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A BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOOK AT THE UEBERROTH AND USHER SHOW . . . : Games Were Business, but Not as Usual

July 28, 1985|KENNETH REICH | Times Staff Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ken Reich covered the Los Angeles Olympics from the beginning of the bid in 1977, to the day they held their Closing Ceremonies Aug. 12, 1984. Among his main assignments was coverage of the daily workings of the people who planned and put on the Games, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Now, a year after the L.A. Games have been written into the record books as a stunning success, Reich has written a book about how the people of the LAOOC pulled it all off. The soon-to-be-published, "Secrets of the Organizing Committee, Inside the 1984 Olympics ," will be excerpted in The Times sports section for six days, starting today.

The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, as its president, Peter V. Ueberroth, made clear, was not the usual business organization that could be run in a usual business way. Neither Ueberroth, nor his executive vice president, Harry L. Usher, bothered afterward to conceal the nature of their administration.

Ueberroth said: "I think that it was strange. It was unusual. There were not normal practices, not normal business practices. It wasn't a time for kindness, to take the time and help people through problems, and people had to be moved aside and shunted. And all that happened. But the result worked."

Usher said: "I think allegiance and fidelity is probably based on respect and fear at its grass roots. Fear alone will never do it. Respect alone might do it most of the time. But without some fear there will be people who are tempted to stray.

"I think that the idea that (staff) people were on the whole quite faithful to the leadership is a result of both respect and a sort of certain level of fear in a way, because Peter's personality lends--either he does it consciously or unconsciously--to unexpected outbursts of both affection and calumny, and you never know which one's coming. And for me, I think I'm regarded as somewhat distant by most people."

"Creative tension" was the phrase some staff members used to describe the regime under which the Olympic committee was directed. Ueberroth said that that was not his term. But he readily acknowledged that he had intentionally set about to "create goals, sometimes impossible goals, and some tensions" in the everyday operation as a means of testing his staff.

The Olympics themselves provided a great incentive. Many of those who came to work for the committee were inspired by the event itself, with all its great international symbolism, to work hard. Others felt that, because the Los Angeles Games were being put on privately rather than by the government, they were a powerful instrument to demonstrate the validity of the American free enterprise system.

Ueberroth and Usher worked hard, too, to inspire their 70,000 employees and volunteers.

"I spent almost every Saturday and Sunday through May and June and July going out to groups of 200 or 300 or 500 or 1,000 that . . . had been formed to work the venues . . . and Peter did the same thing," Usher recalled. "(We weren't) in some room somewhere, isolated, pulling strings."

Usher was sensitive about the hard-nosed image he and Ueberroth earned among those inside who knew how the Olympics had really been put together, and particularly about all the firings and demotions for which they had been responsible.

"A lot of the decisions (that) had to be made to can people and shuffle people around and sort of play chess with the right configuration of people," Usher said, "were all necessitated by having to pull this thing off."

Which didn't make it any easier for the staff. When the Games were over and the stringent rules against talking without supervision to outsiders about their experiences had lapsed, many described the administrative policies with reserve, others with a shudder.

Margy Fetting, a coordinator of the committee's Olympic Neighbors program, recalled: "People were under tight controls there. You were really watched. What time you got in, what you looked like, what your demeanor was, who you hung around with inside . . . I am delighted to be out of it. Only after six months out of it, do you realize how much it robbed you of your life. It just took, it ate everything out of you, and it's like now, I smell trees, enjoy talking to people and have my sense of humor back."

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