L.A.'s 2024 Olympics bid: a risk worth taking
September 1, 2015, 1:48pm, Source
It's as simple as a hammer thrower's grunt, as sensible as a swimmer's kick, as clear as the tear on a gold-medalist gymnast's cheek.
The greatest sports city in the world deserves to host the greatest sports event in the world. Their courtship should be cheered. Their union would be the Hollywood marriage of the century.
Los Angeles and the 2024 Olympics would be perfect for each other.
The tug to bring a third Olympics to the Southland officially began Tuesday when the U.S. Olympic Committee designated Los Angeles as the American candidate for the 2024 Games after the L.A. City Council approved Mayor Eric Garcetti's pursuit of the bid.
The undertaking is huge, the odds are formidable, but the chase is a worthy one. Paris is probably the favorite, the bid would have to blow people away, but a stretch across the finish line when the selection is announced in the fall of 2017 could be spectacular.
The Olympics would be lucky to return here, and Los Angeles would be lucky to have them back.
Yes, the Games could cost nearly $6 billion. Absolutely, the initial claim by the LA24 committee that the city could actually make $160 million on the deal should be viewed with skepticism, as the Olympics historically burn money as quickly as Rafer Johnson once lit that torch. Indeed, folks are smart to be worried that the city could get hit with the sort of cost overruns that dug into Montreal taxpayers' pockets for three decades after the 1976 Games.
The Olympics are such a financial risk that the mayor of Boston politely handed back the USOC invitation and surrendered its nomination for fear that the city simply couldn't afford it.
But Los Angeles is different. Los Angeles is almost Olympic ready, mostly Olympic friendly, and very Olympic cool. The risks here are much less, the history much deeper, and the rewards much greater. With the proper financial protections in place, for the opportunity to expose generations of Angelenos to the sports event of a lifetime, it's a risk worth taking.
Just ask anyone who was living here when the Olympics were last in town in 1984. Everyone has a story, right? Nobody forgets were they were during those magical two weeks. Your neighbor was volunteering to carry hurdles at the Coliseum. Your coworker was shuttling athletes to Pauley Pavilion for gymnastics. Your classmates were directing spectators at the Long Beach Convention Center for fencing.
More than 30 years later, every task has been magnified, no memory has been deemed insignificant, folks talk about the Games as if they were the most wonderful backyard party, complete with that torn track bib that hangs above their fireplace. Seriously, ask around, it's as if half of Los Angeles actually competed in those Olympics.
In covering nine Games, from Sydney to Beijing to Sochi, I've discovered one consistent truth. In what is supposed to be a celebration of joyous athleticism, the most joyful people aren't the athletes who inhabit the city for two weeks, the most joyful people are the ones who live there.
I'll never forget the smiling schoolteacher in Vancouver who helped people navigate a ski lift, or the laughing factory worker in Athens who drove a shuttle bus, or the kids from local schools who filled the stands in London with shrieks of excitement.
While politicians in Olympic cities have long complained that the Games were nothing more than an enormous financial burden, the folks living in their neighborhoods have seen them as a gift. While local critics of each Olympics have howled that the Games are a corrupt monument to commercialism, their coworkers and friends have used that monument to create memories.
The Olympics can be messy. In an event this large and unwieldy, there are always ticket and transportation problems. The Olympics can be ugly. The folks who run them are arrogant and dismissive, almost like the FIFA bosses, but with bigger smiles.
But the athletes still march. The anthems still play. The winners still cry. To attend a gold-medal event followed by the ceremony is to witness something rarely seen in sports, a mixture of perseverance and patriotism that lifts athletics to a place rarely touched.
Los Angeles is made for this. The city's place on the world sports landscape is unmatched, a place so diverse that the second pro basketball team in town sold for $2 billion, a place so passionate that as many as 150,000 fans will attend big-time football games on a weekend in a city with no NFL team.
The city's venues are also unsurpassed, with everything in place for an Olympics except perhaps a major swimming pool. Certainly, this idea of building an Olympic village downtown near the L.A. River sounds costly and odd, but the city has two years to figure it out before the IOC selects a host.
There also is the history, with the Peter Ueberroth-led 1984 Games hailed as one of the most successful Games ever, the city coming together to clear the freeways and fill the venues, and, oh yeah, the Games netted $93 million for the city that is still being used to fund youth sports programs today.
Times have changed. The roads are more crowded, the athletes are more professional, the general cynicism among fans is far greater. The 2024 Games would be a far different experience than in 1988.
But the Olympics are still about a torch. That torch still sits high atop the Coliseum, where it is still cheered by USC fans when its flames magically erupt at the start of the fourth quarter of home football games.
It is a torch whose glow has lasted here for more than 30 years, fueled by memories that far outweigh the errant sparks and risk of burns. It is a torch worth lighting again.