CBC Digital Archives

Atlanta Olympics 1996: Dangerous Games

From Melbourne to Montreal, Munich to Mexico City, the CBC has roamed the planet to beam Olympic history into Canadian living rooms. We take a look back and, through the eyes of CBC correspondents, experience decades of Olympic triumph and heartbreak. At first, it's via crackling shortwave. Later, live TV coverage flows around-the-clock from the other side of the globe.

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The Atlanta Olympics are over. Critics have rushed to judgment over transportation chaos and the prominent role of corporate sponsors including Coca-Cola. A deadly pipe bomb also left a pall over the Games. But the people of Atlanta, some of whom gather to wave goodbye to departing visitors, are upbeat and confident that they hosted a success, as we see in this clip from CBC Television's The National
• A pipe bomb packed with nails and screws exploded at a rock concert in Centennial Olympic Park at 1:25 a.m. on Saturday, July 27, 1998. The blast killed Alice S. Hawthorne, 44, of Albany, N.Y. Turkish news photographer Melih Uzunyol died from a heart attack he suffered while running to the scene. About 125 people were treated for injuries or shock.

• In June 2003, survivalist and former soldier Eric Rudolph was arrested and charged with the Atlanta bombing. He was also charged with the Jan. 29, 1998, bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala.

• About 245 hours of Olympic coverage aired on CBC Television. In addition, CBC Newsworld, the cable news channel, broadcast 102 hours of highlights and recaps. The Atlanta Games were the biggest project ever undertaken by CBC Television Sports, requiring a broadcast crew of 200 people. The Olympics were aired live across Canada's six time zones. CBC Radio sent a crew of 19 people who produced 19 daily short reports, which were also sold to private stations.

• Most reviews of CBC's Olympic TV coverage were very favourable. Many commentators said CBC shone especially bright compared to NBC. An editorial in Montreal's The Gazette opined: "This network [NBC] surely took the gold medal for chauvinism by treating the victories of foreign athletes as newsworthy only to the extent that some allegedly heroic and deserving American was denied." The CBC was, in comparison, "a paragon of objectivity."

• For Atlanta, CBC teamed with newspaper publisher Southam Inc. to produce Canada's first Olympics website. For later Games, CBC.ca would go solo to provide its own extensive coverage.

• The CBC was strongly criticized for bidding $20.7 million US to win Canadian broadcast rights to the Games, beating rival CTV. In a London Free Press editorial, journalism professor Michael Nolan said the CBC should stick to programming that stresses cultural enlightenment and education. "The televised coverage of the games by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - glitz, pageantry and hyped competition - have cost us dearly," Nolan wrote.

• In a response, CBC vice-president Jim Byrd wrote that the CBC's Olympic bid was based on "a solid business case." Strong advertising revenues earned the CBC a profit on its Olympic coverage, which pleased both advertisers and viewers. "Both of these key groups would dispute Nolan's assertion we have no business covering sporting events such as the Olympic Games," Byrd wrote.

• CBC was also criticized for plans to enforce an 18-hour delay before it would allow rivals to air Games footage. Previously, rivals were permitted to air a late-night highlights package. After protests from TV stations, CBC agreed to allow them to air highlights after 11 p.m. but only two minutes in length, down from the previous three. Also, reporters for rival Canadian radio stations were not allowed to take tape recorders or cellular phones into Olympic venues.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Aug. 5, 1996
Guests: Bill Campbell, Annita Stokes
Host: Ian Hanomansing
Reporter: Keith Boag
Duration: 2:47

Last updated: February 7, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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