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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Los Angeles' Moment: the 1984 Summer Olympics

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It looks like it's really happening. Wednesday, September 13th, the International Olympic Organizing Committee will officially award the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics simultaneously

2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles. 

Like Paris and London, this will be the third time that Los Angles will host the Olympics.

So, is L.A. up for the task? 

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Let's turn back the clock a bit to 1984, the last time L.A. hosted the Olympics. For anyone who was here at that time, it was an incredible experience, arguably the best two weeks in the city's history. 

And it almost didn't happen. 

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Los Angeles had hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 (above), introducing the first ever Olympic Village, limiting the events to just 16 days, and - for the first time ever - finishing in the black financially.

photo credit: Rich Clarkson

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 Organizing Committee met in May of 1978 to decide who would host the 1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles was the only city 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.

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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.

photo credit: Joe Payne

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 TV.

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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," to the flags of the nations card show, to composer John Williams stirring Olympic theme ... it was incredible and primarily staffed by volunteers. (In contrast, 75% of those who participated in the opening ceremonies four years ago in Beijing were members of the Chinese military. It was said that in terms of "precision" only North Korea could have done a better job than China.)

Unfortunately, thanks to Cold War politics, the Soviet Union and their Eastern European allies decided to stayed home. What can we say? Their loss.

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What no one in Los Angeles could miss was the dazzling color scheme, dubbed by designer Deborah Sussman as "Festive Federalism." 

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It was fantastic just walking around the different venues.

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I love what Michael Bierut said on "Trust Los Angeles to finally understand how to stage a modern Olympics: design it to be seen on television. 

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"So out with the costly white elephants of permanent venues built of steel and concrete: Deborah Susman and Jon Jerde, working on a tight schedule and a tighter budget, led a team of designers that created one of the most cohesive Olympic design schemes ever. 

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"It was all Hollywood stagecraft, including fabric banners, painted cardboard shipping tubes and what was reportedly all the aluminum scaffolding west of the Mississippi.

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"Dubbed 'festive Federalism' [it] was purportedly based on the hot pinks and oranges of Southern California  . . . . And why not? It was the ultimate California moment."

Festive Federalism at the Forum: this the only personal photo I have from the Los Angeles Olympics: my sister and me in front of the basketball venue at the Forum in Inglewood. Unfortunately, all my other photos from that summer are lost (stolen when I was living out-of-state, actually). 

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Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in both 1932 and 1984. 

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When I first posted these photos back in 2008, I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, L.A. would have the Olympics in 2032, the 100th anniversary of the the first time the city served as host. Am I glad they didn't wait around for that. 

Traffic? Summer 1984 was the year of "catastrophic traffic that never was." Los Angeles has hosted the Olympics twice before. I think they'll figure it out. 

And the summer weather forecast eleven years from now calls for 72 degrees, sunny skies, low humidity, and a light breeze coming in off the ocean. 

Congratulations to Paris. Congratulations to Los Angeles. 

Wow. Looks like it's really happening. 

Here's a link to some additional photos from the 1984 Olympics I posted a few years back.  

© 2017 - originally posted 8/14/2008 

Los Angeles 1984 Summer Olympics

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