Thursday, August 14, 2008
Every four years I'm reminded of that special summer in 1984 when Los Angeles played host to the Olympic Games.
Los Angeles is one of three cities in the world (along with London and Paris) to host the Olympics twice. The whole idea of an "Olympic Village" began here in Los Angeles in 1932. Fifty two years later, the eyes of the world would again be on Los Angeles.
As hard as it might be to envision today, by the late 1970's, the Olympics had fallen on hard times:
Mexico City 1968 saw government troops opening fire and killing 300 student demonstrators ten days before the opening ceremonies.
Munich 1972 was marred by the tragic murder of 11 Israeli athletes by terrorists.
Montreal 1976 nearly bankrupt the city on costly infrastructure.
The whole concept of the modern Olympic Games was being called into question. By the time the International Olympic Committee met in May of 1978, our city was the only one in the world willing to host them.
Could Los Angeles save the modern Olympic Games?
For the first time ever, a private corporation - the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee - would oversee and be responsible for financing the Olympics. The existing stadium and infrastructure would be used. Los Angeles proved it could be done.
Peter Ueberroth, who would become Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" pulled off an incredible event, costing the tax-payers of Los Angeles nothing, and making an unheard of $215 million profit - the majority of which endowed inner city sports programs in the city.
With the exception of Beijing, every Olympic host city has used Los Angeles as a model of how to run the event.
Tickets for the opening ceremonies went on sale almost two years ahead of time with prices pegged at $50, $100, $200 - which seemed pricey at the time. Lack of vision (and a very tight budget as a college student) kept me from considering buying a couple of tickets. By the day of the opening ceremonies, people were offering $1500 for tickets - if they could find them. I - along with everyone else I knew - simply enjoyed the event a few miles away on T.V.
The opening ceremonies were nothing less than amazing. From the opening "Welcome" song, to the "Rocketman" flying across the stadium, to the dozens of pianos playing George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," the flags of the nations card show ... it was incredible and primarily staffed by volunteers. (In contrast, 75% of those who participated in the opening ceremonies in Beijing were members of the Chinese military. I recenlty read that in terms of "precision" only North Korea could have done a better job than China.)
Unfortunately, the Soviet Union and their Eastern European allies stayed home - what can we say? Their loss.
The 1984 Olympics remains a high point in our city's history. It was an truly incredible time to be here.
More thoughts on this soon (with an update February 8, 2009).