Huge Fans Tapped To Beat Olympic Heat
PUT Atlanta in the same sentence with the word summer, and descriptions such as sultry, steamy, sweltering, and sizzling may come to mind. Now add the Olympics. The combination is one that is making organizers sweat, and it's still months before the opening ceremonies. It's not that anyone here entertained delusions that this Southeastern city - nicknamed Hotlanta - might suddenly adopt the weather of North Dakota between July 19 and Aug. 4, 1996, the dates the Olympic Games come to town. But Atlanta's maximum daily temperatures are higher than those in the most recent past summer sites in Barcelona, Spain and Seoul, South Korea. And an unusually hot summer this year, combined with predictions by climatologists that next summer could be the warmest on record, is prompting a serious look at how athletes and spectators will beat the heat. ''Atlanta in the summertime, especially in July and August, is hot,'' says Bob Brennan, a spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. ''The way you deal with heat is you stay indoors when you can.'' Many sporting events will be held in cool, dry environs where massive air-conditioning systems temper heat and humidity. But other competitions - from soccer to track and field - will take place on fields and in stadiums where the heat and humidity could be intense. And the concrete sidewalks and streets of Atlanta will likely magnify the temperatures, turning the city into a Brobdingnagian sauna for the more than 2 million estimated visitors who must walk from from venue to venue. Seeking ways to help temper the canicular conditions for participants and fans, Olympic organizers have formed a special task force on keeping cool. Solutions now being explored range from giant fans to installing more drinking-water fountains around the city. At a recent soccer competition, for example, about 40 fans were set up along the field to blow air on athletes. Results were mixed because the temperature had dipped to a relatively cool 84 degrees. But misting fans used during 100-degree temperatures at the Atlanta Cup, a three-day equestrian event at the Georgia International Horse Park, elicited more positive results. The fans shoot fog through the hot air, which vaporizes and causes the air to cool. The industrial-looking devices are supposed to lower field temperatures by about 15 degrees and were tested on horses, riders, and spectators. ''It was effective with the horses,'' Mr. Brennan says. ''If Mr. Ed was there, I think he would have whinnied in approval.'' Spectators also said they noticed a difference, but Brennan says organizers will be evaluating results before using them at different events. ''Cooling a section of stands at the equestrian venue where 2,000 people sit is one thing, but using it on 85,000 at the stadium - I'm not sure it's even doable,'' he says. Athletes, meanwhile, have been arriving from cooler climes such as Sweden and Finland to train under the searing sun. Before Atlanta Sports '95, a series of national and international sports competitions held this summer, about 500 mostly foreign athletes visited Georgia to get acclimated to the heat. Next year about 3,000 are expected to train in the state, says Kimberly Goff, manager of the Georgia Olympic Training Alliance, a group that serves as a liaison between the 197 international Olympic committees and host communities in Georgia. ''Heat, humidity, and air conditioning. Those are the three things that are going to hit them hard if they're not used to them,'' Ms. Goff says. Most athletes, however, will be in shape and prepared to compete once they get acclimated. Spectators may need the most education. ''The main message we'll be sending is wear loose clothing and drink lots of fluids,'' Brennan says. ''There's really nothing we can do about the heat, but we can prepare people for it.''