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The Centennial Olympic Games Museum Highlights Atlanta's Olympic Relationship

For 16 days in the summer of1996, Atlanta, Georgia, was the focus of the entire world during the Olympics. That period of time represented a decade’s worth of aspirations, planning and triumphs. The event positively affected Atlanta and accelerated its transformation from a southern capital to an international city.

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of those Olympic Games, the Atlanta History Center opened the Centennial Olympic Games Museum. It houses one of the most significant exhibitions on Olympic sport and history in the United States, and takes visitors through the history of the Olympic movement - from the inception of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece to the history of the modern Olympic Games beginning in 1896 to the 17 days of the Centennial Olympic Games.

As visitors enter the Centennial Olympic Games Museum from the Atlanta History Center, they will walk across the maple flooring from the 1996 Olympic basketball court where the U.S. men’s and women’s teams won gold.

Through the use of interactive computer kiosks and an “Olympic Mania” trivia game, each visitor can create a personal experience while tracking his or her score based on a series of questions on Olympic sport and history. Personal scores are revealed on a scoreboard at the end of the exhibition as the participant stands on a victory platform from the Olympic Games.

There are eight sections in the museum:
Origins of the Games: In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games became one of the worlds most enduring and hallowed institutions, celebrated continuously for 1,200 years. This section provides a historical overview of the ancient Games from 776 B.C. through 393 A.D. to help visitors better understand the origins of the modern Olympic movement.

The Modern Olympic Games: Through a complete collection of participation medals from each Games, Olympic posters, and the only complete collection of Olympic torches in the country (dating back to the 1936 Berlin Games), this section places modern Olympic in historical context - from 1896 through 1996.

From Dream to Reality: Learn about the visionary leadership of William “Billy” Porter Payne, as well as the community leaders and volunteers who prepared the bid for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Explore behind-the-scenes activities through artifacts, images and personal video accounts from bid to fundraising, which resulted in the memorable “It’s Atlanta” announcement made in Tokyo on September 18, 1990.

The organization of the 1996 Games, in addition to the monumental task of transforming the city of Atlanta, including the creation of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, the Olympic Village, buildings, roads, public transportation and communication systems, is presented to give an overview of the many different facets that must occur to successfully host the Olympics.

The Centennial Olympic Games Experience: Surrounded by five large columns modeled after the light towers at Centennial Olympic Park, a series of five flat screens play a series of videos depicting the experience and capturing the spirit and emotion of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.

This section also examines how the most powerful symbol of the Olympic Games - the Olympic torch - made its way to Atlanta. The Centennial Olympic Torch Relay spanned an 84-day odyssey across the country and traveled 16,000 miles before Muhammad Ali lit the official cauldron, which is still located near Turner Field. The Centennial Olympic Torch, paired with the ceremonial cauldron and a video presentation, brings to light the efforts of the 13,000-community heroes who were part of bringing the Olympic flame to Atlanta.

A tribute to the more than 50,000 volunteers who contributed their efforts to the Games are recognized through artifacts and a digital scrolling screen of each volunteer’s name. In addition, visitors are introduced to the variety of licensed merchandise created for the event, as well as the economic impact that opportunity had on the city of Atlanta. More than one billion dollars of Atlanta Games merchandise was sold providing 50 percent of the construction costs for the Centennial Olympic Stadium.

The World Comes to Atlanta: This interactive section focuses on the global community and provides information on specific sports and participants as the world came to Atlanta. Gifts from among 197 delegations that participated in the 1996 Games are highlighted and a large-scale animated map invites visitors to explore world geography.

16 Days in Atlanta: On July 19, 1996, the Summer Olympics officially opened. Through puppets, costumes, video clips and selected country signs from the Parade of Nations, visitors are transported back in time to the pageantry of the Centennial Olympic Games.

An inlaid track leads visitors through a day-by-day exploration of the 16 days of competition. A three-dimensional display of sports artifacts and life-cast statues provide a backdrop to backlit panels highlighting various aspects of the 1996 Games, including the Olympic Village; daily sporting events and venues; costs of the Games; cultural Olympiad events; Centennial Olympic Park; security; costumes and uniforms; souvenir madness; broadcasting the Games; the 1996 Games mascot, Izzy; various Olympic venues; the day of terrorism; and the thousands of volunteers and staff who made the Games possible. As the visitor approaches the end of this section, video clips, artifacts and photographs from the closing ceremony show thousands of Centennial Olympic athletes as they fill the infield and the Olympic flag is passed to Sydney, the host of the 2000 Olympic Games, and the Olympic flame is extinguished as the Games come to a close.

Legacy of the Games: This final section highlights cultural artifacts from the Atlanta Games, as well as reflections from Olympic organizers, volunteers, historians, athletes, trainers, and spectators. A piece of Georgia marble sculpted by the renowned artist Jon Isherwood is etched with the quilt of leaves, the symbol of the Atlanta Games. Based upon the original quilt of leaves, which represents the city’s green landscape, the laurel for victory and the olive branch for peace, this dimensional surface serves as a screen for images of Olympic athletes. Visitors also explore the most lasting and powerful legacies of the 1996 Games, including the economic impact to the region and how the Games physically changed the city, including the construction of the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, the Stone Mountain Tennis Center, the Rowing and Canoeing venue at Lake Lanier and Centennial Olympic Park.

Sports Lab: The second level of the museum is dedicated to an interactive sports lab. This high-energy area invites children and adults to test their strength and skill while comparing themselves to the world’s greatest athletes. Focusing on the physiology of sports training, visitors gain an understanding of the relationship between sport, exercise, and health. An assisted long jump, two side-by-side sculls, and two bikes engage participants in the physical aspect of the Olympic Games. Each interactive area provides visitors the experience of competing against each other or an Olympic record.

Founded in 1926 as the Atlanta Historical Society, the Atlanta History Center includes four signature exhibitions and two changing exhibition galleries; two historic houses, the 1928 Swan House and the Tullie Smith Farm; the wing housing the Centennial Olympic Games Museum and a changing exhibition gallery; the Kenan Research Center and 33 acres of gardens. In addition, the history center operates the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. Located in midtown Atlanta, the two-acre campus features four properties, including the house and apartment where Margaret Mitchell wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gone with the Wind; a visitors’ center and exhibition gallery; a Gone with the Wind movie museum; and a museum shop. Open daily. Admission is charged.

Atlanta History Center

130 West Paces Ferry Road NW
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 814-4000