For the 17 days of the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Richard Hoffer carried a slim notebook around in his back pocket. Inside the front cover he compiled a list, scribbling a new entry each day, that formed the skeleton of this special Olympic commemorative issue: Day 1, Opening Ceremonies; Day 2, Dream Team; Day 3, Tom Dolan.... Each day he picked a person or event on which to focus his attention.
"I was basically set loose to write whatever struck me," Hoffer says, "and I was lucky in that the events I went to turned out to be great. I went to weightlifting one day and suddenly I'm watching this really dramatic duel [Day 4]. And the 100 meters [Day 9], with Linford Christie sulking off, was more than I bargained for."
The end result is a collection of 18 pieces, all written by Hoffer—a kind of diary of the '96 Games, grandly illuminated with pictures taken almost exclusively by the 17 SI photographers on assignment in Atlanta. When this commemorative project was first discussed, it was decided that Hoffer, who had covered the Games in Los Angeles and in Seoul for the Los Angeles Times before joining SI in 1989, was the ideal choice to take on such an Olympian task. "We wanted an issue that would be thoughtful and reflective," says SI assistant managing editor David Bauer. "Besides being a great writer and reporter, Rick is a fine essayist. He's so adept with language that he's able to capture a lot in few words. And that's what we needed here."
Rarely do we ask Hoffer to stop after just a few words; in fact, he says one of the toughest parts of this assignment was paring down his observations to the required length. An even trickier aspect was "explaining to people what I was doing all this time in Atlanta. Because nothing I wrote was going to show up until the end."
We think you'll agree it was worth the wait.