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Kenneth Reich
March 05, 1984
From the eagle mascot to the prospects for its success, everything about the L.A. Olympics looks bright and cheery, except for the mood of the organizers
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March 05, 1984

Ready To Play, Sam?

From the eagle mascot to the prospects for its success, everything about the L.A. Olympics looks bright and cheery, except for the mood of the organizers

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Ueberroth and Usher often have been tough and inflexible—but only to the point where it became obvious that they would have to yield. So, with Samaranch's dander up, they adopted a new attitude toward shooting. LAOOC officials Charles Cale, Jim Gross and Sherman Kearl were ordered to find a site no matter what. They scoured Southern California until they located the Prado Recreational Area in San Bernardino County, which didn't have many of the environmental restrictions that had precluded the use of numerous other venues. Ueberroth then worked out a deal with California Governor George Deukmejian that, if environmentalists succeeded in blocking construction of a temporary shooting range on the Prado site, the state would guarantee use of one of its police training facilities near Sacramento.

Work began on the shooting venue in August. It's supposed to cost the Los Angeles committee only about $2 million. And if Ueberroth and Usher still seemed unhappy that they were being forced to include shooting in the Games—they even neglected to order up a press release to announce the site's groundbreaking—at least they avoided the international embarrassment that would have attended not putting on one of the 21 Summer Olympic sports.

The LAOOC staff is now being steadily expanded toward a projected 50,000 or so paid and volunteer personnel by the time the Games begin. Both inside the regular staff and among the 34 elite sports commissioners, a position Ueberroth created to attract talented private citizens, no one, it seems, is allowed to even implicitly challenge the leadership. Shooting commissioner Kearl, an anesthesiologist in real life, found this out last October when he was fired after having spoken on a couple of occasions to reporters without permission and after having helped organize a grievance meeting of many of the commissioners in a private home.

Ueberroth and Usher had shown up uninvited at the meeting, and an angry Ueberroth warned the commissioners never to assemble on their own again. According to two commissioners, Ueberroth said that if more than two of them even got together socially and he heard about it, he'd fire them.

A week later, however, as Ueberroth sometimes does, he let it be known he had had second thoughts. Within weeks, commissioners' meetings called by Ueberroth and Usher had become so frequent that some of the commissioners were complaining about the time they were taking. But, more important, the commissioners' concerns about lack of communication and staff assistance were assuaged. "Ueberroth manages by intimidation," charges one LAOOC staffer. But as the aftermath of the commissioners' meeting incident shows, that's not the whole story. He seems to know how far he can push.

In these sorts of matters, the patterns are set, and the outlook is that the L.A. Olympics will be well—if not warmly—administered. What's uncertain is how the Games will be affected by events outside the committee's control. The crisis that followed the U.S.S.R.'s shooting down of a Korean jetliner last fall and the ensuing cancellation by the Soviets of their participation in a series of pre-Olympic competitions was a blunt reminder of the vulnerability of the Games to world politics. In a low moment, Ueberroth acknowledged that he was worried. He noted that the committee's contract with ABC calls for "downward arbitration" of the sum it has to pay if the Soviets and the Eastern bloc states don't show up. This, LAOOC financial aides have said, could cost the committee $60 million or more, though Ueberroth insists such a loss wouldn't endanger the committee's solvency.

More significant, an Eastern bloc boycott undoubtedly would be joined by many Third World countries, dramatically lowering the competitive standards of the Games—and public interest in them. Such a boycott could be a severer blow to the L.A. Olympics than the American absence was to the Moscow Games, considering that Eastern athletes recently have been more successful than Western ones.

The Soviets and their allies have said they won't inform the LAOOC if they're coming until the deadline set by the IOC—June 2, just eight weeks before the Games begin. For the moment, international tensions, at least as they might affect the Olympics, have been reduced, and there's growing optimism that the Soviets et al. will be present. In Sarajevo last month, Constantin Andrianov, the senior Soviet IOC member, surprised Los Angeles representatives by complimenting the organizing committee and drawing a distinction between its desire to welcome the Soviet team and what he termed a more "unwelcoming attitude" on the part of the U.S. Government.

Andrianov was referring to the Reagan Administration's coolness toward a Soviet request to land 25 Aeroflot charter flights in Los Angeles and to berth a cruise ship in Long Beach Harbor during the Games. An Administration spokesman said last month that it's likely that some, but not all, of the flights will be permitted, despite the fact that Aeroflot hasn't been allowed to fly into the U.S. since 1981. The decision on the cruise ship is also pending.

Two other major uncertainties have to do with smog and security. The mere mention of smog offends the organizers, who insist it won't be a problem. Usher is so touchy on this subject he has even tried to persuade reporters not to write about it. The LAOOC was delighted last summer when, on one of the smoggiest days of the year in L.A., Vladimir Salnikov of the U.S.S.R. broke a world record in the new Olympic swimming pool and remarked, when asked whether the smog had bothered him, "What smog? I don't see any smog." Nonetheless, recent weather records show that while it's unlikely, it's conceivable that smog will hamper the Los Angeles Games. One committee official has admitted that had the smog been just a little worse the day Salnikov broke his record, the competition might have been delayed a few hours.

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