25 Years Later, Impact Of Pan Am Games Easy To See

Hosting Event Set City Up As Sports Capital

A downtown celebration on Georgia Street on Thursday commemorated an event that put Indianapolis on the path to becoming a sports capital of the world.

The cauldrons at Pan Am Plaza were re-lit to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Pan America Games.

They will now burn as a reminder of what the city accomplished 25 years ago -- and has accomplished since.

The Pan America Games opened in 1987 with the world watching, and for those who planned it, hosting it was a terrifying task.

"We had an opening ceremony that really beat everything that had ever been dreamed of before," Bill Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis, told RTV6's Tanya Spencer.

While most cities got five years to plan, Indianapolis got just 30 months after two other cities dropped out.

"Behind the scenes it was chaos, and in front of the cameras it could not have been more perfect," said Sandy Knapp, who was president of Indiana Sports Corp. in 1987.

"Thirty-six thousand volunteers came together to make these games happen, before computers, before you could sign up online," said current Indiana Sports Corp. President Susan Williams. "And we kept everybody straight on blackboards and pieces of paper. And it was an amazing effort. Forever changed the way this city views itself."

The Pan Am Games forever changed how the world sees Indianapolis. Since then the city has hosted Final Fours, Big Tens and the Super Bowl.

"What you accomplished in planning the event, and then your execution over the next two weeks was, in a word, remarkable," said President George H.W. Bush, in a recorded video message that played at the celebration Thursday. "Indianapolis staged a marquee event, doing our country proud. What you did ultimately led to your sensational performance as host of Super Bowl 46."

The cauldrons were re-lit, but community leaders say the fire to succeed never went out and will burn for many more years to come.

"Once we successfully staged the Pan Am Games, it was really our coming-out party internationally," Knapp said. "The stage was set, I think, for Indianapolis to be very seriously considered for almost anything we wanted to bid for."

As for what the future holds for sports in Indy, community leaders said the city has proven it can pull off anything.

More Super Bowls, Olympic trials and World Cup soccer are all in the city's sights.

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