The Olympic press coverage is a classic example of more is less. As the number of reporters, photographers, television technicians, etc. has increased—and at L.A. it was up to something like one media member per athlete—access to the athletes has had to be limited. The consequence of this excess is twofold. First, despite the more intense coverage, the humanity of the Games and its participants is being submerged by the herd. Second, as the print press increases in size and therefore diminishes its ability to operate, it cedes more and more of its authority to the television network that pays for the exclusive TV rights to the Games. That's a situation that both ABC and the IOC obviously find most convenient.
The problem isn't that ABC is not up to the task as a technical authority. The problem is that the Olympics are unlike all other sporting events. ABC (or whatever network happens to be involved) doesn't end up covering the Games in the journalistic sense, but edits them to make the best variety show. ABC's Olympic "coverage" is more analogous to how it "brings us" the Academy Awards than how it "brings us" the World Series.
It's common for the so-called "medal standings" to be published, listing how many golds, silvers and bronzes each nation has won. But comparing Olympic teams is hardly like matching up the National League East, in which everybody has 25 players and 81 games, home and away. Many obvious factors influence the Olympic count, most notably the size and wealth of nations. For example, among 1984 gold medal-winning countries, the largest, China, has 1,008,000,000 people; the smallest, New Zealand, 3,100,000. The wealthiest, Sweden, boasts a per capita income of $14,821; the poorest, Kenya, $196.
So let's take the population of each gold-winning nation as well as its income per capita and then factor those components in with the country's medal count, awarding three points for a gold, two for a silver, one for a bronze. The result: true medal standings. The top 12 would look like this (if these figures make less sense to you than diving scores, you'll have to trust me):
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
The synchronized swimming people better watch it or they're going to get tossed out of the club barely after they got in. Compulsories in such sports as figure skating have been putting paying customers to sleep for years, but the synchro folks had the gall to issue this statement: "The figure session is regarded as tedious and boring and neither the competition director nor the LAOOC felt that it would be correct to sell public tickets to the session."
If symbolism means anything, the most macho Olympic sport was basketball. That's because hoops, male and female, was the only sport that chose not to have its winners presented with bouquets as well as medals. Team handball and field hockey went in for stereotyping: The federations in those sports decided that, yes, the chicks would get flowers, but real men don't stop to smell the Strelitzia.
Flora is hardly new to the Olympics. The ancient all-male Games dressed the nude victors only in olive wreaths, and at both Moscow and Sarajevo the custom, with bouquets instead of wreaths, had returned in some measure.
In L.A. the floral tributes—donated by a florist chain called Conroy's, which valued them at 20 bucks a throw—were specifically designed to correspond with the Games' so-called "festive federalism" official colors. That meant each bouquet was topped off by an orange and purple Strelitzia (which you may know as the bird-of-paradise and which, not coincidentally, is L.A.'s city flower), plus yellow Oncidium orchids, two purple Liatris, and magenta and orange Gerberas.
What was especially nice about the bouquets—boo-quets to you, basketball—is that they caught everybody by surprise. There are no flower T shirts or hats or pins. We will just have to remember, happily, that '84 was the Flower Games.