LOS ANGELES — A STRANGE reaction sometimes comes over people when they meet the deputy executive director of soccer's Los Angeles World Cup final venue. Some visitors experience a sudden urge to forget about soccer and talk triple-jump instead.
``A lot of times television crews will come through and, especially if they are European, they'll go nuts - `Aren't you Willie Banks?' '' said the official in question. ``I'll go `That's my name,' and then I'll usually wind up doing an interview,'' he said, grinning modestly.
For those who need their memories jogged a little further, a slow clap of the hands may help. Banks, who still holds the triple-jump world record of 17.97 meters set on June 16, 1985, used to encourage crowds to psyche him up with slow, rhythmic hand-clapping as he prepared his long, loping run towards the pit.
In European stadiums, the lanky Californian became something of a cult hero, bringing his music to the stadium and joining the fans in the stands for the fun of it.
Banks is responsible for all contracts relating to the Pasadena Rose Bowl and the official training sites to be used by teams competing in the city from the first round through to the final on July 17.
Cameroon, Colombia, the United States, Romania, and Sweden all play first-round matches in Pasadena.
Banks's time is as likely to be spent answering questions about earthquakes and field conditions as it is in drawing up contracts and acting as a liaison with local politicians.
``We have a contract with the city of Pasadena, and I have to execute that contract and make sure that whenever there's a problem between us and the city I get in between it and negotiate a settlement to the problem,'' he said.
But fun, and the spirit demonstrated by players like Cameroonian veteran Roger Milla, is how he sees the World Cup and how he hopes it will turn out this summer.
``Everybody wants to be a participant, and when they know that their clapping and cheering is encouraging you ... you're going to get better participation from the fans.
``That's sport, that's entertainment. Get the people involved in the game, let them be a part of what you're doing, bring them into the game.''
Banks got into soccer partly because of the time he spent in France and Italy as an athlete.
``I couldn't understand the languages so I just put on sports on the television and there would be a soccer game.''
``It became pretty interesting to me,'' Banks said.