The Atlanta Games were certainly the largest (a record 197 nations competed), most logistically complicated Olympics to date and perhaps the most hyped and overcommercialized as well. Despite all the troubles that organizers faced, from computer scoring snafus and transportation problems to a horrific terrorist attack, these Olympics had some of the best stories ever.
The Games began so joyously with Muhammad Ali, the world's best-known sports figure now stricken by illness, igniting the Olympic cauldron. Sadly, just eight days later horror was the prevailing mood after a terrorist's bomb ripped apart a peaceful Friday evening in Centennial Olympic Park. In the explosion, one woman was killed, 111 people were injured and the entire world was reminded of the terror and tragedy of Munich in 1972.
As they did in '72, the Games would go on. In track and field, Michael Johnson delivered on his much-anticipated, yet still startling, double in the 200 and 400 meters. One thing that many didn't foresee is that he would be matched by France's Marie-Jose Perec, who converted her own 200-400 double, albeit with much less attention. Carl Lewis pulled out one last bit of magic to win the long jump for the ninth gold medal of his amazing Olympic career. Donovan Bailey set a world record in the 100 and led Canada to a win over a faltering U.S. team in the 4x100 relay.
The U.S. women's gymnastics squad took the team gold after Kerri Strug hobbled up and completed her final gutsy vault in the Games' most compelling moment. Swimmer Amy Van Dyken became the first American woman to win four golds in a single Games. Ireland's Michelle Smith won three golds (and a bronze) of her own, but her victories were somewhat tainted by controversy surrounding unproven charges of drug use.
The USA fared well in team sports also. The men's basketball “Dream Team” was back and, predictably, stomped the competition on its way back to the winners' podium. Also the U.S. women won gold at the Olympic debut of two sports–softball and soccer.