How Richmond Missed a Chance to be an Amateur Sports Mecca
Brooks Smith recalls an ill-fated effort to bring a world Olympic festival to Richmond.
Farrar: Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond's sports history, and Brooks, today we're going to talk about a time when Richmond had a chance to become an amateur sports mecca. Tell us about that.
Smith: That's right. It's a time, not too distant from today. In the modern era of the Olympics, there was a festival that was hosted in cities across the country in off years of the quadriennium, or Olympiad. This ran from the 70's into the mid-90's, and in 1994, Richmond actually submitted a bid to host the US Olympic festival. We ended up in the final field of five cities, along with Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle and Portland, and by all accounts, we were shoo-ins to host the Olympic festival in 1997 or '98 or '99; but then, lo and behold, the organizers pulled the plug on the event altogether and we were left without an Olympic festival.
Farrar: Well, this would have been a unique example of regional cooperation in the greater Richmond area.
Smith: That's right. What was most endearing to me as I read through our application was just evident upswell of regional, corporate and community support; we had letters from the governor, the mayor, the boards of supervisors from the surrounding counties and huge commitments of private funding from local corporations, as well as public improvements and infrastructure.
If you can picture the Boulevard as it is currently configured with the Diamond and the Arthur Ashe Center, we would have had an entire amatuer sports complex surrounding that area, including a natatorium considered to be the finest between Annapolis and the deeper South, an ice rink, a track and field stadium, which of course, now does exist through the Sports Backers stadium, a center court tennis stadium, a tree-lined Avenue of Champions, and what I found most compelling, an African-American Sports Hall of Fame, which some will remember to be Arthur Ashe's unfulfilled dream.
Farrar: And there's still some talk from time to time about some of those facilities being developed, but that occasion seemed to have been the best chance to bring it all about.
Smith: It was, and again, the idea of the Olympic festival was, in these off years, when the main Olympics weren't being played out, you could showcase Olympic-caliber amateur athletes and give them a chance to get a jumpstart on their Olympic hopes.
Farrar: What kind of sports would have been..........
Smith: Well, this is, that's exactly where I was headed. All around the city we would have hosted amateur events, there would have been archery at University of Richmond, badminton at Collegiate, boxing at the Arthur Ashe Center, whitewater slalom down around Belle Isle, fencing at Mills Godwin High School and judo at Manchester High School.
Farrar: Well, unfortunately, it didn't happen because, as you say, the organizers of these festivals decided not to go ahead. But what do you think, suppose we had gotten that designation, what would it have been like then and since?
Smith: Well, I wondered quite a bit about that. Here in our application, we described Richmond as a 'city with a history of making history.' We identified our goals as establishing Richmond as one of east coast's premiere sports centers, and also to promote regional cooperation, and I can't help but conclude that we're still a city with a history of making history, and we're still a city that's rich with amateur sports and professional sports, and we ought to go for it. I don't think we need an Olympic festival to bring together this kind of grand plan and celebrate all these wonderful sports events around our fair city.
(Music and vocal) There's a festival today.....come and see, it's all so fine....people who are not my kind are here......there's a festival today....the mood is changing fresh and new....it's mostly green with bits of blue, but it's all here for you and here is all you have to do....oh, Lord, get up, get up, get out of bed................
Farrar: Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond