Olympic Games 1996
IYRU Olympic Update
21 JULY 1996 - 1
"Take guests from around the world, a bit of Southern hospitality and an act of God, and what do you get? An Olympic love-in, Savannah style."
ThatÕs how the Savannah News-Press reported last nightÕs storm-swept Olympic Yachting Opening Ceremonies in SavannahÕs historic River Street.
"This is like Woodstock with the rain," commented US Star skipper Mark Reynolds as he walked through the pouring rain.
The downpour, which came as SavannahÕs skies were lit by a spectacular thunderstorm (almost as good as the later fireworks), came as International Yacht Racing Union President Paul Henderson - whom master of ceremonies Walter Cronkite credited with bringing the Olympics to Savannah - was set to address the crowd of nearly 8 000 spectators and 700 athletes and officials.
The estimated 450 athletes from 77 nations had already marched from the Olympic Village up River Street to a thunderous (but dry) welcome from the Savannahians who have already taken the teams to their hearts with Southern hospitality...there have been receptions and parties for the Irish, the Austrians, the Germans, Americans, Greeks and Italians over the past couple of weeks.
As the heavens opened to a massive clap of thunder (louder than any starting signal the sailorÕs will hear on the field of play) everyone ducked for cover - under the stands, on to the stage where the band kept playing "Georgia on My Mind" and under the trees.
Dutch team members were in full voice as they chorused "Singing in the Rain", while the Irish team found the shamrocks they had painted on their faces just washed away.
The storm did nothing to diminish the Olympic spirit - on stage, VIPÕs and athletes danced to the ongoing music while most of the huge crowd sheltered under the stands, trees, umbrellas, Olympic flags and upturned plastic chairs - or just stood singing in the rain - at least it was warm!
Among the spectators were many families of athletes who have come from around the world to watch their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives competing at the greatest sailing event in the world.
The parents of Irish sailor John Driscoll welcomed their son for his first Olympics wearing Irish National dress.
Athletes, officials and guests used whatever they could get to stay dry as the rain bucketed down, a lucky (or foresighted few) had umbrellas, others used flags or held plastic chairs over their heads.
But it couldnÕt keep their feet dry and several streets of Savannah lived up to their names - River Street was awash and Waters Avenue was flooded all the way down to Victory Drive.
Then just as suddenly the heavenly tap was turned off and the thunder and lightning ended. Everyone returned to watch the grand finale, the lighting of the Olympic Flame and another light and sound show - the most spectacular fireworks display over the Savannah River.
To a volley of cheers and clapping, Savannahian Brian Foster, still drenched, ran in with the flame and lit the Olympic Cauldron, opening the Yachting Regatta of the Centennial Games.
Down at the Olympic Marina, virtually all management offices are in tents and staff had to dash back to cover the computer and other electronic equipment, but no damage was reported.
IYRU Olympic Update