"That's the spirit of the Games—people feeling like money is being made, business is being done!" cried Munson Steed. A year and a half ago it dawned on Steed, the 35-year-old owner of B.G. Swing Games Management Inc., that space was the final frontier—the one thing left that hadn't been marketed—that public streets, sidewalks, parks, barricades and street poles could be worth millions. He won the right, with a $2.5 million bid, to market that space to nearly 400 companies and vendors. "Dick Pound?" said Steed, reflecting on the IOC executive who had expressed disapproval of such free enterprise. "Homeboy doesn't believe in diversity. It's shameful. Most people can't afford to attend the private parties or buy Olympic tickets, but they can afford to come to Atlanta and enjoy the fun—the clutter. People from around the world don't just want to come to the Games—they want to take something back, no matter how cheesy. Where else does Dick Pound anticipate an African-American entrepreneur like me will participate in the Olympics? If not for this, our Olympic dream would be deferred. I'm selling presence, man. Presence is critical!
"Besides, my 370 vendors are not even 10 percent of the ones out there. There are 6,000 others, easy, who are leasing sites on private property. If you took them all away, Atlanta would just be a sea of sameness. Hey, this is America, for better or worse. Me? I walk the streets and I get happy."
Steed's mood was the prevailing one, in spite of the withering heat, the insanely crowded subways, the bus drivers from out of town who kept getting lost; in spite of the shadow cast by the death of 230 people in the TWA airliner explosion last Wednesday that many believe was the work of terrorists and was connected to the Olympics. Lines at security checkpoints were long, but few complained.
Atlantans are too busy relishing the sheer record-breaking bulk of these Games—the 11,000 athletes from 197 nations who showed up, the 3.5 billion TV viewers, the 45,000-volunteer army, the 30,000-deep security force, the 15,000 members of the press, the 8,250 cast and crew members who staged Friday's opening ceremony.
The ceremony was one more reminder that almost nothing can occur in Olympic host cities, short of massacre, that leaves any significant footprints upon the spectacles unfolding inside the stadium and arena walls. Yes, the show went too late and lasted too long, and the shoddy organization of the Parade of Nations caused yawning gaps between entrances of delegations and then sudden hurry-up calls that sent athletes charging up and over the ramp as if they were taking Pork Chop Hill. But the night also delivered unforgettable images. Has there been a finer Olympic artistic conception than the larger-than-life silhouettes of ancient Greek athletes performing their sports, which dancers and powerful lamps contrived to cast upon immense panels of translucent silk?
The most brilliant moment of all came well after midnight, when four-time gold medalist swimmer Janet Evans ran the Olympic torch up the ramp, and 85,000 people strained to see who would take the flame from there and ignite the 72-ton cauldron on the tower above. Suddenly, there stood perhaps history's most legendary athlete, a specter dressed in white, a man whose name had been mentioned by almost no one in the week before the ceremony. First an astonished "Whoooooaaaaa!" shot through the stadium, then a delirious roar, as 54-year-old Muhammad Ali took the flame, his empty left hand shaking from the effects of Parkinson's syndrome. And then Ali bent over a wick attached to a pulley, and performed the silent action that carried no price tag, needed no logo, hawked no product...that made everything occurring on the streets of Atlanta vanish in a puff of smoke.