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For This, You Can Thank L.A.

The sun was shining, the sky was falling, doves and Frisbees were flying, and the world finally got its crazy act together in the city where the morning calm meets the midday kong hae (smog).

It’s official: We’re rockin’ in the ROK (Republic of Korea).

America’s athletes meandered proudly into Olympic Stadium Saturday morning, the most undisciplined marchers in the parade, the most animated characters of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, with the possible exception of the Frisbee-flinging Canadians.

The Americans waved and mugged for the TV cameras, held up funny signs and hotdogged it to the hilt.

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Then, some minutes later, the Soviet team marched in, its ranks nicely aligned, its athletes more solemn and subdued than the Americans but no less proud and spirited.

As soon as the last Soviet athlete emerged from the north tunnel into sunlight, I broke out in goose pimples and a cold sweat. I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream:

“Somebody slam the gate and lock the lock! We finally got everybody together for an Olympics. Lock everyone in before some government breaks a treaty or invades a neighbor and half the teams here take their javelins and swim goggles and go home in a snit.”

I wanted some big-shot official to grab the stadium public-address microphone and announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, nobody gets out of here until the Americans find out what a Sergei Bubka is and the Russians find out what a FloJo is. These Games will not be over till they’re over.”

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The world is supposed to come together every four years for an Olympic Games, but some touchy country or bloc always gets its feelings hurt and we wind up with a semi-Olympics, a contest that is about as global as the World Series or the America’s Cup.

This time, I think we’ve got it.

We can thank the Koreans for their generosity, planning, preparation and hospitality. But the world must also tip its hat to Los Angeles, because that’s the city that made all this possible.

Every 50 years or so, the world hands the Olympic Games to Los Angeles, like a broken toy.

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The project seems hopeless, but Los Angeles hammers and saws and adjusts and oils, then hands the Olympics back to the world and says, “Here. Try not to screw it up again. Damn thing is hard to fix.”

If the ’32 Olympics in Los Angeles hadn’t been a surprise roaring success, the Olympic movement would have been laid to rest.

If the ’84 Games in Los Angeles had bombed--literally, figuratively or financially--the concept of an athletic competition among all nations would have died faster than the leisure suit.

Los Angeles takes its twice-a-century responsibility in stride. To Los Angeles, the Olympics is just another Shriners’ convention. We’re already on the map; we have nothing to prove.

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In ’84, we painted the Coliseum, hung some pretty flags and scared everyone into car-pooling for two weeks. We enjoyed the show, marred by the Eastern boycott, made a monstrous profit, reaffirmed the validity and potential of the Olympics, then went back to the business of being a big-time city in a big-time country.

The full impact of what Los Angeles did in ’84 wasn’t felt until Saturday morning, when the Koreans took the torch from Los Angeles, symbolically speaking, and ran with it. It was a smooth handoff, bordering on glorious.

Seventy thousand proud Koreans sat back and munched the ballpark food--smoked squid and seaweed rice balls, washed down with peanut tea--as a cast of thousands marched, ran, danced, sang, broke boards with their feet and parachuted into Olympic Stadium.

“I consider myself a messenger from heaven who is coming down with wishes for good luck for the Seoul Olympics,” said Chon Myong Sun, one of the few female skydivers among the 76 who filled the sky and dropped in on the ceremonies.

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So far, her message is getting through. But I won’t believe it until I see Jackie Joyner-Kersee settle into the blocks and exchange cool glances with Heike Drechsler, or until I see Danny Manning isolate Arvidas Sabonis out on the wing and their nose-tips touch.

After all, you can’t go mano a mano if only one mano shows up, which has been the case since 1976. The last two times around, the Olympics have been a picnic in which someone always forgot to bring the potato salad or the watermelon.

As the athletes marched into the stadium Saturday, I was hoping someone would be smart enough to lock out any suspicious guys wearing suits and frowns. This is no time to negotiate, hold meetings or conferences, blow up missiles or turn First Ladies loose to snip and snarl at one another.

These are games, man--sports, all-comers, our best against everyone else’s. It’s serious fun, which is the best kind. It will only happen once in the 1980s, over the next two weeks.

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It seems like such a great idea. We should do this more often.


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