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1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics Memories

Updated on June 6, 2016
This is going back a few years but I was once an "official official" of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles! Not an official, really, but a volunteer. While working as a summer intern at the Chevron Company (Standard Oil) which was once of the official sponsors, we were asked to help with passing out cups of water to the men's marathon runners. It was fun to see it all so close up. Lots of great energy, confusion, and tight controls. The free T-shirt is long gone and the many commemorative stickers, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Facts About the Games

A ten week LA Olympic Arts Festival began on June 2 and ended on August 12, designed to maximize the tourist potential of the area. 400 performances were held from every continent in the world.

Getting ready for the 1984 Olympics was no small matter. Headed up by Peter Ueberroth, he created a special LA84 task force.

The 25th anniversary of the 1984 Olympic Games were celebrated in the LA Coliseum on July 19, 2009 when Peter Ueberroth gave a commemorative speech and the giant cauldron was lit once more.

Due to the Eastern Block Boycott, America was able to clean up on many new records. The men's wrestling team was the hardest hit - of all ten defending champions - not one was present to defend his title.

It was considered the MOST FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL Olympics in modern history.

How it All Began

"Stars" of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles

Name
Country
Distinction
The Chinese Taipei Team
Taipei (Formosa)
First time participants in the Olympics since 1952 Helsinki, they won 15 Gold Medals
Mary Lou Retton
USA
First gymnast outside the Eastern Block to win All Around Competition for Gymnastics
Carl Lewis
USA
winning four gold medals in track and field, he followed in Jesse Owens' footsteps
Joan Benoit
USA
First time ever women's marathon event held at the Olympic Games
Carlos Lopes
Portugual
First time Gold Medal for Portugual. Men's marathon - 2.09 - a world record that would stand 24 years.
Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and
USA
Men's Basketball Gold Medalists - future members of the Dream Team
Soccer in the USA
France vs. Brazil
With a huge sellout of seats, the US finally began recognizing soccer as a world sport, later hosting the 1994 FIFA world cup.
Gina Hemphill, daughter of Jesse Owens
USA
Running a victory lap in the Coliseum, she handed over the torch to 1960 Olympian Rafer Johnson, who lit the cauldron aflame.
 
 
 
Everyone is a star - just qualifying for the Olympic Team is a huge milestone. Those who stand out in our minds are listed because they brought a special flavor to the Games.

First of Four Olympics

Carl Lewis dominated in track and field events, winning several gold medals,  his first of four successful Olympics.
Carl Lewis dominated in track and field events, winning several gold medals, his first of four successful Olympics. | Source

Sponsorship

Whoever could sponsor was happy for the positive media. Standard Oil got in on the action and who was lucky enough to be working there at the time? Little old me. The employees loved the stickers, Olympics coffee cups (plastic ones, with spill proof tops, ideal for the L.A. commute).

Every ad on the television made sure that they mentioned at the end of their ad, "... an OFFICIAL sponsor of the 1984 Summer Olympics!". Alrighty, then.

Traffic Concerns

LA Traffic Jam Blues

In those days, the Olympics were ultimate cool and being a part of it was just over the top.

The main concern to the residents of Los Angeles county were - what will the traffic be like? The already terrible commute to downtown L.A: would probably only intensify due to the number of international visitors to the area.

A spectacular entrance

The U.S. Olympic Team marches into the LA Coliseum, to the roar of hordes of visitors.
The U.S. Olympic Team marches into the LA Coliseum, to the roar of hordes of visitors. | Source

President Ronald Reagan Opened the Games

Perky Mary Lou Retton was one of America's darlings for the gymnastics team.  Posing here with President Ronald Reagan who towers over the 5'2" star as the US Olympic Team looks on.
Perky Mary Lou Retton was one of America's darlings for the gymnastics team. Posing here with President Ronald Reagan who towers over the 5'2" star as the US Olympic Team looks on. | Source

The Story of Mary Lou

The Men's Marathon

My task was so small, I didn't realize I had been a part of history until learning that Portugal won the race - and held the record - for 24 years until it was shattered in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejing, China.

The days of tight security (pre 9/11) were not upon us yet, but the security was fairly snug nonetheless. Wearing our Official T-shirts, a bunch of us from Standard Oil group (talk about Reagonomics!) stood behind the table where the mens marathon runners would pass us by. They were so small! I thought they looked like little boys, especially those from Africa and other Third World countries. It was an unbelievably hot and humid day in Los Angeles that day, August 12, 1984. They took the water cup that I offered and sped off, sipping, dumping over their heads and tossing it away.

So fast - was it already finished? OK! Well, that was cool.

The winner, Carlos Lopes was the first ever Gold Medalist for Portugal. He ran a fast race of 2.09.21. Nowadays, the world record is held by Patrick Makau of Kenya, 2.03.38.

A Star Out of Nowhere

Carlos Lopes, shown in Rotterdam a year later.  His Olympic win in 1984 was a shock to the world - and the photos are better - but no permission :(
Carlos Lopes, shown in Rotterdam a year later. His Olympic win in 1984 was a shock to the world - and the photos are better - but no permission :( | Source

Disneyland - The Secondary Destination

With so many tourists in the area, many made a detour to the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. The crowds there were pretty prolific. Disneyland was my normal summer job, not unlike many other local citizens who worked there during the busy season. My internship at Standard Oil was something extra, and summer was to make money for the school year, anyway, right? So sure enough, we had quite an international representation when I went to work in the late afternoons.

Naturally, we had guests from all over the world - like usual - just more of them. It was a giant party and it seemed like the whole world had decided to show up.

These were in the days of Boy George, Madonna, and all the great 80s bands. Almost no one I knew from the L.A. area had a tickets to any og the events but watched the TV screen closely to know exactly what was going on each and every day.

What a Party!

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    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 4 years ago from Scotland

      My favorite memory of those Olympics was the race between Mary Decker and Zola Budd, both favorites to win and both tripped up and out of the race. thanks for sharing....jimmy

    • EuroCafeAuLait profile image
      Author

      Anastasia Kingsley 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe

      Yes, I thought of mentioning her. I just now read that Zola Budd long considered to be guilty, was actually not to blame for Mary Decker's fall. Many people were angry at her for political reasons - she was from South Africa during apartheid days. Thanks for commenting, Anastasia

    • profile image

      João Pedro de Sousa Mendonça Correia 3 years ago

      The runner portrayed here as "A Star Out of Nowhere" is not Carlos Lopes but Cor Lambregts, a Dutch marathoner who dropped out the LA 1984 olympic marathon about half its way. Please, replace the photo.

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