Attraction of the Week: Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta
Who could forget the iconic (and tragic) 1996 Olympic Games? 1996 marked the 100 year anniversary of the first Olympics held in Athens, Greece. It’s hard to believe that events which are widely popular today like Beach Volleyball officially became an Olympic sport this year! Or, that Michael Phelps was not yet a household name. While Phelps won no medals in his first Olympics (the 2000 Games at the age of 15!), this quickly changed. Phelps now holds the most medals overall (28) and the most gold medals (23).
The iconic moment when Muhammad Ali lit the torch
One of the highlights was the extravagant lengthy opening ceremony. Boxer and former gold medalist Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic cauldron to officially kick off the games. Even today, the moment Muhammad lit the torch, is considered the most memorable Olympic moment of all time. To this day, the legendary ’96 opening opening ceremony comes in as one of the best, right up there with Beijing (2008), London (2012), and Sydney (2000).
A record breaking year!
The 1996 Olympics saw many athletes accomplishing record breaking feats. Michael Johnson set a record in the 200m, with his 19.32 second sprint beating the world record by 0.34 seconds. He also was the first male sprinter to win a gold medal in both the 200 and 400m. Who could forget the Magnificent Seven – the best gymnastics team ever? And, the iconic moment when Kerri Strug hopped after landing a vault on an injured angle, thus securing the first all-around gold medal for the US team?
The athletes were not the only ones setting records. The ’96 Games themselves were recording breaking. A record breaking 10,000+ athletes from 197 countries competed – quite the difference from the original 14 represented in the 1896 Olympics. The ’96 Olympics also broke records in terms of attendance numbers, with 8.3 million tickets sold, thus landing the Games a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Unfortunately, this was also a time of great tragedy due to the July 27th terrorist bombing during a free concert at Centennial Park. The bombs killed one person and injured over 100. This happened on the 9th day of the Olympics, and afterwards, athletes continued to compete, not allowing the tragedy to destroy their spirit.
The ’96 Olympics Games will be remembered as a time of both great devastation and great triumph. Despite the horrible tragedy, US Olympians managed to attain 44 gold, 32 silver, and 25 bronze medals, for a total of 101. This year marked the awarding of more medals than any other Olympics since the 1984 Games.
Centennial Park opened just prior to the Olympics, and quickly became a gathering place for the millions of visitors in town for the games. To this day, the park remains a lasting legacy to the ’96 games, in addition to a very popular congregating place for visiting tourists.
The park is pretty small at just 21 acres, and yet, always packed. From here, you can walk to most of the city’s most popular attractions including The Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca Cola, and The Center for Civil & Human Rights. Centennial is a great place to relax in between visiting downtown attractions. To be honest, you will need a recovery period as these touristy sites can be insanely busy on the weekends!
If you take a quick stroll around, you will notice a few nice tributes to the 1996 Games.
Free events are on the lineup year-round including a huge 4th of July celebration and 4th Saturday Family fun days.
Fantastic views of the Atlanta cityscape
The skyline views are pretty fantastic from Centennial, especially at night!
If you want even better views, take a ride up 20 stories on the SkyView Ferris Wheel, featuring incredible views of the city via climate controlled gondolas.
The Fountain of Rings is the largest interactive fountain to incorporate the rings. A free synchronized show runs daily at 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. The highlight of the park, however, is the park’s newest feature. A 23 foot wide, 11 foot tall, 5000 pound sculpture of the Olympic rings has become one of the most popular photo opps in the city.
Centennial Park is located at 265 Park Ave W NW, Atlanta, GA 30313. Hours are 7am-10pm. The visitor center is open Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm.
Various parking lots are located in the vicinity. I recommend parking at the Georgia Aquarium and walking over as it is one of the cheapest lots in the area.