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The Memorable Performances And Facts You Didn't Know From The 1932 And '84 Los Angeles Olympics

By Karen Rosen | Sept. 13, 2017, 6:19 p.m. (ET)

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is seen during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984 on July 28, 1984 in Los Angeles.


It’s hard enough having one tough act to follow, so the Olympic and Paralympic Games Los Angeles 2028 truly has its work cut out for it with two.

Yet who’s better than Hollywood at producing a blockbuster sequel?

The 1932 and 1984 Olympics paved the way for the 2028 Games, which were officially awarded today by the International Olympic Committee at its session in Lima, Peru. Let’s look back at reminders of the first two Games in La La Land.


The Constants

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 

The Coliseum was the first stadium to host two Olympiads and also will become the first to host three. (Different stadiums were used in London and Paris, the other three-time hosts.)

The Coliseum opened in 1923. For the 1932 Games, the Coliseum, then known as Olympic Stadium, held track and field, field hockey, equestrian, gymnastics, lacrosse and American football in addition to the opening and closing ceremonies. It was expanded to hold more than 101,000 spectators. In 1984, the stadium hosted only track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies with a capacity of 92,516 people. For 2028, it will again host track and field and the ceremonies.

The Coliseum has held other notable events including the 1959 World Series, John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, and the first Super Bowl in 1967 (then called the NFL-AFL Championship Game). 

The Rose Bowl

The famous Pasadena stadium, known primarily for American football, hosted track cycling in 1932 and soccer in 1984. It will again host soccer competition in 2018, including the women’s final and men’s bronze-medal match.


The Legacies

1932: Olympic Boulevard, one of the city’s most well-known streets, was renamed to honor the 1932 Games. It was formerly 10th Street, which is fitting since that was the Tenth Olympiad.

1932: The first Olympic Village was used at the Games, although it only housed the male athletes. The temporary facility was set on 321 acres. It consisted of two-bedroom bungalows for 1,206 male athletes and support staff. The owner of the land refused to allow paving, so water trucks kept the ground wet to keep the dust down. Female competitors were no doubt grateful to stay at the Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. 

1932: The three-tiered podium for Olympic medal winners was used for the first time. This was also the first time the national anthem from the gold medalist’s country was played and the flag of the winner was raised.

1932: Automatic timing and a photo-finish camera were introduced for Olympic competition. In the men’s 100-meter, Eddie Tolan and Ralph Metcalfe of the United States were each clocked at 10.38 seconds (rounded down to 10.3, an Olympic record). Judges used newsreel footage to determine that Tolan crossed the finish line first. Metcalfe, who actually reached the finish line first, would have been the winner under today’s rules. In the men’s 110-meter hurdles, Jack Keller of the U.S. was awarded the bronze medal. A film review found that Donald Finley of Great Britain should have been third. According to “The Complete Book of the Olympics” by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, “Keller found Finley in the Olympic Village and gave him the medal.”

1932: The Games lasted 16 days for the first time. Most of the previous Olympics had taken place over several months, but this compact schedule caught on. Subsequent summer Olympic Games have been 15 to 18 days long.

1932: The first and only Chinese competitor at the Games was sprinter Liu Changchun. He was eliminated in the heats of the 100 and 200 and did not compete in the 400, although he was entered. He said after the 100, “I cannot get a better result due to exhaustion from a month-long journey to U.S., and lack of exercise during the journey." 

1984: These Olympics were the most profitable in history, earning $232.5 million. The LA84 Foundation, originally the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, received 40 percent -- or $93 million. Anita DeFrantz, a member of the International Olympic Committee and the LA 2028 Senior Advisor for Legacy, was put in charge of using that money to create a perpetual fund for building youth sport and youth sport facilities in Southern California. In 30 years, the LA84 Foundation has invested more than $225 million to support more than 2,000 youth sports organizations and has made an impact on more than 3 million kids and their families. 

1984: The bronze statues forming the “Olympic Gateway” in front of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum entrance were sculpted by Robert Graham for the 1984 Games. They were controversial since the headless figures are anatomically correct.

1984: Organizers of the Games were frugal, using mostly existing venues, just as will happen in 2028. Led by Peter Ueberroth, the Games were known for being staged with no government financing.

1984: Expanded opportunities for female athletes included the first women’s marathon, first cycling road race for women and the introduction of the female-only rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming events. The marathon was added 56 years after the disastrous 800-meter at the 1928 Games, when, according to the IOC, “doctors declared that women who ran 800 meters would ‘become old too soon.’” The women’s 3,000 was also held for the first time, replaced in 1996 by the 5,000.

1984: The 28,742 volunteers helped make the 1984 Games a success, and 2028 bid leaders pointed to their contributions as a key factor driving Angelenos’ overwhelming support for bringing the Games back to the City of Angels for a third time. The bid has already attracted 12,000 volunteers. Two-time Olympic champion and LA 2028 Athletes’ Advisory Commission Member Bart Conner said: “Simply put, the Games cannot happen without the help of volunteers. They are the soul of the Games. Volunteers are essential to ensuring athletes have everything they need to perform at their very best come competition day. The volunteers at the ‘84 Games were unparalleled in their enthusiasm, work ethic and passion.”

1984: At that time, the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games were not awarded in tandem. Archer Neroli Fairhall of New Zealand was the first disabled athlete to take part in a medal event. The Commonwealth Games champion placed 35th. At the post-event press conference, she was asked if the windy conditions were a help or a hindrance for someone shooting from a wheelchair. Fairhall's answer has reportedly become one of the great New Zealand sports quotes. "I don't know," she said. "I've never shot standing up." Wheelchair racing was a demonstration event, with men racing 1,500 meters and women racing 800 meters. The Paralympic Games in 1984 were held in New York and Stoke Mandeville, a village in England.

