Los Angeles — Members of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) had VIP seats at the Pan American Games in Caracas this summer - they just couldn't get to them. Someone had forgotten to install a gate to let them through the chain-link fence.
It was nothing a pair of wire cutters and a sense of humor couldn't solve.
But it's the kind of oversight that makes organizers of the first privately financed Olympics squirm, says one LAOOC executive. Organizers here pride themselves on a corporately precise clinch on everything that impinges on the Olympics, from trash pickup and diplomacy to smog.
If Walter Mitty had an MBA, planning the LA Olympics might be his fantasy. Olympic management has attracted a steady stream of professionals, including corporate executives lured out of their board-room chairs to full-time, lower-paying, subordinate positions at the LAOOC.
Average citizens witness the Olympic buildup in the proliferation of official paraphernalia - ''official'' Olympic mugs, key rings, stuffed animals, candy, and more. Athletes see the Olympic buildup through the rigors of practice. But for organizers in a three-story concrete-and-carpet hive of activity on the edge of the University of California campus, the 1984 summer Olympic Games are a business operation, an operation that will be visible only in its results - a smooth-running or a flawed Olympics.
Asked what distinguishes the 1984 Games from past ones, LAOOC management committee vice-president Edwin Steidle shoots off a curt reply: ''We're not broke.''
That's the businesslike approach that characterizes planning for the LA Games. With less than 11 months till the July opening ceremonies, officials constantly remind their critics that, for the first time in modern Olympics history, games preparation is under budget and ahead of schedule. This, say organizers, is largely due to these factors:
* The games are being managed by private businessmen, relieving the host city of financial responsibility.
* Private financing will fund the games, largely through corporate sponsorships amounting to a minimum of $4 million.
* The games, for the first time, may turn a profit, as existing facilities are being used.
Athletes will be housed in dormitories at UCLA on the west side, and the University of Southern California next door to the LA Memorial Coliseum (site of the 1932 Olympics and the 1984 track events and opening ceremonies). Some existing sports facilities include the Forum (home of the Lakers), the Sports Arena (former home of the Lakers), the Rose Bowl, Santa Anita horse racing park, Dodger Stadium, and various college facilities. Renovations of existing facilities and the building of two new facilities - the McDonald's (as in fast-food hamburgers) Swim Stadium and the Southland Corporation-sponsored Velodrome - are being donated completely by private industry.
The LAOOC is doing a good job of controlling what can be controlled, says Ken Reich, a Los Angeles Times reporter whose near-exclusive assignment for the past six years has been the Olympics. But, he adds, ''There has not been a crisis-free Olympics since Tokyo in 1964.'' Mexico City had student demonstrations in 1968, Munich had a terrorist attack in 1972, Montreal had a $1 billion debt, Moscow had the US boycott.
Management can do just so much, explains Mr. Reich. But as the orbits of the amateur sporting worlds coincide here next summer, the operation will expand so rapidly and generate such pressures - local and national - that it will reach a kind of ''explosive critical mass,'' explains Reich.
That critical mass includes elements of concern such as: the LA basin's smog, heaviest during the summer heat; traffic on southern California's already busy freeways; transportation and security for athletes at more than 20 Olympic sites , some of which are separated by more than 200 miles; and expenses incurred by public services.
(Ironically, LA Olympic critics originally opposed hosting the games because it would cost the taxpayers money. But now that the LAOOC is perceived as fiscally responsible, says one planner, it is viewed as ''money bags rather than a boondoggle,'' and officials now want the LAOOC to pay them for services. Further, while the LAOOC is tight-lipped about the kind of security it will provide within the Olympic venues, bickering among federal and local law-enforcement agencies over who will have lead jurisdiction in combating possible terrorist activity has become a public issue.)
* The honeycombed corridors of the LAOOC headquarters provide a blueprint of sorts for the 1984 Games. The inner grid of offices, in their titles alone, conveys the scope of committee responsibilities in feeding, housing, and communicating with the 10,000 athletes and their complement of a quarter of a million spectators and media personnel:
Linguistic Services. Athletes come from 151 nations to the games, and someone must translate for them - from the initial Olympic invitation to the moment they leave for home.
Government Relations. The organizing committee, for example, will help obtain visas for athletes from countries that don't have diplomatic relations with the US. It will also smooth customs procedures for the 200 horses that will be brought into the US.
Transportation. Hundreds of buses and cars will be used to get athletes to the 23 Olympic sporting sites.
Design. From ticket color, to posters, flags, clothes for employees, and pictograms (informational signs), the ''look'' of the Olympics must be uniform. For millions of TV viewers, the ''look'' of the Coliseum, built in the 1920s, and that of the newer stadiums must be tied together somehow to make them all look like part of the same festivities.
Personnel. The committee will eventually grow to a permanent staff of 1,500 and a temporary staff of more than 40,000 by next summer. The committee will outgrow its present site this month, and will move to the expansive floor of a McDonnell Douglas aircraft hangar.
Architecture and construction. Blue-prints for everything from fences (and gates) to archery diagrams, dormitory layouts, and track conduit are cubbyholed by planners in charge of the extensive renovations of existing facilities.
Tickets. 8.9 million tickets will be distributed in a direct-mail lottery system.
Technology. Among other things, the LAOOC will equip the LA Convention Center , headquarters for the more than 8,000 accredited print media, with the latest electronic equipment.
''This is a dead-end situation - it's a five-year job of planning for a two-week event,'' says George Broder, LAOOC deputy press secretary. Like the 500 other employees here, he will be out of a job with the closing ceremonies of the games in August. But, like others, Mr. Broder didn't find it hard to leave a job in Washington, D.C., ''to be a part of history.''
Edwin Steidle, LAOOC senior vice-president, took early retirement from his position as chairman of the board of May Company-California department stores to have a hand in management here. Executives are working for a third of a quarter of the salary they could be making, he says. But games management is a pioneering opportunity.
''There's nothing you can pattern yourself after,'' Mr. Steidle says. ''There's been no management situation in the history of business like this. . . .''