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Volunteers remember their work during Olympics events 20 years ago on Lake Lanier
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Becky and Bill Goss talk about volunteering at the 1996 Olympics events in Gainesville. Being two of the nearly 1,500 volunteers, the Gosses performed a variety of tasks including organizing parking, working the kitchen and monitoring the restrooms. - photo by Erin O. Smith

From their farm in Oakwood, raising chickens and otherwise enjoying the country life, the idea of the world arriving at their backdoor seemed remote.

But when it did in the summer of 1996, Becky and Bill Goss jumped at the chance to experience the Olympics.

“You don’t ever forget it,” Bill Goss said. “That memory stays with you, and you know it’ll never happen again.”

During an interview last week at their house, the couple dug out memorabilia, including a diary that Becky kept, and recalled in detail their volunteer work during the rowing and canoe/kayak competition at Clarks Bridge Park off Lake Lanier.

“We both had the same attitude — it just made us proud,” Becky said.

In all, some 1,500 volunteers helped keep the Lanier event running like a well-oiled machine during 17 steamy days in late July and early August, from parking cars at the shuttle site at Gainesville College, now University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, to providing security at the venue.

“It took every volunteer (to pull it off),” said Dave Sargent, who coordinated other volunteers to help with security. “We had fences up, but we started noticing little breaches here and there, and (security) ended up being more internal … than it was people trying to get in.”

The Gosses remembered putting out bunches and bunches of bananas on a table at the venue, as athletes grabbed them five at a time.

And in her diary, Becky Goss recalls incredible access.

“Was able to go into the locker room of every country represented and past their medical facilities downstairs in the boathouse, where they prepare for events,” she wrote. “What a thrill.”

Sargent recalled spending hours going through pre-screened applications and assigning volunteers the times and dates they’d work.

“I probably worked two or three months before it ever got organized,” Sargent said. “Bottom line is we got all the slots filled, and I had extra people on each shift.”

Security started a week before the games and a week after.

“There was some boring, hot days the week after,” Sargent recalled.

Chris Lewallen, who worked for the Hall County Fire Services at the time, served as a paramedic on the side of the venue where athletes and their families were.

“We gave out a lot of water, it was so hot,” he said. “Sometimes, people would get scratches and such, but the best I can remember, we didn’t really having anyone getting hurt. The heat was the main thing.

“There were people from all over the world who hadn’t experienced the Georgia heat and humidity.”

Another big part of the volunteer effort was housing athletes and coaches.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” said Evanda Moore, who directed the housing effort. “I didn’t know it was going to be a three-year commitment, but it needed to be, because it took that long to put in place.”

Clarks Bridge Park was chosen in December 1993 as a venue by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

“Gainesville didn’t have sufficient hotels, so we decided we needed to develop host families that would open their homes,” Moore said.

Brenau University and Riverside Military Academy also “hosted a lot of the athletes and provided training in their facilities,” she said.

All in all, housing work was a major undertaking.

“Oh, but what an experience it was to meet these athletes and coaches who were so appreciative,” Moore said. “They were so overwhelmed with Southern hospitality.

“So, the payoff was good.”

But there was an especially dark time, as well, during the games.

On July 27, a bomb went off in Centennial Olympic Park, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 others. Eric Rudolph later pleaded guilty to several bombings, including the Olympic attack.

At the time, Becky Goss put her thoughts down on paper.

“On the day of the bomb mishap, we entered the grounds with a feeling of dedication and laid our fears aside and proud to be volunteers, Georgians and Americans,” she wrote in her diary.

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