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Payne's maniacal commitment to the Olympics is something quite new for him. He had watched the Games on television, beginning with the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but he had never been near a functioning Olympic venue before he began trying to win the '96 Games for Atlanta. However, his love of non-Olympic sports started very early—in the womb. His father, Porter Payne, was a star lineman with the University of Georgia and a member of the upstart College All-Star team that beat the Philadelphia Eagles in 1950. Billy was born in Athens, Ga., on Oct. 13, 1947, while his father was still in school. The family moved to Atlanta, where Porter prospered in real estate. Billy excelled as an all-around high school athlete and was a good enough quarterback to be courted by the likes of Texas, USC, Notre Dame, Auburn and Florida. He chose Georgia, where Vince Dooley, then 34, was in his third year of big-time coaching. Dooley turned Billy into an end on a Bulldog team that went 10-1 in 1966, 7-4 in 1967, 8-1-2 in 1968, and played in the Cotton Bowl, the Liberty Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, respectively, in those years. Payne was an AP All-America. After graduation, he got a degree from the University of Georgia School of Law and went back to Atlanta to practice.
He married his college sweetheart, Martha Beard; had two children; and established a lovely existence, which included serving St. Luke's church as treasurer, chairman of the board of deacons and ruling elder. His world has not been without clouds, however. In 1987, his sister, Patti, died of cancer, at age 40. In '82, his father died of a heart attack, at 53. Five weeks later, Billy had triple bypass surgery (it was discovered during the operation that he had had a heart attack himself in 1974, at 26). Porter Payne had been his son's idol. "My father went to every game I ever played, but he never saw a single play because he covered his eyes every time," says Billy. "But his was the only assessment of me I ever cared about. His question always was, 'Do you think you did your best, Billy? Your very best?' Never once could I honestly say I had really done my best. I always felt that I quit too soon."
His life-style is pure type A: He rarely arrives at the AOC offices later than 4:30 a.m. He then often makes phone calls to Europe, Africa and Asia. He works a full day and often some of the night, attending official dinners, making speeches and doing homework. He describes himself as "driven" and likens his job to "a 24-hour-a-day struggle." And when he talks about the nature of his quest, he sounds like a cross between Dale Carnegie and Billy Sunday. "We are a triumph of the human spirit here," he says. "This dream is founded in goodness. The generosity of the people involved is overwhelming. We are finding in this effort the truth of the old adage: It is impossible to give something away, because it always comes back manyfold. This is what Olympism is—something that comes back many times, intangibly and tangibly. We cannot lose; we can only win in this effort."
Once Atlanta became the USOC's chosen city for '96, Payne & Co. entered the big leagues. This time, a lot of money was forthcoming—mainly from business. Payne figured it would cost about $5.4 million just to campaign for the IOC bid. It eventually cost $7 million.
The AOC now has six paid employees (all but one of them clerical) and 1,000 volunteers. Nevertheless, Payne, Young and their minions have had to defend themselves against a worldwide American reputation for greed. Among Olympic idealists, nothing enriched this reputation more than the orgy of commercialism that occurred during the Los Angeles Games of 1984.
The $225 million-plus profit that the Los Angeles organization reaped—and then kept mostly for itself—put Atlanta on the defensive from the start. "We've had to spend a great deal of time convincing people that we are not going to be like L.A.," says Payne.
The AOC's main strategy has been simply to promise to give away whatever profit (conservatively estimated at $150 to $200 million and carefully referred to by Payne as "surplus") an Atlanta Olympics might produce. "We are required by contract to give 10 percent to the IOC and 10 percent to the USOC. The remaining 80 percent goes to the host city," says Payne. "We will keep some of the surplus in Atlanta to maintain a perpetual fund for sports facilities and youth programs. However, the vast proportion of the AOC's part of the surplus—80 percent of the 80 percent we get—will be given to the international sports community, to the national Olympic committees and to the sports federations. We want people to understand that we are servants to the Olympic movement and that our resources are the Olympics' resources. We have to convince everyone that we simply are not in this for the dollars."
The L.A. Games have plagued Atlanta in another way: Their chronological proximity has caused understandable reluctance on the part of some IOC members to hold another Olympics in the U.S. so soon. Payne says, "Geography is constantly thrown in our face, but we argue that the U.S. is not a homogenized country, that its regions are very different. We say that the U.S. is an entire continent and that we have had only three Summer Olympics-in 1904, 1932 and 1984-and Europe has had fourteen. We also argue that L.A. was the only city in the world to bid for the '84 Olympics, so the IOC hasn't actually selected an American city for the Summer Games for almost 60 years."