The just lighted Olympic Torch at the Coliseum, signifying the beginning of the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles on July 28, 1984. Photo courtesy of bryanpinkall.blogspot.com
MY MEMORIES OF THE LAST TIME THE OLYMPICS WERE HELD IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, IN LIGHT OF THE RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT THAT LOS ANGELES WILL HOST THE SUMMER GAMES IN 2028
Like roughly ten million other residents of Southern California, I vividly remember when the Games of the 23rd Olympiad were held in Los Angeles.
I had just turned seventeen a month before, and was approaching my senior year at Santa Monica High School.
My first memory of the Games were the Opening Ceremonies; no, I wasn’t among the 90,000 – plus fans who were in the Coliseum that afternoon, but I do recall that day very well because I was attending the funeral of a close family friend, who we all considered our aunt, that same day.
My family and I went to our “aunt’s” house afterward, and the first thing I did was to go to one of the bedrooms and turn on the TV, where the traditional Parade of Nations was starting.
A highlight film of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, courtesy of YouTube…
I was glad that I was able to catch the bulk of the festivities, which included Rafer Johnson, the UCLA legend who won the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1960 Games in Rome, lighting the torch.
I didn’t matter to me that Russia – called the Soviet Union at that time – and most of her fellow Communist countries save for Romania and China – chose to boycott these L.A. Olympics as payback for the U.S. and most of the other democracies boycotting the Moscow Games four years before; like pretty much everyone else, I was looking forward to the next two weeks-plus as it was obviously a once in a lifetime event.
My mother’s old college boyfriend came from Oregon to take in the Olympics, which was cool as I remember him letting me know whenever my favorite sport, baseball, was on TV as it was being offered for the first time as a demonstration sport at Dodger Stadium, featuring guys who would go on to be stars like Mark McGwire and Will Clark.
And of course no one will forget Carl Lewis matching Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, the 400 relay, and the long jump.
Mary Lou Retton, the darling of the 1984 Games and the first American to win the Women’s Gymnastics All-Around…
My two biggest memories of those Olympics:
1. The way seemingly all the girls were in huge crush-mode over gymnast Mitch Gaylord, who won the team gold for the U.S. at UCLA’s (my future alma mater) Pauley Pavilion, and how Mary Lou Retton became the darling of the Games with her gold medal in the All-Around and the honey of most guys in that same arena.
As for me, I thought “Charlie Hustle in a Leotard”, as former Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray described Mary Lou, was cute, but I preferred a synchronized swimmer named Tracie Ruiz.
2. Watching the men’s marathon on the Olympics’ last day begin a half-block from my house at Santa Monica College.
I stood on top of a parking structure overlooking SMC’s Corsair Field among a huge crowd where after the starting gun went off, the runners went around the track a few times before heading out of the gate and onto 17th Street – a block away from my house on 18th Street – and through my neighborhood on the way to the Coliseum, where the marathon ended and Lionel Ritchie would be featured singing his hit “All Night Long” after the Games were declared closed and the torch was extinguished.
My mother and my then-two and a half-year old brother were standing on 17th St. watching the marathoners go by; there’s a picture of them doing so, which I thought was cute.
All-in-all, it was a good seventeen days.
I remember the crowd groaning when the International Olympic Committee president stated that the Games were closed; that should be proof that much fun was had.
And since there are many more venues in L.A. now than in 1984, places such as Staples Center, StubHub Center, and the new soccer stadium that’s being built on he site of the old Sports Arena,
As well as more transportation options that didn’t exist in ’84, such as the Metro Rail, the upcoming “Subway To The Sea” and additional bus lines and shuttles,
I expect the 2028 Olympics to surpass the 1984 Olympics in terms of success.
Members of the US Olympics Team wave to spectators as they march into the LA Coliseum during the opening ceremonies for the 1984 Summer Olympics. Photo courtesy of wikiwand.com