Legacy of 1984 Olympics Survives - In Streets, Pools, Gyms
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A decade ago, the Olympics provided Los Angeles a shining moment, a charmed time for a city that in later years was battered by rioting, earthquakes and fires.
While those glorious weeks of light freeway traffic, a drop in crime, and smiling strangers saying ″hello″ on the streets are a distant memory, the legacy of the 1984 Games lives on in Los Angeles.
In the unlikely setting of an inner city beach volleyball court, Rose Villacarlos dives into the sand hauled in from the seaside, slaps the ball skyward, and yells in delight as a teammate spikes it over the net.
Across town in East Los Angeles, Father Carmine Vairo watches approvingly as youngsters whoop and slip down the slide and into the pool.
Near downtown Los Angeles, Richard Allen looks around the old building being transformed into a state-of-the-art gym and explains how he envisions it as a haven where children and their parents who live in a ″war zone″ of gangs and crime can come to work out or to watch amateur boxing matches.
Over by the Coliseum, Robert Arellanes talks about the Kids In Sports program that will give urban youths and their parents the binding, growing tradition in sports that suburban kids enjoy. At Dorsey High School in South Central Los Angeles, Monika Schloder demonstrates to a group of minority coaches the latest methods of teaching youngsters how to swim.
The 15-year-old Villacarlos, the youngsters at the Salesian Boys and Girls Club, the children and parents who will use Allen’s gym, and the others are benefiting from the 1984 Olympics.
Those Games, which began on July 28, were the first free-enterprise Olympics and left a gift for amateur sports in America and for youths in Southern California in particular.
The $225 million profit from the LA Olympics was divided among the U.S. Olympic Committee and various national sports federations, which received 60 percent, and the Amateur Athletic Foundation in Los Angeles, which received $90.6 million, the other 40 percent.
The AAF uses interest earned on its share of the money to grant funds to established youth programs, initiate its own programs, and for a wide variety of other programs to benefit amateur and youth sports. As of March, the foundation had spent $57.3 million, including 625 grants totaling $27.5 million.
″To me, it’s amazing,″ Vairo said. ″I was in Canada before I came here, and they’re still paying off their debts from the Olympics in Montreal.″
The Los Angeles Games, which breathed new life into the Olympic movement, were the first without heavy government involvement. Much of the profit came from sponsorships sold to corporations, and the LA Olympic committee also was able to save money by using existing facilities for most sports and housing.
Atlanta, host of the 1996 Olympics, will have to build more facilities for its Games, and it plans to donate those facilities as its main bequest.
″We learned a lot just from meeting with people from Los Angeles,″ said Bob Brennan, spokesman for the Atlanta organizing committee. ″We continue to pick the brains of those people there who can help us.″
″I think the uniqueness of the ’84 Games had to do with the fact that we worked cooperatively with government,″ said Anita DeFrantz, who was in charge of the Olympic athletes’ housing at Southern Cal 10 years ago and now is the president of the AAF and a member of the International Olympic Committee executive board.
″We paid for extra services from government, such as security, but ours was a contractual relationship with government.″
The bottom line was a huge profit.
The AAF, in addition to the programs for youths, maintains a sports memorablia collection that includes football cleats worn by Jim Thorpe, Jack Dempsey’s boxing gloves, and a track shoe worn by Jesse Owens. The foundation also maintains the most extensive sports library in the world, and conducts surveys, seminars and conferences on a variety of topical sports issues.
″Our mission is to serve youth through sports,″ DeFrantz said. ″We do that by enhancing the understanding that the community has of sports ...
″We had a conference here on the (money) crisis in high school sports. We’ve had national conferences on issues such as steroid abuse, gender stereotyping, the electronic media.″
The AAF is housed in a renovated mansion near downtown. Also on the grounds are the library and a pavilion for conferences. The center serves as a think tank for amateur sports.
″We like to work with new ideas,″ DeFrantz said. ″For example, among the things we do well is our coaching program. We’ve done some innovative things, including using the interactive high jump video disk, which the state high school champ this year used to better his performance.″
The most obvious beneficiaries, however, are the kids’ programs, with funds going to suburbs and cities alike in Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura counties.
″Without the AAF, there would be no boxing rings in here, no heavy bags, no speed bags,″ Allen said at the soon-to-be-open gym. ″This is going to help change some lives. I tell the kids that when a kid yells at you, ‘Hey, you wanta fight?’ bring them in here.″
Recalling the spirit of the 1984 Olympics, DeFrantz noted that some of it seemed evident during the recent World Cup games, which were played at the Rose Bowl.
″LA had proven it’s a wonderful big-event city,″ she said.
END ADV for Weekend Editions July 30-31