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TRAVELING IN STYLE : AN OLYMPIAN LIFE STYLE : Luxury is expected and the expectation is fulfilled. It's travel in the grand manner, and it's all on the house. How an elite group junkets in lavish and leisurely fashion

October 18, 1987|KENNETH REICH | Reich is a Times staff writer. and

They belong to what essentially is the world's most exclusive travel organization, so it was no surprise that the beluga caviar they were served at the swank Moskva Hotel during the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games was the best that the Soviet Union had to offer. Luxury is always expected when this group is on the road, and that expectation almost always is fulfilled. Who are these celebrated souls? None other than members of the International Olympic Committee, and so the Soviets, like most other hosts of the "Olympic family," would scarcely have dared perform otherwise.

What's more, for the 92 IOC members it's all on the house. As a result, they travel in grand style. At no cost to themselves, wherever they go, hotel suites are paid for by the IOC, meals are the finest obtainable and entertainment allowances are liberal. This elite group lives lavishly--to say the least.

Avery Brundage, the imperious American who headed the IOC from 1952 to 1972, paid his own way, as did other members of this now-pampered group. But his successor, Lord Killanin of Ireland, was not as wealthy, so the IOC unlocked the till for him and gradually assumed the expenses of all members.

What's more, for U.S. members it is a tax-deductible gift. The reason given is that the Olympics is now big business, and that this is the organization that owns and directs the Games. To outsiders, it may seem that there is only joy for members who meet in world-famous watering spots: Baden-Baden, Lausanne, Monte Carlo. True to a degree, but the Olympics is recognized as a "super-national" institution, and the discussions held at these meetings are frequently of considerable political as well as sports importance. Even the taxing authorities are respectful of those proceedings.

As a result, meetings and travel for members are high on the expense-account list, and virtually nothing is spared to make life pleasant. Examples:

WHEN the IOC executive board traveled from Lausanne to Paris on the famed French TGV (tres grande vitesse) train for the 90th anniversary ceremonies of the founding of the IOC, they boarded a special car in which they were served a sumptuous meal during this gem of a junket. Upon their arrival in Paris they were whisked by limousine to the luxurious Plaza-Athenee, which-experienced travelers concede--is one of Paris' finest hotels. They were enscounced in individual suites that would make Prince Charlie swoon. A banquet that evening took place at yet another choice Parisian hotel, the Crillon, concluding a day's schedule generally reserved for royalty and celebrities of superstar status. Other banquets, parties and gifts from the French Olympic Committee and those hoping to secure a future Olympics for Paris marked the ensuing two days.

ALMOST without fail each member attending a meeting was given his or her own car and driver for the duration of the stay. On one occasion in Zurich, when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain was called away unexpectedly, it was suggested that the vice president, Louis Guirandou-N'Diaye, might double up with other officials in a single limousine. Guirandou-N'Diaye was aghast. He fumed to his hosts that he would boycott the meeting unless he was given the same car and driver that Samaranch was assigned. Both, not surprisingly, were provided.

NOT only are expensive gifts often presented by host cities and others, but also luxury items are sometimes offered at ridiculously low prices. During the Moscow Games, for example, fine mink stoles could be purchased in the IOC hotel (it was out of bounds to most others) for a mere $400, and caviar sold for $10 a pound.

BANQUETS and private parties in the best restaurants mark virtually all IOC meetings. The closing-night buffet--to which all participants, including the press, are invited--generally features virtually every specialty for which the host country is famous, as well as international delicacies flown in from the far corners of the world. Scattered about the room--in an effort to afford easy access and avoid lines--are multiple buffet tables. Pity the poor Los Angeles Matron who in 1982 put together a party with but one buffet table. Due to the resulting long lines she was banished by the IOC and told that she'd never again be permitted to arrange a blowout for members.

FRENCH Champagne and other fine wines and liquors flow copiously at these functions. And when occasional meetings are held in Third World countries, where public-health standards may be suspect, even the water is imported. When the IOC met in New Delhi a few years ago, enough Vichy and Evian was jetted from Europe so that even local bottled water could be avoided for the entire 10 days.

The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee--known for holding back on expenses--felt constrained to cast restraint to the wind and blow its budget on banquets costing in excess of $100 a plate.

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