By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
From Covington to London
Olympic Torch carriers reflect on 1996 Games, look forward to 2012
Placeholder Image

As the 2012 Olympic Games officially kick off today, many in Covington will tune in to the event, taking place around 4,200 miles away.

However, for several local residents, the Games seem much closer and have a personal connection achieved by very few throughout the Olympiad movement.

In 1996, the International Olympic Committee brought the Olympic Games to Atlanta, on the doorstep of Covington and Newton County. Prior to the 1996 Games, the worldwide event not only came to the doorstep of Covington, but also had a direct tie to the area thanks to the Olympic Torch Relay.

On its way to Atlanta's Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Torch made its way through Griffin, McDonough and into Porterdale. From there, it was handed off to four Covington residents who exemplified being a part of the community and brought it through the square.

Along the way, celebrations were held in Porterdale and Covington with estimated tens of thousands of people coming out to see the Olympic Flame being passed along its way to the torch ultimately lit by Muhamad Ali.

The sight of the torch lit the Olympic fire in many who saw it march through the square and were part of helping bring the Olympics to the Atlanta area. Those who didn't follow the Olympic Games prior to the torch's arrival had a reason to pay interest to the events in Atlanta, and those since held in Athens, Sydney, Beijing and, now, London.

"I seem to be more tuned in and interested in it," said Willie Davis, a 1996 Covington Olympic Torch carrier. "I pretty much keep up with all of the games."

Another Covington torch carrier followed the Olympics before its arrival to the southern United States, but has since kept a stronger link with it. Brian Kumm has crossed paths with Olympic coaches and athletes while working at the University of Georgia Aquatic Center and has more in common with them than just the red and black.

"I have a personal repoire with some of these athletes," Kumm said. "It made me that much more interested in pulling for them, rooting for them and really supporting them."

Along with the Games themselves, Kumm has also paid more attention to the Torch Relay as the flame progresses to London.

Now that he has seen the prestige associated with the Olympic Flame, he looks back on his time as a 21-year-old resident selected by his peers with more honor.

"I don't know if at the time if I really appreciated what an honor it was," Kumm said. "In hindsight, it's a high point of my life that I'm very proud of. Seeing the Olympic coverage heightens my pride."

As of press time Thursday night, it was still unknown who will light London's Olympic cauldron after David Beckham brings it into the stadium, but it's a line of succession, nonetheless, that torch carriers such as Kumm and Davis are proud to be a part of. After Kumm, Davis, Gary Butler and Steve Biggers brought the torch through Covington it went on its way to Atlanta, being carried by the likes of Evander Holyfield, Janet Evans and then Ali. Despite the latter three having reached worldwide notoriety, they now have a connection with Kumm, Davis, Butler and Biggers.

"That was very touching to see him go up and actually take the flame and light the torch," Davis said. "That was a touching feeling to see somebody legendary like that and somebody who you watch over the years and follow the careers and follow boxing and all his successes. You say to yourself, ‘You know that you were in the same esteemed company as Muhammad Ali.'

"I carried the torch and to know I was one of the 10,000 people who actually carried the Olympic Flame, that is a humbling experience; a gratifying experience."

Following Ali officially kicking off the Atlanta Games, they brought such moments as Kerri Strug lifting the U.S. gymnastics team to gold with one good ankle, Michel Johnson winning two gold medals and the United States winning the first ever women's soccer gold medal. Other events brought dominating performances by the U.S. basketball team, Jamaica's Usain Bolt and the U.S.'s Michael Phelps. All athletes and competitions that Davis, Kumm and other Covington residents have witnessed thanks to the torch's arrival 16 years ago.

"I loved when the torch came through the square...everyone was was a great street party," said Perri Walden on The Covington News' Facebook page. "It was an exciting summer."