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‘THE OLYMPICS MADE ME LOVE COMPETITIVENESS’ Sarah Remembers The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

February 1, 2011

Sonia, Kim, Nathan, Claudia and I have been emailing my friend Sarah about her memories and experiences of the 1984 Olympics which were staged in Los Angeles where she still lives now. She was 3 at the time. If you’re reading this Sarah – thanks for being such a good sport.

So Sarah, what’s special about the Olympics?

I think my obsession began when my Dad bought this special cable box for viewing the Olympics, where you could watch 4 channels of Olympic games live. Not only did he buy this (what was to us) expensive cable programming for the Olympics, but he also went out and grabbed some cheap televisions so that we could have four televisions going on at the same time with different Olympic games! It was incredible. I especially loved Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, I loved the competitiveness around the games, and mostly I loved that even after the winners were announced, everyone looked really happy and were all friends at the end. Even today, I’m still enamored with the spectacle around the Olympics, the idea of people huddling together around the world to watch a live production in a box, and the general happiness of it all.

Who are Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton?


Priceless!  Nadia Comaneci was the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10 – from Romania, she was the one everybody aspired to be! She also shared the same coach as Mary Lou Retton, Bela Karolyi…. I always wanted a Bela in my life!

(ugh, I apologize that video has cutaways of other gymnasts during this performance, what a shame! AMAZING!) To explain, this performance happened before I was born… but her legacy lived on… I remember my dad saying “Comaneeeciiii” in this really funny voice and making us watch the videotapes… haha.. ok. enough! I could really go on.

You say you ‘loved the competitiveness’ of it (not a very british thing to say). What is it like to love competitiveness?

I really do think the Olympics did make me love competitiveness. The idea of scoring, being judged… I really don’t mind that at all, and I’m pretty sure the Olympics had something to do with that. Sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting to see who is the winner… the range of emotions that you feel when your country wins or loses…. I love it.

How do people in LA remember the Olympics?

Well, the main Olympic stadium is still used very frequently in Los Angeles – it’s called the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. We declared it as a National Historic Monument the day before the 1984 Olympics, as well, so it will never really change. It’s now the football space for the University of Southern California (my alma mater!), it has hosted the Super Bowl, baseball games, concerts, soccer games, etc. When 9-11 happened, the original Olympic flame was lit again and lasted for a week. In general, I would say that people in Los Angeles would like to think about the Olympics (and we had two Olympics, we would not want you to forget) as a magnificent representation of our city – multi-cultural, a little splashy with entertainment, and a temporal space that is shaped by the people within them.

You know we might be knocking our stadium down after the games?

I heard about this! I think that’s a shame for a lot of reasons…. I thought that they were telling you its sustainable?? Anyway, I love knowing that I am able to see the Olympic flame at any time. This bulldozing business would never happen in LA because we are such a young city and we don’t really have a lot of monuments to hold on to like you do in Europe. If this was actually to happen, though, the people of LA would most certainly riot, as we seem to do best for anything related to sports.

How did staging the games change LA?

There’s one specific instance of how the games changed LA which I found quite incredible, a bit of the dark side of the Olympics…. I heard that when the Olympics were coming to Los Angeles, that shuttles had been arranged to transport homeless people out of Los Angeles and up to San Francisco. So, I guess the streets of LA were pretty clean from homeless people for a time being, and if anything, that story shows the the games changed our neighboring cities, too.

We keep getting told that the games will do all kinds of good things for London, sport and young people. What do you think the legacy of the games in LA was?

Wow, great question! I think that the Olympics did encourage kids in LA to play sport, and in google searching the LA Olympics Legacy I just learned that there is a foundation that uses the surplus funds from the 1984 games to encourage youth to play sports (The LA84 Foundation). They state that they have paid out more than $197 million to their mission… that number is mind-boggling to me. I’m happy to hear that these efforts are still being made, mostly because we have such a terrible problem with obesity in the schools here in LA. I don’t know if the City of LA made such claims as London is doing now… actually, I nabbed a souvenir program from my dad over the weekend. (It’s incredible, I wish he had two copies so I could send you one… these 1984 ads are brilliant!) In this book, there is a letter from the mayor of the time, Tom Bradley, who has a hefty paragraph listing the feats of transformation that LA has undergone in preparation for the Olympics. He rattles off a list of a dozen or so locations where the private sector invested in updates of sporting fields…. I suppose that made things more comfortable and attractive for LA residents who used these facilities after the Olympics. Beyond that, I’m not sure that we have any other claims of a legacy built by the 1984 Olympics. Perhaps people were more easily pleased back then. That’s not to say that what is being promised you in London is not true, as the public and officials are presumably savvier now about the impact of the Olympics on a city’s infrastructure.

What moment do people in LA most remember from the 1984 games?

Well, I can only speculate here… maybe that the Russians boycotted the LA Olympics? Or Mary Lou Retton winning the overall gold in gymnastics and became a crazy overnight celebrity – first woman on the Wheaties cereal box (a big “honor” at the time).


She had to make a 10.0 in order to win the gold on the last event, and she did it!!! TWICE!!!! RIDICULOUSLY INCREDIBLE!!! One of the most memorable moments for people here in LA (dare I say the US) was actually not an Olympic win but Whitney Houston’s contribution to the Olympic album with “One Moment in Time” (check out this great MTV video – has Olympic highlights) …

We still play that song at least once in every Olympic viewing on TV. Notice on youtube that this song has SO MANY VIEWS. There are over 2.5 million views for a video that only has lyrics here! (sony says we can’t show this video – ct) I suspect this is because a lot of people select this song for karaoke. Haha, this is so dorky but I have to admit…I’m hearing this song now and totally rocking out with diva Whitney hands and everything!! I love it. 😀 Do you guys know this song or do I seem totally strange to you right now?

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 1, 2011 10:45 pm

    Great blog Charlie, there are a range of good questions which you posed to Sarah.

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