Flashback to Los Angeles 1984By Percy D. Della
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SACRAMENTO—My first, and definitely not my last, Olympics was Los Angeles 28 years ago.
I wasn’t sent by a media outlet to report on the 1984 edition. I was right smack dab in the middle of it.
As a spokesperson of the California Museum of Science and Industry then, I was at ground zero for Hollywood’s lavish production of the highest-profile sporting event in the world.
The museum, known as the “Smithsonian of the West” and since renamed California Science Center, shares the Exposition Park Complex with the Los Angeles Coliseum, the main venue of LA’s Olympics.
Also on the same state property is the LA Memorial Sports Arena, site of the boxing matches. Across the street at the University of Southern California was the MacDonald’s Stadium where swimming competitions were held.
The two Olympics before LA had their indelible trademarks—Montreal 1976 had that giant crane hanging over the Olympic Stadium; Moscow 1980 had boycott written all over it (the United States and 65 other nations, including our own, refused to take part because of the Soviet war in Afghanistan).
The LA Games had Peter Ueberroth who not only splashed “festive federalism” all over the Southland. He also started the era of profitable Olympics to come.
“Festive federalism” refers to the graphics face of the LA Games that used a riot of reds, pinks, magentas, powder blues, forest greens, and other happy colors on Olympic signage and even on staff uniforms that had since been imitated in succeeding Olympics.
More importantly, Olympic sponsorships came of age under Ueberroth, who became major league baseball commissioner after the 1984 Games. Exploiting business tie-ups to subsidize the LA Olympics, Ueberroth recorded a surplus of more than $225 million at the end of 14 days of sports competition.
The Ueberroth experiment has become the model for Olympics hosts that now avoid spending their own bucks and parley sponsorships and television and other marketing rights into profits.
Of course, there are political and social drawbacks to Games sponsorships as gleaned from the 2008 Beijing Games, where major business partners played blind to human rights violations and refused to speak about Tibet for the sake of business expediency.
The bottom line: Every company’s research says that being part of the Olympics enhances brand image and maximizes profit.
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As virtual host to the Games, the museum relinquished employee parking to the LA Olympic Organizing Committee. Among the recipients of prime parking places were Hollywood movie moguls.
Courtesy of my museum boss who said he got tickets from Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy, I witnessed the breathtaking opening act produced by the great David Wolper.
Wolper is credited with setting new standards for Olympic opening ceremonies. Among others, he assembled 84 pianists in white tuxes and baby blue topcoats with tails while playing “Rhapsody in Blue;” sent a stunt man soaring in a jet-pack into the Coliseum and orchestrated a card stunt involving the entire arena crowd that displayed flags of every competing nation.
But what gave everybody goose bumps was the sight of former Olympic decathlon champ Rafer Johnson perilously climbing to the peristyle end of the Coliseum, where he sent the Olympic flame swirling through the rings and up into the torch to open the LA Games.
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With a group of foreign newsmen hosted by the US State Department, I previewed the Olympic venues, including that for swimming at USC where I eventually watched a few Olympic trial heats.
Digging deep into our pockets, Recah Trinidad and I bought tickets to watch Filipino lightweight Leopoldo Cantancio in one of his matches at the Sports Arena.
Recah had come to the Olympics on his own and to visit family in Orange County during the Games.
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