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Organizer Payne finds data, history on his side

As if Atlanta were not steamy enough, the city is getting heat from people saying it is in disarray.

The list includes traffic snarls, lost bus drivers, overstuffed subways, price gouging, oppressive weather. Hold on, officials say.

"Things are not falling apart," said Billy Payne, chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. "Early snafus affected the media mostly and were overblown."

Tuesday, Olympic officials ran 6,000 media shuttle-bus trips and 98 percent of them were within 15 minutes of arrival or departure time. Less than 1 percent of the athletes failed to depart on time.

"Every day we're getting closer and closer to perfection," Payne said.

In Barcelona, host of the 1992 Summer games, traffic was as big as a problem, said Peter de Tagyos, AT&T's corporate sponsorship and Olympic director.

As for the vendors hawking water, disco tapes, T-shirts, psychic readings, massages and monster-truck tours, de Tagyos said that in 1992 "you couldn't step 2 feet without bumping into a terribly charming vendor of something in Barcelona. But I guess they were standing next to a 500-year-old building and you kind of went "Oh, okay, fine."'

THE FIRST MISHAP: Antiguan kayaker Heidi Lehrer was treated for back pain after the bus she was riding in Gainesville, Ga., hit a concrete barrier protecting the road to the Lake Lanier Olympic venue.

Lehrer was on her way back to the Olympic Village from practice when the driver "misjudged the clearance," said Capt. Ken Grogan of the Hall County Sheriff's Department. The driver was not charged.

The collision caused some damage to the bus, but Lehrer was the only person on board who complained of pain. Laurie Olsen, an ACOG spokeswoman, said Lehrer is fine and returned to the Olympic Village "via non-emergency transport."

GEORGIA BETS ON HEDGES: The prestige that accompanied the selection of the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium as an Olympic soccer site disintegrated when word escaped that the hedges lining the football field would have to be removed. And that the crypt holding the remains of the bulldogs that have served as the mascot "Uga" would have to be moved.

So three years ago the school took cuttings from the original hedges and had them planted at two nurseries, one in Thomson, Ga., the other in Florida. Officials would not disclose the location of the second nursery. "What if Georgia Tech tried to poison our hedges?" athletic director Vince Dooley asked.

Next month, after soccer games end and before football games begin, the cuttings will be re-planted where their ancestors stood until fans cut their own souvenirs after the 1995 finale against Auburn.

STILL SILVER: In the first drug case of these Olympics, Cuba's Estela Rodgriguez Villaneva received a reprimand for using furosemide, a diuretic, but will keep the silver medal she won Saturday in judo's heavyweight class.

"It is not considered a doping case," IOC spokeswoman Michele Verdier said. The Cuban delegation said Rodriguez, a 28-year-old physiotherapist, took an herbal remedy in Cuba on July 12 without knowing it contained the banned substance.

A SONG FROM OUR SPONSOR: Why did Roberta Flack sing Georgia on My Mind in the Opening Ceremonies instead of Ray Charles, known for that tune?

Look to the guiding hand of that all-powerful Atlanta-based soda company. Bloomberg News Service reported that Coca-Cola Co., the most prominent of all Olympic sponsors, did not want Charles, a spokesman for Pepsi, to perform in front of the world audience.

BREATHE, BUT DON'T EAT, FREE: One Atlanta restaurant has an unusual touch on its menu: The manager asks customers to help Cubans defect.

"Every citizen is responsible for the safety of a possible political refugee," Lucy Alvarez says in a note on the menus of her Mambo Restaurante Cuba.