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Atlanta is the putative capital of the American civil-rights movement. If IOC members are altruistic enough to think in these terms (and certainly some are), then the chairman of the AOC is their source for inspiration. Young, now 58, came through those fearsome early days of rebellion and death—as well as the following years, when he was a black icon and world politician—with tremendous grace and the appearance of a man 20 years his junior. And his Olympic awareness is not a recent addition to his life. "The earliest political event I can vaguely recall was the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when Jesse Owens took on Hitler," he says. "Later, Ralph Metcalfe, who won medals there, too, in the relays, came to coach at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where I was born and raised, so in my earliest childhood I was thinking about the Olympics."
A good all-around athlete, Young himself might have been an Olympian. In 1951, when he was 19 and a student at Howard University, he ran the 220-yard dash in 21.4 seconds—good at the time. He trained briefly one summer with world-class athletes at the Pioneer track club in New York City while he was attending the Hartford Theological Seminary. Then he got quite another kind of call: He was asked to pastor a church in rural Alabama. "I had to choose between my sports and my church, so I went to Alabama. I still trained, running through pine forests down there—those woods are great for running—but I couldn't be realistically serious about the Olympics."
Young is serious now. " Atlanta offers a more credible and more hopeful message than just American capitalism and material success," he says. "This is the home of the human-rights movement, the place where the world first heard of We Shall Overcome. Do you know that hymn is sung everywhere in the world? I have heard it in India, in Poland. We Shall Overcome. Our own version of apartheid existed in the South until 1965, but we overcame. When people sec that this can happen in Atlanta, they know it can also happen in Zimbabwe."
In his 1977-79 incarnation as ambassador to the UN, Young made hundreds of contacts that have been invaluable in his foreign forays for the AOC (he has visited thirty countries since the campaign began). "I'd already been most places before, and it was a great help that I had some previous sense of the culture and politics in a place like, say, Mauritius. It was also a great help that at the time I made my earlier visits, the U.S. government was still well respected for its position on human rights."
In his years as mayor of Atlanta, Young presided over a city that was in grand transformation. It had been burned to the ground in 1864 during General William Tecumseh Sherman's scorched-earth march across Georgia to the sea, and when it was rebuilt it became a sleepy, slow-footed city whose only major center of activity was the train depot, which anchored the entire Southeast. After the 1960s upheaval of the civil-rights movement had settled down, the prosperity of the '70s and '80s took hold in Atlanta and a vigorous local boosterism grew out of it. In 1977 there had even been a move to mount an Olympic bid for the '84 Games. Sibley was involved then and recalls, "A committee studied the situation and reported that the city could hold a very modestly run Games, but there was no enthusiasm. In those days, there was no major airport, no real supply of hotel rooms, no domed stadium, none of the great convention facilities we have now."
Since then, the city has blossomed into one of the U.S.'s most vigorous business and convention centers. As Young puts it, "It's as if Atlanta had been getting itself ready to do an Olympics every day for the last 10 years. Why, there is the Hartsfield International Airport, 60,000 hotel rooms, The Omni [the city's major indoor arena], the Georgia World Congress Center [a mammoth convention and exhibition facility which would become the venue for six indoor sports]. The domed stadium is in the works, Stone Mountain State Park [a potential venue for seven outdoor sports] is fifteen miles away—why, there is almost nothing left to do to make this place perfect for the Olympic Games."
And that is the truth. Atlanta probably has the best existing facilities—easily accessible, closely located and professionally operated—of any wannabe Olympic city in decades.
One of Payne's early axioms for launching an Olympic bid was this: "The city that has the most IOC members visit it will probably have the best chance to win." As of last week, 68 members of the IOC had visited Atlanta, and a total of 75 are expected before the big vote next month. Besides that, emissaries from the AOC have visited the homes or homelands of no fewer than 85 delegates in a total of 70 countries.
The care and feeding of IOC members is an exceedingly delicate undertaking. As Payne says, "It boils down to which organizing committee is the greater judge of people. I was prepared for the worst, but we have been overwhelmingly impressed with the IOC members. They are educated, sophisticated people. They have come to be friends. We have tried to use the same 10 or a dozen Atlanta people for all of our contacts. It gets to be like old home week on the road."
Early on, Payne decided that most IOC members are impressed by cultural accomplishments, so he sent each of them a portable compact-disc player and recordings by the Atlanta Symphony, which is a first-class orchestra. Other gifts have included big, glossy picture books about subjects ranging from the Civil War and the Old South city of Savannah (where the yachting events will be held) to dogwood trees and the flowers that thrive in Georgia. Particularly prized gifts given to many of the visiting delegates are photographs taken by Young, who has gotten to be a pretty fair country photographer. Some have been blown up to poster size.