Olympic triumph in Los Angeles
Each Olympics is successful in its own way - in its minidramas, its individual triumphs, and in its macrodramas and broader themes as well. By all these measures, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was a success.Skip to next paragraph
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Yes, the Soviet, East German, Polish, and other East-bloc teams that boycotted the event were missed. The United States' commanding edge in medals was not a fair representation of America's actual world athletic standing. The US did make gains, however, in providing better training conditions, support for athletes, and technological innovations in sports like cycling, which suggest the Americans would still have done better against the East Germans and Soviets than in the past.
If the East bloc was missed, the presence of China for the first time in 30 years was appreciated. The Chinese excelled in volleyball, gymnastics, diving. Television coverage of the games in China was increased from two hours a day to seven hours, because of public demand. Surely it must have helped to adjust the Chinese public's view of its place in the world to observe its athletes and coaches received so warmly in such a setting.
Some called it, admiringly, ''the Asian invasion.'' Not just China and Japan, which were among the leaders in winning team medals, but other Asian teams also made their presence felt. This sets the stage for the next Olympics, scheduled for 1988 in Seoul. The Pacific nations of the East have become some of today's most dynamic societies. If the Soviet bloc's absence allowed the Asian athletes to shine more brightly in Los Angeles, this was some compensation.
Women athletes won greater recognition. They entered more events and performed with an energy, grace, skill, and grit fully equal to the men's. Who can forget this year's first women's Olympic marathon, the first women's Olympic bicycle road race - testimony, if it was needed, to women's speed and endurance. To give credit where due, women's athleticism was appreciated earlier among the Soviet-bloc nations. In this case, the East bloc's presence would have made the Olympiad even more into ''the women's games,'' a characterization the Los Angeles games deserve.
These were also an ''American'' games. Not just in US team victories, but in the training of so many athletes who competed for other countries although they have chosen to live, study, and train in America. Los Angeles and California itself is truly a mecca of modern sports. And these games occurred in a summer of patriotic resurgence in the United States, and a moment when America's economy leads the world recovery.
Special kudos should go to the courageous Romanians, who defied East-bloc solidarity to compete.
On the downside, there was too much talk of turning the golden moment of athletic honor into the glitter of subsequent commercial success. There was too much boxing, a sport brutal in itself and one that leads to the greatest financial exploitation.
The games are hardly egalitarian. One can still see in the array of Olympic sports a class spectrum, from the pastimes of the well-to-do to the playground games of the poor. Developing nations remain handicapped. The choice of events should continue to expand and evolve.
What stands out at the end is the individual and team efforts, the competition, the roar of acknowledgment from the crowd. Here the Los Angeles Olympians, and the spectators, did the Olympic tradition proud.