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Jim Murray

A Perfect Spot to Go for Gold in the Winter

February 28, 1986|JIM MURRAY

It seems hard to believe, but not so many years ago, the Olympic Games were a drug on the market. Like "The Man Who Came to Dinner," they were running out of hosts.

When Los Angeles got the Games, there was only one other bidder--Tehran. And the International Olympic Committee, which has better sources, apparently, than our State Department, knew the Shah wasn't long for his world. They weren't about to put the Games in that shooting gallery.

They weren't too happy with Los Angeles, either. No sooner did the city get the Games than the voters passed a proposition prohibiting the use of public funds for them.

But, at that, they were not as hostile as another American city, Denver, had been. Denver had been awarded the 1976 Winter Games, then had turned them back altogether in a referendum.

The problem was, the Games had lost a tremendous amount of money in Montreal in '76 and a tremendous amount of trust in the tragic terrorism of Munich in '72. The public attitude was who needs them? You paid for the Olympics in red ink or red blood.

Los Angeles changed all that. It weighed in with Games that made a profit in the hundreds of millions.

It was not the first time much-maligned Los Angeles came to the recue of a sport. When the Dodgers moved here in 1958, the other owners insisted that the new franchise indemnify them for the increased air travel in case the attendance wasn't high enough for them to make it on their old 27 1/2%.

Haw! Major League baseball never saw such attendances. Neither did professional football. Both sports began to dump franchises out here on every bus.

The Olympic Games had been in trouble once before. In 1932, Los Angeles staged them in the pit of the Depression, when no one else in the world even wanted to come to them, and made a million dollars.

There's been a resurgence of popularity in the Olympic Games since L.A. '84. Lots of communities now realize that there must be a tremendous profit potential in an event that, like diamonds, doesn't occur in nature very often.

The clamor for the '92 Summer Games includes half a dozen of the glamour capitals of the world, like Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam.

And the clamor for the Winter Games includes Albertville, France; Berchtesgaden, West Germany; Falun, Sweden; Lillehammer, Norway; Sofia, Bulgaria, and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

And guess who's joining them? Anchorage, Alaska, is who! America's Icebox. Dogsled, USA. Seward's Folly. The home of Dangerous Dan McGrew. A bunch of the boys will be whooping it up in the old Malemute Saloon, all right. Whatever would Jack London, Rex Beach, Robert W. Service think?

A lot of people who think our 49th state consists of a pipeline, a herd of caribou and a couple of hundred guys setting trap lines or reading by whale blubber are going to find out it's as up to date as Biarritz or Chamonix or Davos or Gstaad. The people wearing fur coats will be jet-setters, for a change, and not Eskimos.

Anchorage won the U.S. bidding rights for the '92 Winter Olympics last summer, beating out Reno, Salt Lake City and Lake Placid. Only one city per country gets that honor, and Anchorage will learn from the International Olympic Committee at Lausanne next October if it has scored another first-ball victory before the 92-man governing body.

It's an audacious undertaking for a place that was a glorified mining camp only a generation ago. The Anchorage Organizing Committee has earmarked $264 million for the project, which includes proposed construction of a domed 20,000-seat stadium in time for the events. God will provide the snow and ice.

What are Anchorage's chances? Well, fair for 1992. Excellent for 1996.

The committee points out that Anchorage is almost 250,000 in population now, and even though this is nearly 100,000 more than the current World Almanac thinks live there, it still turns out that only three cities larger than Anchorage ever had the Winter Games.

Anchorage has as many daylight hours at that time of the year as San Francisco, has the same average temperature then as Nebraska, and the moose have long since moved out to the suburbs.

Hardly anyone can believe that the IOC could pick Berchtesgaden out of the hat, the site of Hitler's infamous Eagle's Nest and European Redoubt, where the blood hasn't yet been wiped up.

Falun, Sweden, is the Harold Stassen of Olympic runoffs. Six times it has been rejected by the electorate.

But Anchorage has a lot going for it. The electorate is not apt to put in an amendment to throw the rascals out. It's a territory that was founded on adventure in the first place, and it'll be yet another chance to show the Russians what a terrible mistake they made when they sold it to us for $7 million in 1867.

This should really get Secretary Seward off the hook. First, gold. Then, oil. Now, the slalom.

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