Olympic flame arrived in Savannah 25 years ago

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Do you remember where you were 25 years ago? If you were a proud Savannahian, you might have been on River Street or in Forsyth Park, welcoming the Olympic flame on its arrival to Savannah.

On this day, the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay passed through Savannah and burned a sense of pride into the city that can still be felt today.

It was from an historical standpoint the biggest arrival to Savannah since Oglethorpe, and it was Welcomed To Our City by everyone.

“It was kind of Savannah’s first really major moment to come together as a community - different income levels, different races, different neighborhoods,” Jennifer Abshire said.

Twenty-five years ago, the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay touched down on River Street - and touched off a firestorm of civic pride on streets and in the hearts of a Savannah becoming a truly international city in plain sight, an Olympic city.

“The greatest part was being able to see so many people pack the streets. There were 100,000 people estimated from River Street to the far end of Forsyth Park.”

Abshire was the executive director of the Savannah Olympic Support Committee and responsible for local torch relay through four years of planning. She, her staff and a 55-person board of community leaders oversaw every step of the Olympic Flame’s arrival in Georgia 10 days prior to the Atlanta Games.

“Hook, crook, favors, help money, support. I think it was also one of the first times people really thought this is bigger than us. This is bigger than one organization, bigger than one company ... from the torch coming in from the America to entering here at Forsyth Park and all of that was pretty much volunteer driven ... there were 3,000 people that volunteered in those county for the Olympics.

Savannah’s Olympic experience would happen remotely, in yachting competitions taking place a mile out in the ocean. But the Games would come into the city’s heart and through the heart of the city on July 15th, 1996 - burning a new trail and a new sense of arrival.

“We were diverse in the type of people who carried the torch. It was a major honor to be asked to do that. I think of people like Cliff McCurry and Sherry Feathers. I think of the variety of people of different ages and people that gave hours of time to support Olympic efforts to make things happen, even watching Michael Cohen coming around the corner from the square to hit Forsyth Park was just thins pinnacle, like we’ve arrived.”

A quarter century, the memory remains for anyone who witnessed the torch’s arrival. And the Olympic Legacy endures for Savannah.

“Sometimes it seems like it was 100 years ago and sometimes it seems like it was yesterday. I love the fact that I was personally able, and I think a lot of the people that have now been in the community like I have now 25, 30 years, is that we learned from those leaders who knew how to help pull it off.

Carolyn Donovan, David Muschamp, Archie Davis, Frank Stanton. Those folks, some of them are not with us today. And that is when you really realize that life is short and it’s great when you get to be part of a big opportunity like that.

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