By Alesandra Dubin Posted July 21, 2009, 4:38 PM EDT
LOS ANGELES It was a grand 1980s theme party—but not the kind with sky-high bangs, legwarmers, and jelly bracelets. On Saturday night, the Coliseum was the backdrop for a gala commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles for 16 days that summer, when the U.S.A. led all nations with 174 medals, including 83 golds.
The Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games and the Los Angeles Sports Council, spearheaded by David Simon, president of both groups, cosponsored the event. David Wolper, the producer of the 1984 Games' opening and closing ceremonies, created the show, and Mark Flaisher produced it. Sportscasters Keith Jackson and Jim Lampley served as M.C.s for the event, and Warren Tach was the technical director. ”[Wolper] asked me to produce the show on his behalf, which was a huge honor,” said Flaisher, who only had a few weeks to put the project together.
The party nodded to the importance of the Olympic Games to a city like Los Angeles, but was not tied to a specific, imminent bid. “L.A. bids for the Olympics every time there is an opportunity to do so, and right now Chicago is the U.S. candidate for the 2016 games, and if they were to win there wouldn't be another L.A. bid for 20 years or more,” said Simon, whose two organizations the gala benefited. ”[The event] was partly conceived as a reunion for those who worked on and competed in the Games, since the 1984 Games were arguably the most important event in the history of L.A. Perhaps there are some lessons to be drawn from those unusually smooth-running Games, when everything that people worried about in advance didn't happen. It was because of a lot of specific steps that were taken ahead of time, all the different governmental agencies formed task forces and worked together. You had a successful Games, and you had enhanced cooperation for the city as a whole.”
About 1,100 tickets for Saturday's event sold out; tickets were available to the public at $184 a pop, and a special rate of $84 for affiliates of the 1984 Games. Corporate sponsors included Coca-Cola and McDonald's, who had active roles in '84. Because the Coliseum restricts buildout on the football field itself, organizers built a large tent across the length of one end zone. The 164-foot-wide structure served as a design element and logo backdrop, and also housed a kitchen, restrooms, and amenities, and created a sense of intimacy in the massive space.
Among the standout features of the program—which was anchored by a dinner from Wolfgang Puck—were a dense fireworks display and Dan Schlund, a rocket-pack-propelled man who flew through the air in a throwback to a similar stunt in '84. “It was massively loud for an insane audience response," said Flaisher.
The University of Southern California marching band performed the national anthem; the Angel City Chorale and International Children's Choir performed for the crowd; and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the group. Owen Kirschner oversaw fanfare trumpets, and color sergeant Joshua Smith led the First Marine Expeditionary Force Color Guard from Camp Pendleton.
A march of Olympians—which included close to 20 percent of team U.S.A. 1984—took to the stage to an enthusiastic audience response. “For most people, that was the highlight of the evening,” said Flaisher. While the Olympians were on stage, Rafer Johnson lit the cauldron with a torch, and then a rocket shot up from that cauldron to the built-in cauldron at the Coliseum. ”It was a spectacular night, it was an incredible show. People came up to me with tears in their eyes,” said Flaisher. ”We hit our goal of trying to help people recapture that feeling. It was a once-in-a-lifetimer, a huge blow-out event.”