The news has been filled with talk of the Olympics in Tokyo recently. Twenty-five years ago, all the buzz was about the games in Atlanta, and that included a flurry of activity on Mercer University’s Atlanta campus and some unique responsibilities for one staff member in particular.
Sharon Lim Harle, assistant vice president for Alumni Services and university special events and a Double Bear, was chosen by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to be a “Dedicated Hostess.”
A host or hostess was matched with the representatives from each country, and Harle was paired with her home country of Malaysia. Active in the city of Atlanta, Harle said she had represented Mercer in several international programs and was asked to interview for this role. Her cultural knowledge made her a natural pick and allowed her to bypass a lot of the intensive protocol training.
Harle spent three weeks accompanying Sultan Azlan Shah, the late ninth king of Malaysia; Prince Tunku Tan Sri Imran; and members of the Malaysian Ministers and Olympic Council to newly built Olympic venues and other sites. The king and prince were on-hand to meet with the Malaysian Olympic team at all its events, particularly in badminton where the country earned a silver and bronze medal.
Harle also made sure that Sultan Azlan and Tunku Imran were able to meet representatives from the other countries and arranged for them to go to places that interested them. Harle took the prince and other dignitaries to visit Chattanooga, Tennessee, one day and to play golf another day.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I knew it then. When is the next time I would do anything like that?” Harle said.
Prior to the Olympics, the University produced a booklet called “Mercer Salutes the Olympics” that chronicled what was happening at Mercer during each Olympic year, starting with 1896.
Mercer hosted a catered lunch and program for the Malaysian athletes and dignitaries on the Atlanta campus. The guest tables were decorated with U.S., Malaysian and Olympic flags and star-shaped glitter.
During the banquet, Sultan Azlan was presented with gifts including a Macon coffee table book and a black-and-white Mercer baseball cap, which he told the crowd he would wear on the royal golf course.
“I think they were completely surprised by Mercer,” Harle said. “The king wore the Mercer cap for the longest time.”
Sultan Azlan — who was vice president of the International Hockey Federation — was wearing that hat when he was called down from the stands to make a decision on a controversial play during a hockey game at the Olympic stadium at Clark Atlanta University.
Harle said the Olympic venues were so spread out that it was impossible to take the representatives to see them all. In addition to the field hockey venue, other sites they visited included the Olympic Village and swimming facility at Georgia Tech, kayak/canoe park at Lake Lanier, equestrian venue in Conyers, and tennis center at Stone Mountain.
“The 1996 Olympics was when beach volleyball was introduced. I took the prince to the opening of the first ever beach volleyball competition. America swept it,” she said.
Harle said she attended many medaling ceremonies with the Malaysian team. The atmosphere at the events was always one of respect and camaraderie.
“These are serious athletes,” she said. “Everybody was competing, but it was an athletic love fest from around the world.”