Atlanta warmed up for the Olympics with the Atlanta Grand Prix.
For the first event in the new Centennial Olympic Stadium, it was 92 degrees, a record for May 18 in Atlanta. Sergey Bubka of the Ukraine and Noureddine Morceli of Algeria took notice.
“The biggest problem was the heat, of course,” said Bubka. “I can’t imagine it being worse for the Olympics.”
“With heat like this,” added Morceli, “it’s very, very difficult to run well.”
Although both complained of the heat, neither seemed bothered by it. Bubka’s vault - 19 feet, 9 inches - and Morceli’s mile run - 3 minutes, 50.86 seconds - were the best performances ever on U.S. soil.
“Just because it feels hot doesn’t mean it’s dysfunctionally hot,” noted David Martin, a professor of physiology at Georgia State University. Martin spent the day on the field measuring the heat stress index, as he did throughout the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
While Atlanta probably will be hot and humid during the Games, July 19-Aug. 5, Martin doesn’t think the conditions for competition will be much, if at all, worse than in Barcelona.
While it was 92 at the Atlanta airport last Saturday, the “crock-pot” effect in the stadium raised the temperature as high as 96 degrees in the shade, 109 degrees in direct sunlight and 112 degrees on the surface of the track, Martin said.
The heat stress index, a measure of temperature, humidity, wind and radiant heat, was 82 degrees at 10:30 a.m., the same as when the women’s marathon started at 6:30 p.m. in Barcelona in 1992.
Later in the day, Martin said, the index rose to 86 degrees in Atlanta. The highest reading during the Barcelona Games was 89.8 degrees, two-tenths of a degree below the level at which medical advisers think about recommending endurance events be postponed.
“If we have a day like Saturday, heat stress is not going to be a problem,” said Martin, who also is the chairman of sports science for USA Track and Field. He’s a veteran runner of 29 marathons and the coach of Keith Brantly, one of three Americans who will compete in the Olympic marathon.
A normal July day in Atlanta will produce a high temperature of about 95 to 96. A record high would be 100 to 103.
“If we have a hot summer, it will be equal to or worse than Barcelona,” said Martin. “If we have a normal summer, it will be about equal to Barcelona … But in the worst-case scenario, I wouldn’t say it would be substantially worse.”
Martin believes heat stress could be a concern to, at most, 500 of the 10,000 athletes participating in the Games. Many will be competing in air-conditioned arenas. Heat won’t be a concern in water sports.
Sprinters, hurdlers and runners at distances up to 1,500 meters won’t be spending substantial time exposed to the heat and humidity, he said. And the endurance events, such as the marathon and 10,000-meter run, will take place in the early morning or late evening, to minimize the impact of the heat.
Because elite athletes also are better conditioned and heat-adapted, Martin said he worries more about normally sedentary spectators who will spend hours in the sun.
The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games shares Martin’s concern. During the Grand Prix, the public address announcer reminded spectators to drink water even if they didn’t think they were thirsty. Olympic ticket folders will include tips on how to dress and drink to cope with heat and dehydration.
Martin suggests those planning to spend the day at the stadium bring rain gear and extra clothing, like a sweat suit.
Only .57 of an inch of rain fell in July 1995, the third-driest July since Atlanta started keeping records in 1878. But 17.6 inches of rain fell in July 1994, the wettest month of any since 1878.
If a hot day turns into a wet, windy day, Martin said, those who don’t have dry clothing could fill the medical stations with cases of hypothermia instead of hyperthermia.
Olympic price tag
Olympics and Paralympics will wind up costing at least $810 million in public funds for a laundry list of items, ranging from state-of-the-art equipment designed to foil terrorists to paper clips for local bureaucrats.
That figure is more than double the $354 million estimated in April. It does not include another $18 million being spent in outlying venue cities such as Savannah and Athens, which have their own Games-related projects.
In the latest accounting, the city of Atlanta is the biggest spender, shelling out roughly $327 million for an array of public improvements. Officials say the projects will benefit residents long after the Games.
Gestapo files and propaganda movies by Leni Riefenstahl, Adolf Hitler’s favorite film maker, are part of a Berlin exhibit showing how Nazi Germany manipulated the 1936 Olympics.
The show, which opened Thursday at a Berlin museum, documents how Nazis allowed Jewish and Gypsy athletes to compete after the U.S. and others threatened to stay away.
Keyed to the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics, the exhibit aims to “dispel the myth that it was possible to separate sports and politics” in the 1936 Games, director Reinhard Ruerup said.
Coca-Cola doubled its previous largesse to the Cultural Olympiad, awarding grants of $700,000 to arts groups that will be included in the Olympic Arts Festival or will perform independently during the same summer weeks.