A week at the Rio Olympics has Lian Dolan anxious to get the torch lit for Los Angeles 2024.
BY: Lian Dolan
Blame it on the caipirinhas. But after spending eights days in Rio during the 2016 Summer Olympics, draped in a US flag and DEET-infused mosquito repellant, I’m fully on board for L.A. 2024, the bid for Los Angeles to host the Summer Games in eight years. In truth, I’ve always felt part of the Olympic Movement, though I’ve never competed in any events, unless TV Viewing is a medal sport. I’ve been to the Games in Lake Placid, Barcelona and now Rio and have the pins to show for it. To me, the Olympics are glorious. And I think L.A. needs another Olympics, but even more than that, I think the Olympics need L.A.
Sadly, I wasn’t a citizen of Southern California in 1984, the last time the locals opened up their arms to the world, but from what I understand, it was excellent. Seriously, I have never heard one person say one negative thing about the ’84 Olympics. Not one. Ever. Civic pride swells as people rave about inspirational athletes, unforgettable volunteering opportunities and, of course, reduced traffic. People enjoyed the commemorative license plates for decades after they looked cool. Every time I swim at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, I think, “Thank you, Peter Ueberroth.” By all accounts, L.A. 1984 was smashing success.
When I was in Rio, in between the brilliance of Michael Phelps and the constant chanting of “Olé, Olé, Olé,” I caught a preview of the L.A. Olympic Dream at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s hospitality house. After running into statesman and diplomat Ryan Lochte in the lobby (My husband held the door for him and Lochte said, and I quote, “Thanks, dude.”), we were ushered upstairs to experience the possibility of L.A. 2024, featuring a 3D model of the city, surrounded by hi-def screens and swathed in Hollywood graphics and a voice-over so compelling, it must have been Morgan Freeman. I pity the other bid cities trying to compete with L.A. in the Slick Presentation Category.
Here’s how we do it in SoCal: the historic Coliseum tricked out for the 21st Millennium, the Athletes’ Village at the picture-perfect UCLA Campus and the beach volleyball venue rocking Santa Monica. Athletic hubs in DTLA, USC and the South Bay with minimal new construction, maximal use of existing venues and opportunities for all to see events without tickets, like the marathons and road races. Plus, an improved and finished L.A. public transportation system that would magically move people, athletes, spectators, volunteers and hopefully those vendors that sell bacon-wrapped sausages after Galaxy games (Rio could have used more post-event food for sale outside of venues.). For those of us in Pasadena, we get soccer at the Rose Bowl. Start complaining now, neighbors!
It’s easy to be cynical about the Olympics, mainly because the International Olympic Committee is an organization with the power and money of the NFL and the trustworthiness of a North Korean dictator. And yes, there’s an economic argument to be made that the public funds used to build a velodrome would be better spent to build a hospital (but I doubt that exact choice ever comes up in a budget meeting). It’s a fair question to ask: Should we focus our efforts hosting a two-week international sporting event beamed out to millions of people across the globe so that we can all share in feeling good about Southern California and bad about our own aging bodies?
Yes, we should.
Because as controversial as the modern Olympics have become, there is nothing quite like the Olympics in terms of doing the impossible: both celebrating and erasing our national identities. Even if it’s to root for the underdog in team handball. Or razz the boxing ref who did wrong by the Croatian heavyweight. Or collectively hold our breath for 10 seconds while the fastest man on the planet brings home another gold and the crowd of a thousand nations chants in unison, “U-Sain Bolt! U-Sain Bolt!” At the Olympics, everybody stands for every national, not just their own. For every big moment that gets a Bob Costas intro on the TV coverage, there are a million smaller moments that happen in the security line or souvenir shop underscoring cooperation, laughter and a shared sense that this is something bigger than sports. Over a couple of weeks, contests, not conflicts, remind us that we’re more alike than we might suspect. And we get to go through it all wearing goofy hats and comfortable shoes.
In Southern California, we get this. That’s why the Olympics need us. No special training necessary. We operate on a Global Cooperation Scale every day of the week just to make it through the line at the DMV. On any given Tuesday, we manage to get up, go to work, volunteer in our communities, coach our kid’s team and watch out for our neighbors in a hundred languages. Ever been to IKEA on a Sunday afternoon and seen the wide-ranging representation of cultures and countries wandering the aisles? Get those people some flags and it’s an Opening Ceremony! If the Olympics come to L.A., we’ll get a chance to show off to the world what we already do on a daily basis: play well with others.
As Ambassador Lochte would say, “Jeah.”