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The Best Closer in the Games

August 12, 2004|Bill Dwyre

It was now 16 days after David Wolper had lived through one of the best and toughest days of his life.

The veteran Hollywood producer, given the mandate to come up with an opening ceremony that would dazzle the Olympic world in Hollywood's backyard, had done just that. Now, he had to do it again, produce a dazzling closer while problems buzzed around him like angry bees.

First, there was Bill Bedford of the L.A. Organizing Committee, a co-commissioner in track and field, pestering him on behalf of the international track federation, which wanted as many of the men's marathon runners as possible to finish in the Coliseum before the start of the closing ceremony.

Bedford recalled recently that Wolper listened for as long as he could, then stood up and pointed to a stack of letters more than a foot tall. He said those letters were from people all over the world, telling him that the opening ceremony had been the best they'd ever seen.

Bedford said Wolper told him, "So, do you think I should change how I produce an Olympic closing ceremony for a bunch of sweaty people in track shorts?"

Bedford said, "He was right. I kind of backed out the door and left."

Wolper also had a fireworks issue to handle.

A Japanese foundation had donated the fireworks. One of Wolper's aides calculated that it would take 25 minutes to shoot them all off. Wolper knew that would be about 15 minutes too much, so he ordered only some of the explosives to be used.

Soon, he was visited by Secretary of State George Shultz, who had been told that the Japanese government was offended. Wolper resisted but Shultz stood firm. Finally, as Wolper wrote in an article about the opening and closing in '84, he concluded that, if this decision might affect important negotiations between the countries, the correct answer was, "I always wanted to use 25 minutes of fireworks."

Then there was the spaceship.

Wolper had wanted to highlight his closing with the arrival of an alien vehicle. But when the ship was taken on a test run over Santa Monica, it folded in half.

"We called it the Olympic taco," Wolper said recently.

Eventually, lights on a frame were timed with the evening darkness to be hauled over the rim of the Coliseum, hanging from a helicopter that, unlighted, was unseen. On cue, 100,000 people in the crowd, who had been given little flashlights when they entered, signaled back to the spaceship. Later, Wolper wrote, "It soared. It worked the one time it had to work better than it had ever worked before."

Carlos Lopes of Portugal won the men's marathon.

The Games had ended, the U.S. had dominated the competition with 174 medals to second-place West Germany's 59 and 83 gold to Romania's 20.

But it had been so much more than medals.

Fittingly, The Times' Jim Murray sent everybody home with a final nudge of prose.

"Goodbye, world. Nice to know you. Good of you to come. It has been a ball. Don't cry. Go out the way we came in, singing and dancing."

-- Bill Dwyre

Tomorrow: A final look back, Harry Usher

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