Although I haven't watched any of the Olympics yet -- I just don't enjoy them as much as I used to -- all of the hype has reminded me of the Olympic Torch Relay's 1996 stop in Shelbyville on its way to Atlanta. Shelbyville, and the Celebration grounds, were chosen as a luncheon stop between Nashville and (if I recall correctly) Huntsville, Ala. Local United Ways were asked to coordinate the torch relay events, and that was right at the end of my first tenure on the local United Way board, so I was heavily involved.
A certain number of local residents were selected as "community heroes" and allowed to carry the torch for short segments as it passed through Shelbyville.
I remember that we were given very strict regulations from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) about signage and sponsorships. We were told that we could acknowledge our local sponsors on a board, but the letters had to be a certain size and font, and the board had to be a certain size, shape and color, and so forth.
We were also told we could not acknowledge any local sponsors that were in competition with Olympic sponsors. There was one gray area -- I believe we had a local bank that had helped us, and there was a bank which was an Olympic sponsor, but the Olympic sponsor didn't have any branches anywhere near Bedford County so we thought it would be OK to list the local bank.
We thought wrong. The Olympic advance team whisked our sponsor board away and spray-painted over the offending name before the event started.
I remember that the 4-H Horse Show was taking place on the Celebration grounds at the same time as the Torch event. Originally, we thought the 4-H show was going to break so that the children participating could get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the torch, but their schedule was so tight that they didn't think they could spare the time.
The event was a lot of fun. Because I was busy on the grounds, I didn't get to see any of the torch relay as it passed through town.
I got to go to a couple of low-profile, preliminary events at the games that year, and one of them was in the old Fulton County Stadium. As I looked across to Olympic Stadium (which was remodeled into Turner Field after the games), I saw the Olympic flame burning in its cauldron and thought about the fact that I'd seen the flame in Shelbyville on its way to the games.
The other memory from that whole event which is very vivid in my mind is that the torch was scheduled to pass down Unionville Highway on its way to Shelbyville. This was in late June, so fireworks stands were set up and doing business in preparation for the Independence Day holiday. One fireworks stand on 41-A had some for of the following message on its marquee:
FIREWORKS HERE; PLEASE DON'T DROP THE TORCH.