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Memories of 1996: Celebration marks 20th anniversary of Atlanta Games, Rio Olympics opening
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Andrea Moreira, director of Dance Brasil Entertainment, takes a photo of others in Dance Brasil Entertainment and Bataque Brasil as Michael Phelps is interviewed by NBC in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the Rio on the Water celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the 1996 Olympic Games Friday at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. The Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games was streamed live during the event. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Some 20 years ago, International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch put his arm around then Gainesville Mayor George Wangemann at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.

As Wangemann remembers it, the IOC president said it was the most “naturally beautiful Olympic site (he had) ever seen.”

“Every time I come here, I just beam with pride,” Wangemann said, who still serves on the Gainesville City Council.

The venue hosted a 20th anniversary for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games Friday night with a celebration called “Rio on the Water.”

A four-piece drum band led the beat behind Samba dancers dressed in different colors. Joining the procession were Gov. Nathan Deal, First Lady Sandra Deal and volunteers from the 1996 Olympic Games, among others.

Deal praised the trade relationship the state enjoys with Brazil, with companies operating both in Georgia and abroad.

“We look forward to continuing that relationship with your country,” Deal said when addressing the consul general in Atlanta.

Morgan House, the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue manager, introduced members of the U.S. team that won silver in rowing in the 1996 Games.

The team “shattered the precedent” in an event that been dominated by European scullers, House said.

At age 9, House remembered sitting on the floating stands at the venue.

“It was because of men like these that inspired me to pursue my Olympic dream, and I want to sincerely thank them not only for their effort in 1996 but for inspiring young people around the nation to chase excellence,” he said.

House said his goal as the venue’s manager is to “make this place greater than it’s ever been.”

The Lake Lanier venue holds the distinction as being one of the last venues created for the 1996 Olympic Games that is still in operation for its intended use.

“Almost all of the other venues have faded away,” Deal said. “This one has been sustained, and it’s been sustained by the same vision that brought the Games to Lake Lanier in the first place.”

Deal and all other speakers honored the work by volunteers and other organizers that helped bring the event to Gainesville.

“For future reference, I think that says we can do anything we set our mind to,” Wangemann said.

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