest pollster, having queried the one modern pentathlete plus some 200 archers, fencers, judoists, rowers, sprinters, wrestlers and volleyball players, the latter group during a four-hour team bus ride from Madison, Wis., to Bloomington, Ill. Everyone pitched in. Director of photography Heinz Kluetmeier surveyed sprinter Michael Johnson after a photo shoot for the story beginning on page 72.
Central to the project were chief librarian Linda Ronan and research librarian Joy Birdsong. They typed each three-page questionnaire into a computer and created a database that helped sort facts to the specifications of Holmes and senior writer Jack McCallum, who both had the daunting task of bringing life to the original 1,947 pages of information. We figured the Games themselves wouldn't seem so wonderful for Ronan and Birdsong, considering the hours they've spent at the keyboard. We were wrong. "Joy and I can't wait to start watching," says Ronan. "We'll be the ones thinking, Hey, I know exactly where her tattoos are."