This article explores the importance of image to the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996. It suggests that the event must be seen as an example of the use of the propagation of selected images designed to boost the standing of the city in an increasingly competitive interurban environment. The intersection of major sporting spectacles, big business and vastly increased television coverage provides an important new medium through which boosterists can put their city on the world map. However, as the Atlanta case reveals, the ‘semiotics of the successful city‘ involves a highly ideological construction which often presents urban areas as conflict‐free zones. In Atlanta, potentially negative images were removed both physically and symbolically from the urban landscape, while the actual experience of the Games suggested that the city had some way to go in material terms to match its often hyperbolic self‐promotion. The article suggests that the staging of events such as the Olympics is a necessarily high‐risk venture for cities, one that, as in the case of Atlanta, may not have been ultimately worth the effort.