The 2012 Olympics begin in London tomorrow. Women’s boxing will make its debut, US gymnast Aly Raisman will dance to Hava Nagila, a blind South Korean archer may win gold and, against the neighborhood’s wishes, surface-to-air missiles will sit atop a residential block in East London, protecting the new, $750 million Olympic Park stadium. I’m excited, but no matter how memorable, these games will pale in comparison to the Olympics that matter to me most. Atlanta won its underdog bid to host the 1996 games in 1990; in 1992 a mascot referencing no animal and called Whatizit was debuted in Barcelona, to unanimously mocking reviews. (The name was eventually changed, to Izzy, which tested well with kids. London’s one-eyed mascots are way weirder.) Before opening day, two billion dollars were spent erecting buildings some criticized as “mundane.” Atlanta graphic design firm Iconologic was hired to dress things up. Their concept, for tickets, banners and employee outfits, combined a patchwork of squares and leaf shapes, invoking the Southern quiltmaking tradition and Atlanta’s sprawled, pieced-together landscape.
Some soccer and gymnastics events were held in Athens, GA, my hometown, but I didn’t attend or even watch on TV. At sleep-away camp in the mountains, I was so out of it that I only heard about the bombing of Atlanta’s brand new Centennial Olympic Park from my dad, in a letter typed in Microsoft Word with lots of clip art frowny faces, like a decade-old version of an Emoji-embellished text. I didn’t miss out completely; we talked about our Olympics for years before and after they went down in Georgia, and I love the gear the games produced as much now as I did then. Straw hats, graphic pictograms, patterned polos and nylon warm-ups looked preppy and sporty, felt urban but still folky. It all looked especially good because the color palette, crowded and seemingly drawn equally from Spike Lee movies and golf courses, was insane. Forest green, teal, khaki gold, purple, magenta and tomato orange aren’t played together often, but it worked. Check out a scrapbook of Atlanta ’96 images as well as looks inspired by the games, including some vintage pieces that are still for sale, below.