Los Angeles 1984 Olympics Revisited
No one likes I-told-you-so’s, and if there is a good lord up above, he — or she
— knows full well that others find it tiresome, indeed, to hear Americans boasting
So this is not — repeat, not — that column. There’s no point. At the sametime, it’s just plain dumb to ignore reality. So, now, with International OlympicCommittee extolling a renewed commitment to “sustainability” and “legacy,” andwith the true believers this week celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1984Games that changed everything, it’s entirely reasonable to look anew at those Los Angeles Olympics. Because they didn’t just save the modern Olympic movement —they set the standard for sustainability and legacy, too.
Also this: if in more recent Olympic bid campaigns, U.S. efforts have gotten
knocked down in part because American cities are different — the whole notion of
50 states means the federal government itself won’t underwrite a bid the way
national governments in other countries will — it’s only fair now to note for the
record that the LA Games, while often touted as privately run, absolutely included
significant public monies.
It’s easy, perhaps even understandable, for others elsewhere to want to beat
up on the United States, the world’s only superpower.
However, when it comes to the Olympics, and issues of sustainability, legacy
and public-private partnership, the question — as the historical record proves
without a shadow of a doubt — is, why the knock on the USA?
You’d think the American way would be celebrated as a model.
The planning that went into the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, for
instance, was always meant to transform the U.S. into a winter-sports nation — with
major universities in and around town and world-class venues just up Interstate 80
in Park City, Deer Valley and a few minutes beyond in Soldier Hollow. The proof
has come in the medals count in Vancouver and Sochi.
If in Olympic circles no one much likes to talk loudly about Atlanta — the
main Olympic Stadium, when all is said and done in two years, will have served as
the home for the baseball Braves for nearly 20 years. There’s a legitimate argument
about whether 20 years is enough — but compare 20 years of day-in, day-out
baseball to, for instance, the Bird’s Nest in Beijing or the Olympic Stadium in
And then, of course, there is Los Angeles — where on Monday evening, at the
LA84 Foundation grounds, they held a low-key party to commemorate the 30th
anniversary of the opening ceremony.
Just as he did on July 28, 1984, Rafer Johnson carried the torch. This time,
though, it wasn’t up the steeply angled staircase that had been built at the Los
Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was only a few easy, level steps.
“Tonight was fantastic,” Johnson said as he posed for photos with Peter
Ueberroth, who oversaw those 1984 Games. “No stairs.”
The gymnast Mary Lou Retton was on hand. The hurdler Edwin Moses.
Dozens more athletes from 1984. Anita DeFrantz, the senior IOC member to the
United States and the foundation president, herself a bronze medalist from the 1976
Even Sammy Lee, the gold medal-winning diver from 1948 and 1952.
It was a celebration — and there was, upon reflection, much to celebrate.
The foundation was created with 40 percent of the $232.5 million 1984
Since 1985, the foundation has invested $220 million into Southern
California youth sports. This includes $103.3 million in direct grants, plus spending
on foundation-initiated youth sports programs, coaching education, research
projects, youth sports conferences.
The foundation has developed a major sports library and digital collection,
and has published reports on, among other topics, the prevention of ACL injuries,
the educational benefits of youth sports, increasing Latina sports participation and
tackling in youth football.
The foundation’s grants have served three million young people (under age
17). Some 1,100 organizations have received grants. About 80,000 youth sports
coaches have been trained.
Simply put, is there another institution in the world, anywhere, that has done
anything like the LA84 Foundation?
Remarkably, it has done even more — its definition of “legacy” incredibly
LA84 has made over $20 million in infrastructure grants. That investment, in
turn, has leveraged another $100 million from other funders. That money has
meant nearly 100 facilities have been refurbished or built from the ground up.
Among the most notable projects: the John Argue Swim Stadium at
Exposition Park across from the University of Southern California, in which the
1932 Olympic Swim Stadium was refurbished, and the construction of the Rose
Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, California.
LA84 has an ongoing partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.
To date, 30 baseball fieldshave been built.
That $232.5 million figure has long been a source of fascination, if not more.
In 1978, Los Angeles voters, by a wide margin, voted against public funding
for the Games. And as the official report of the 1984 Games notes, the federal
government turned down a $200 million grant request from the LA84 organizing
committee in the “early” planning stages.
Even so, there absolutely was public spending on the Games.
– The federal government spent $30 to $35 million for security; other federal
agencies projected another $38 million in spending, which was accounted for
through additional appropriations or by reduced spending in non-Olympic areas.
The LA84 organizing committee budgets do not account for these federal funds.
– The state of California would claim $14.3 million in unreimbursed Olympic
costs but only $3.6 million represented a special appropriation.
– The organizing committee paid for policing in Los Angeles and other
Southern California cities.
Overall, the $232.5 million surplus is, as it should be, strictly a reflection of
the organizing committee’s budget. Even so, if you were to figure in federal, state
and local spending, there’s still no question the organizing committee would have
finished the 1984 Olympics way into the black.
On November 1, 1984, the LA Times published a story whose headline
declared, “Giant Olympic Surplus Spills Over Into Anger.” At that point, the surplus
was being estimated at perhaps $150 million — the $232.5 million figure would not
yet be known — and the city attorney in Fullerton, California, was bemoaning the
money it had paid out to hold the Olympic team handball events at the Cal State
It would be a fascinating measure of legacy, indeed, to weigh the costs to taxpayers
in or before 1984 against LA84 Foundation grants to public entities in the 30 years since.
This article was republished with permission from Karl-Heinz Huba, the editor and publisher of the Sport Intern.