1984: Professionals were allowed to compete in the Games in soccer as long as they had not competed in a World Cup. Track and field athletes had trust funds for prize money.


The Memorable Team USA Performances

1932: Mildred “Babe” Didrikson of the U.S. qualified for all five individual track and field events, but the rules only allowed her to enter three. She won the javelin, broke the world record in the 80-meter hurdles. She and Jean Shiley both broke the world record in the high jump, but in the jump-off, Didrikson’s technique was ruled illegal, so she won the silver medal. 

1932: U.S. swimmer Buster Crabbe credited his fantastic finish in the 400-meter freestyle with launching his movie career. He later became Buck Rogers, Tarzan and Flash Gordon. He beat Jean Taris of France by one-tenth of a second, which he said, “changed my life. It was then that (Hollywood producers) discovered latent histrionic abilities in me.”

1932: Eddie Tolan of the U.S. not only won the gold in the 100-meter in a photo finish, he also won the 200. Tolan was known for chewing gum while he ran. At that time, it was standard procedure for the top two U.S. runners not to take part in the 4x100-meter.

1932: American swimmer Helene Madison broke every world record from 100 yards to a mile in 1930 and 1931. She won the 100 freestyle, anchored Team USA to victory in the 4x100-meter freestyle and won the 400 freestyle. She celebrated her third gold medal by dancing at the Coconut Grove nightclub with actor Clark Gable.

1984: Carl Lewis of Team USA equaled the feat of the great Jesse Owens by winning four gold medals. He won the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump and ran a leg on the victorious 4x100-meter. Lewis led the only Team USA sweep of the Games in the 200, with Kirk Baptiste second and Thomas Jefferson third.

1984: Mary Lou Retton became the first American woman to win the gymnastics all-around gold medal and helped the U.S. win silver in the team competition.

1984: Joan Benoit won the first women’s marathon.

1984: Connie Carpenter-Phinney and American teammate Rebecca Twigg finished 1-2 in the first Olympic women’s cycling road race. 

1984: Greg Louganis of the U.S. claimed the gold medals in diving in both springboard and platform, equaling the achievement four years later in Seoul.

1984: Jeff Blatnick dropped to his knees and cried after winning the first American gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling. He was unable to compete in 1980 due to the boycott, then was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1983. Blatnick had surgery to remove his appendix and spleen and underwent chemotherapy before qualifying for the 1984 Games in the super-heavyweight division.

1984: Medal favorite Mary Decker of the U.S. tripped on Zola Budd’s foot in the women’s 3,000 and fell to the track.  

1984: Americans won nine of 12 gold medals in boxing.

1984: Rowdy Gaines, now the NBC Olympics analyst for swimming, was supposedly at the peak of his career in 1980, when he missed the Moscow Games because of the U.S. boycott. At age 25, he finally got his chance to swim at the Games, winning the 100 free and swimming on two gold-medal relays.


Did You Know?

Fresh off the success of the 1932 Olympics, Los Angeles also bid for the 1940 Games, which were ultimately canceled due to World War II. Los Angeles also mounted unsuccessful bids for the 1952 and 1956 Games. The United States Olympic Committee selected Detroit as its bid city in 1960 and 1972, then LA bid again without success for 1976 and 1980. LA was the sole bidder for 1984.

1932: There was no torch relay until 1936, so no final torch bearer. The Olympic cauldron was ignited by a hidden worker during the Opening Ceremony.

1932: Because of the Depression, President Herbert Hoover did not travel to Los Angeles, so Vice President Charles Curtis opened the Games before a record crowd of 100,000. Participation was also the lowest since 1904 because of the extreme financial hardships around the world. A total of 1,332 athletes (including 126 women) from 37 countries competed in 117 events. Four years earlier, 2,883 athletes from 46 countries took part.

1932: The United States won 103 medals – 41 golds, 32 silvers and 30 bronzes. Italy, with 36 medals – 12 of each kind – was next.

1932: Also due to the Depression, the soccer competition was canceled because not enough countries could afford to send teams. Instead, another form of football, American football, was a demonstration sport. Two college all-star teams played each other in the Coliseum, with the final score 7-6. Football has not been held since.

1932: Movie stars supported the cause and helped draw people to Southern California. Hollywood darlings Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks hosted an event at their home, Pickfair. 

1984: Despite the Soviet-led boycott, a total of 6,829 athletes (including 1,566 women) from a record 140 countries competed in 221 events. 

1984: Team USA won 174 total medals -- 83 gold medals, 61 silver medals and 30 bronze medals. No other country came close. Germany had the next-highest total with 59 medals. 

1984: President Ronald Reagan, protected behind bulletproof glass at the stadium, became the first president to open the Games. He ad-libbed, transposing declaration by saying, “Celebrating the 23rd Olympiad of the modern era, I declare open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles.”

1984: The Games had a Disney-esque touch, with mascot Sam the Eagle looking very much like a yellow version of Jose from cartoon, “The Three Caballeros.” He was designed by C. Robert Moore of Walt Disney Productions.

1984: Rafer Johnson, the final torch bearer in 1984, admitted he was worried about falling or failing to reach the top of the 99 steps to the fuse for the Olympic cauldron. Johnson, the 1960 decathlon gold medalist, used his left hand to steady himself as he ran up the steps. In Rome, he was the first black man to carry the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony and he became the first black athlete to light the cauldron.

“I don’t know many things that I’ve done that I’ve been more proud of than having an opportunity to run the final leg in the torch (relay),” Johnson said. “It was the most wonderful couple of weeks I think this city has ever had.”