Working at the 1984 Olympics

It was 1984 and I was teaching kindergarten in downtown Los Angeles’ Korea Town. The school had been built to serve 800 students, and we now had 2400 children enrolled. The Board of Education worked to be as creative as possible in handling the overcrowded conditions. One of the strategies was to schedule year-round classes; everyone was in session for eight weeks, and then on vacation four weeks. My class, this year, was on vacation in June, the month Los Angeles was hosting the Olympics.

Late that May I found in my school mailbox an application form for a job working at the Olympic Games. Since I had no plans for that month I filled out the application and tossed it in the outgoing mail.

To my surprise, the next week I received notification that I was hired, and was to report the following Saturday to Loyola University for instructions and indoctrination. I showed up along with a handful of other applicants—many of them also were teachers on the same schedule as mine—and we were taken on a tour of the facilities, introduced to the people in charge, and told what our duties would be. Then we were brought into a huge room filled with boxes of Levi manufactured chartreuse pants, jackets and hats, trimmed in hot pink, along with white shirts. We were to pick out our size, and wear them as our uniforms while we were on duty. I was assigned to be a dispatcher.

Loyola University was the venue of the Weight Lifting contests. The horror of the Israeli Team members being murdered en masse in Munich in 1972 was still on everyone’s mind. Eight-foot high cyclone fencing had been especially installed to keep the athletes safe from attack, and from getting lost. Buses were to bring the teams from their downtown hotel, and drive to inside the fence. The gates were locked behind the buses as the passengers came off.

It was my job to escort the teams to the gyms where they would work out, see the doctors for steroid testing, and to special stands where they could watch the contests. When it was time for the teams to leave the facility I would check that the entire team was on their assigned bus, confer with the driver on the destination, and what route they were to take. It was an interesting and busy three weeks. Some of my memories:

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When we were not actually working we sat at tables in the sunny patio. Fast food was always available as was free Pepsi Cola and Snickers candy bars. The big TV was constantly tuned to the Olympic Games coverage. When we were off duty we could go into the stands and watch the weight-lifting events.

Olympic pins were always a subject of trading, collecting, and discussion. Foreign teams would trade their pins for local pins or handed out for favors. Colleague Michael, a music teacher, was a member of Gold’s Gym and a weight-lifter himself. He went down to the Venice Boardwalk and procured dozens of Venice tee shirts for about a dollar apiece. He used those to trade the foreign contestants for their pins.

Pins and Hats at the LA Olympics
Pins and Hats at the LA Olympics

The year before I had been invited to a tour of South Korea by the Minister of Education. The Korean custom was to hand out gifts to everyone at every opportunity. I bought a lot of canvas shopping bags with the Los Angeles logo to give each team member, telling them I had appreciated my visit to their country. In return they gave me a pin from Korea.

Arnold Schwartzeneger, Hollywood action film icon and former “Mr. Universe” body builder, was there almost every day. He would bring friends or family as guests, and they would watch the contests with avid interest. I escorted them to and from their seats.

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The most memorable event came on my last evening of work. There was a huge banquet to celebrate all the contestants, along with many friends and families of dignitaries. The next day’s only schedule was the closing ceremonies. I was there both as guest, now elegantly dressed for the occasion, and also still as working dispatcher. The décor, the food, the drinks, the service were all five star. Everyone was relieved of contest tensions, and excited to be going back to their regular lives. . . .

The Romanians got the most attention. There were about twenty-five men on the team and they came roaring into the banquet room dressed in pink shirts with starched white collars and cuffs, and dark slacks. One of their team had been awarded the gold medal the day before.

After the dinner, accompanied by speeches and toasts, everyone headed out for their buses to go on to other parties. It was my job to see that all of the teams were properly loaded onto the appropriate buses.

Buses at the 1984 Olympics
Buses at the 1984 Olympics

The buses were lined up with their doors open and motors running. People were saying goodbyes, looking for their own buses. Chaos reigned. I suddenly became aware of myself standing outside the open door of the Romanian bus, having checked off all but one of the team. The missing member was the Gold Medal winner. Had he disappeared? No. There he was in plain sight about ten feet away, rolling around in the weeds with an adorable young blond American girl. They were completely intent on what they were doing.

Some of the team members were watching out the windows, some were grumbling about the delay, and three or four of them were holding up makeshift “score cards” against the bus windows, rating their Gold Medal winner on his current performance. Other teams and bus drivers were showing their impatience.

Still standing by the open bus door, school teacher/dispatcher Carolyn was wondering what she was supposed to do.

Within moments the Gold Medalist consummated his business, hopped on the bus while pulling up his zipper, and the bus rolled on its way.

I wonder what kind of memoir that girl is entertaining her grandchildren with today.

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