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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ceremonial Razzmatazz Descends on Atlanta

ATLANTA -- It's showtime, y'all.

Hollywood razzmatazz meets the elegant Old South Friday when Atlanta launches the centenary Olympics before 3.5 billion television viewers.

The city razed in the Civil War by General William Sherman plays host to a very different torch this time with the Olympic flame flickering above 10,000 athletes from 197 countries.

Atlanta's organizers promise the biggest and best show ever seen. No strangers to hype, these ebullient extroverts call the centenary Games "the greatest peacetime event in the history of the world."

The only concern on the back of people's minds is the suffocating heat which, for the past week, was relieved only by sporadic but violent thunderstorms.

The forecast for Friday is more of the same, but the show, of course, must go on.

So it is left to Hollywood impresario Don Mischler to fulfill those grandiose expectations in what is being billed as the world's most watched televised event.

Barcelona put on duelling opera singers, dancing devils and cavorting sea monsters at the 1992 opening.

Atlanta, the town that brought the world Coca-Cola and Gone with the Wind, will honor one of its most famous sons: with a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

To echoes of his "I Have a Dream" speech, Atlanta gets a once in a lifetime chance to show the world that the days of segregation and slavery are gone in a city "too busy to hate."

Mischler has to perform a delicate balancing act and be careful not to reopen old wounds with images of cotton plantations. He must also fulfill the Olympic charter and celebrate 100 years of the world's biggest sporting bonanza.

Mischler, more used to staging Michael Jackson specials, flew to Ancient Olympia to savor the atmosphere in the stadium where it all began. He says: "I sat by myself on that slope. It's awesome just to sit there among the ruins."

In Atlanta, he has a cast of 7,000 for the opening ceremony. It will set the tone for the first self-financing Games, which critics say have been sacrificed on the altar of consumerism.

In one of the U.S. murder capitals, beggars and crack addicts have been swept from many streets. The presence of tens of thousands of security guards led security chief Bill Rathburn to boast: "This will be the safest place on earth."

In the opening extravaganza, Georgia-born opera star Jessye Norman will be singing a specially composed song.

Chart-topping Canadian singer Celine Dion pounced at the chance to perform before nearly two thirds of the world's population.

Admiring the sacrifices and dedication of athletes, she said, "As the youngest of 14 children, I appreciate the importance of discipline in achieving your dream."

Even with 15,000 journalists in town, the organizers have managed to keep much of the program under wraps. But they did admit thedU.S. Thunderbird team would put on a flyby and the U.S. Army Ranger team might drop in.

But there will be no Olympic doves soaring over the 85,000 people who have paid $630 each to see the show. Organizers bowed to the concerns of animal-rights activists who feared the birds would get sunstroke or fry in the Olympic flame.