Talk of the lasting legacy of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics usually revolves around a downtown park or stadium. But tucked inside a Buckhead office tower is a different kind of product of that heady time: a pioneering sports publication covering Olympics news and politics. And now it has its own legacy to preserve as its owners seek to pass the torch to new hands and find a home for their precious historic archives.
Around the Rings was founded in 1992 by editor-in-chief Ed Hula, an experienced radio journalist, as a specialty newsletter covering Atlanta’s Olympics planning. It grew into a top Olympics trade publication – the only one based in the U.S. – and an early example of an internet-only, subscription news site.
“It’s a fascinating world,” Hula said of the Olympics in a recent interview in Around the Rings’ small newsroom at Peachtree and 25th streets. “It combines the sport, the entertainment side… the business side. All the things I was interested in were part of the package called the Olympics.”
While reporters typed up the latest sports news, Ed and Around the Rings publisher Sheila Scott Hula reminisced about more than a quarter-century of Olympics coverage. The couple and their team have amassed a collection of memorabilia that illustrated the stories. Elaborate Olympic torches from several different Games. A Wheaties cereal box signed by Olympic swimming champion Janet Evans “to my friends at Around the Rings.” Such Atlanta Games souvenirs as a license plate, stuffed toys of mascot “Izzy,” and an “Olympic Gymnast” Barbie doll.
In a back room are even more historic materials – Ed’s archive of roughly 1,000 audio recordings of Olympics reporting, including landmark moments in Atlanta’s bidding process. Many of them are on then cutting-edge, now outdated media, such as digital tapes and MiniDiscs.
And it’s time for much of that material to find a new home, the Hulas say. They already sent 31 boxes of memorabilia to the LA84 Foundation archives in Los Angeles. Ed is looking to the Atlanta History Center — home to the official Atlanta Olympics exhibit, now under reconstruction – and the Switzerland-based International Olympics Committee as possible permanent archives for his recordings.
The couple have reached retirement age, and Around the Rings subscribers are not as plentiful as they used to be as once-frenetic city bids for Olympics have waned amid controversy over spending and corruption, and the IOC calling for less lavish promotion and marketing. The Hulas are looking for an investor or two to take the reins.
“We’re trying to wind down our involvement,” said Ed.
Covering the bid
The Olympics is not a world he expected to be involved with in the first place. In the 1970s, he was a PBS radio reporter in Florida and earlier this year appeared in the Netflix documentary “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” to share his memories of covering the serial killer’s crimes there.
In 1984, Ed moved to Atlanta to work as a writer and show producer at CNN. Sheila worked there as executive producer of a travel program and they met. Ed went on to become news director at Peach State Public Radio, now known as Georgia Public Broadcasting. For Peach State and other radio stations, he began covering Atlanta’s Olympic bid.
“I didn’t have any real Olympic experience then to make the decision how to cover it,” he said. “This was all new to everybody.”
In 1990, he went to Tokyo, Japan, to cover the IOC’s announcement of which city won the 1996 Olympics hosting rights. Atlanta’s chances were considered so unlikely, Hula had a back-up assignment to report on cooperation between Japanese and Georgia businesses.
“And little did we know, we came home with the Olympics to worry about,” he said.
Sheila was as surprised as anyone that Atlanta won the bid. “Home of the Braves. Home of the Falcons. Are you kidding me?” she recalled with a laugh.
Ed was not only in Tokyo for the announcement, but he was with such legendary leaders as Mayor Maynard Jackson, former mayor Andrew Young and Billy Payne, the Dunwoody businessman who led the bid committee. Among the moments he recorded was Jackson and Young shouting, “You did it!” to Payne. “They sounded like kids on their first Christmas,” Hula said.
“In 1990, when the announcement was made in Japan at the IOC session, [only] myself, maybe Sally Sears from Channel 2 and Bert Roughton from the AJC… were actually embedded with the Atlanta bid team on the floor of the IOC session,” Ed recalled. “We were right there. To be in the group at the moment when they heard ‘Atlanta’ — it was an electrifying moment… I realized my life was probably changing.”
Around the Rings
It sure did. Back in the States, Salt Lake City was soon in the news for pursuing another U.S. bid, this time for the Winter Olympics. Ed saw an opportunity in covering Olympics bids and started freelancing radio pieces about the process in 1992, when he covered his first Games in Barcelona, Spain.
At the same time, he heard from Bill Shipp, a legendary Atlanta Constitution journalist and publisher of a popular political newsletter, who wanted to circulate an Olympics newsletter as well. In those days, paid specialty newsletters circulating by mail or fax or were a trend. The result was “The Hula Report,” which Shipp later handed over fully to Ed. After the Atlanta Games, it was renamed Around the Rings.
For some years, Ed remained focused on radio reporting. In 1998, the Hulas moved to Australia for a two-and-a-half-year stay to cover the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics for radio there. They kept a small office active in Atlanta, but really geared up in 2001 to become a pioneering digital news outlet for the Games and the first internet-only media accredited to cover them.
Operating as an early subscription news site with a paywall, Around the Rings grew to become a top Olympics news outlet in a specialty field with about a half-dozen competitors worldwide. Today it has six staffers in Atlanta and freelancers in key international countries. During the Olympics, it publishes special print editions as well. In 2009, the Hulas also established a companion news site, World Football INSIDER, to cover soccer and World Cup bids.
Around the Rings work was frenetic in the glory days, when the 2004 Summer Olympics drew 11 bid cities. But that is changing, with bidders drying up and the IOC asking those who remain to spend less on self-promotion. That’s because the Olympics is in another of its regular cycles of scandal about corruption, wasteful spending and human rights impacts. The 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics drew high-profile controversy for skyrocketing budgets and corruption. A 2015 revolt against Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid led to an unprecedented dual award of the 2024 and 2028 Games to other cities for sheer lack of interested bidders.
“I think we’ve seen the last of unbridled, no-holds-barred bidding. The IOC realized the bid process ended up killing bids,” said Ed. That’s good for the Olympics, he said, because “I think it was moving toward collapse, going the way they were going.” But it’s not so good for Around the Rings, where contested bids helped to boost subscriptions and advertising.
“They killed their own golden goose… It’s too bad, because it was so much fun,” said Sheila, lamenting the loss of bid excitement. “In some ways, it was a good thing,” she added, citing a bidding process that led to “hurt feelings, humiliations, angry taxpayers.”
The Olympics may be nearing the end of giant construction projects, too, Ed said, noting that “Atlanta has one or two white elephants…venues that didn’t make it after the Games.” The emerging model, he said, is to “make the Olympics fit your city rather than making a city fit the Olympics.”
As they look to move on from the Olympics scene, the Hulas have their own favorite memories. “I’m still a little bit in awe of the high level of human achievement – athletes, royalty, heads of state,” said Sheila.
Ed said he appreciates the friendships, meeting world leaders and sports champions, and “getting to see parts of the world I wouldn’t ordinarily visit.”
To read their latest Olympics news, see aroundtherings.com.