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County Would Make Ideal Host for Festival

Excuse me, but has anyone noticed that Los Angeles plans to keep the 1991 U.S. Olympic Festival all to itself, that not a single event is likely to be shared with Orange County? And does anyone have Olympic founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s home phone number; I’d like to give him a call and complain.

As it stands now, said U.S. Olympic Committee officials, each of the 38 Festival sports probably will be located north of the county line, which doesn’t seem the least bit fair. After all, Orange County did its part during the 1984 Summer Games. Some thanks, too. You mean to tell me that the 1991 Festival can’t even spare taekwondo or, say, rhythmic gymnastics?

It doesn’t appear so. The Los Angeles local organizing committee bid successfully for the event and, as is its right, apparently has decided to keep the Festival within the confines of the city and adjacent areas. Too bad, Orange County would have treated it well.

Granted, the Olympic Festival has never been mistaken for the seventh game of the World Series, but it does have its moments, certainly more than the average Super Bowl. There is an innocence to the Festival, which is a pleasant change. Better yet, is the effect it has on a community.

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Here in Oklahoma City, the Festival has served as a rallying point. Stung by a depressed economy, betrayed by a once-proud University of Oklahoma football program, the city has used the Festival to improve local self-esteem.

Corny as it may sound, it has worked.

In less than a year (June, to be exact), bids are due for the 1993, 1994 and 1995 Olympic Festivals. How nice if Orange County became seriously involved in the process and earned a Festival of its very own. Think of the possibilities:

Rather than depend on the kindness of strangers (the Los Angeles organizing committee, for instance), Orange County would be on its own. And isn’t that the favorite criticism of the county, that it lacks character, an identity? An Olympic Festival, in its own way, would help change the misperceptions.

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There would be an economic impact, of course. But more fulfilling would be the sight of Fullerton working with Anaheim, or Newport Beach working with Mission Viejo, or Costa Mesa working with Santa Ana. It would be an opportunity to show that Orange County is more than beaches, BMWs and Bullocks.

“We like to see communities join together,” said Sheila Walker, director of Olympic Festivals and Competitions.

They also like to see communities express an interest in the Festival, but at last check, Orange County wasn’t among the 18 representatives here to observe and review the Oklahoma City operation. San Diego officials are here, so are members of the Los Angeles committee. “But Orange County didn’t send anybody,” Walker said.

That doesn’t mean it’s too late for Orange County to prepare a bid, just that a prime opportunity to assess the pros and cons of a Festival was wasted. Or as Walker warned: “If Orange County hasn’t done anything yet, it had better start fast.”

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First, is this matter of actually organizing a committee of civic leaders and fund-raisers. “You’ve got to get an organization of people who really want the Festival,” said Bob Condron, USOC assistant director of public information. “It’s more than a couple of people sitting around in a barber shop talking about it.”

This is where the people at the Freedom Bowl or at Disney could help. For example, what better sponsor of a national amateur athletic event such as the Festival than Disney? And what local sports operation has a better understanding of fund-raising possibilities and business contacts than the Freedom Bowl? Assorted visitors bureaus could become involved, too.

Just an idea.

Next is the need for Festival sports venues and suitable backup sites. Did someone mention the availability of UC Irvine or Cal State Fullerton or Golden West College or Chapman College? Wouldn’t it be possible to have the opening and closing ceremonies at Anaheim Stadium? And aren’t there at least a dozen high schools with quality athletic facilities?

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Venues? A piece of cake.

“In an area like Orange County, it would be perfect,” said Condron, who used to live in Costa Mesa.

No use worrying about the remaining Festival considerations. Hotel availability wouldn’t likely be a problem. Transportation is easily solved, what with three airports available. The weather is hot, but no worse than Oklahoma City or Houston or Baton Rouge, recent Festival hosts. If I’m forgetting something, just say so.

Orange County can do this. In fact, Orange County should do this. It owes it to itself.

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