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Stage Awaits Encore

Times Staff Writer

Paris, London and Los Angeles are the only cities that have played host to the Summer Olympic Games twice.

Paris and London are currently in a five-way race for the 2012 Games -- along with New York, Madrid and Moscow. The International Olympic Committee will choose the 2012 winner next July.

Where does that leave Los Angeles? In the mix for 2016, perhaps. Or 2020. Or 2024, and beyond. This is because in L.A., bidding for, or staging, the Games has been part of the fabric of life in Southern California since the 1930s.

“The idea that going to the Olympics can be a generational experience can be true in L.A.,” said Barry Sanders, chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games. “We can make that happen here.”

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L.A.'s Summer Games were staged in 1932 and 1984.

The 1984 Games, under the direction of Peter Ueberroth, with an emphasis on corporate sponsorship, set the financial model for the Games as they are now. Those Games also turned a $232.5-million profit, reigniting interest from cities around the world after boycotts and the cost overruns of the 1976 Games in Montreal had dimmed Olympic enthusiasm worldwide.

Since 1932, meanwhile, L.A. has bid for the Games 11 times -- for every Summer Olympics from 1948 to 1984 and, most recently and unsuccessfully, 2012.

After years of playing second fiddle to Detroit, Los Angeles emerged as the U.S. candidate city for the 1976 Games and, under the leadership of lawyer and civic booster John Argue, for the 1980 and 1984 Games. In fact, L.A. turned out to be the only city in the world that wanted the 1984 Games; Tehran, which had expressed interest, dropped out amid the turmoil heralding Iran’s Islamic revolution.

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It is only now, 20 years after 1984, that the prospect of landing a third Olympic Games is being taken seriously in certain circles -- though, as the 2012 bid underscored, it might still be too soon. Skeptics point out that 52 years elapsed between the 1932 and 1984 editions, and those were the only Summer Olympics held in the United States during that time. Atlanta held the 1996 Games.

But organizers have pressed ahead, quietly building support among prominent local business leaders and political and sports officials. At the same time, several local groups have helped stage sports events designed in part to keep Southern California in the minds of international sports officials and build the personal relationships that can prove key to winning an Olympic bid.

Argue, who for years ran the Games committee, died in 2002; a plaque in his honor was recently unveiled at the Coliseum. His death prompted a reexamination of the committee’s mission and membership; a review of documents revealed that the committee’s charter, which dates to 1939, included not only bidding for the Games but, in a wider sense, promoting the Olympic movement in Southern California.

Leadership of the committee passed to Sanders, a partner at the law firm of Latham & Watkins, and David Simon, president of the L.A. Sports Council, a private, nonprofit group that seeks to attract sports events to the region. Simon also serves as committee president; the work is on a volunteer basis.

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Members of the board include Janet Evans, the Olympic swimming star; Tom Lasorda, the former Dodger manager who guided the 2000 U.S. baseball team to gold at the Sydney Olympics; Laker executive Jeanie Buss; and Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Vice chairmen include Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which built Staples Center, and Casey Wasserman, owner of the L.A. Avengers in the Arena Football League and grandson of the late Lew Wasserman, the Hollywood mogul.

The elder Wasserman served on the executive committee of the 1984 organizing committee. In a further family tie, Casey Wasserman is married to the granddaughter of Paul Ziffren, chairman of the 1984 L.A. Games committee.

“I have long and deep memories of that Olympic experience,” said Wasserman, who was 10 years old in 1984. “It set the bar for the modern Olympics.

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“If I can in some way help to try to do it again -- given both my love and remembrance of that time, and my interest in the sports business and sports in Los Angeles -- it’s one of the most unique things you can do in sports.”

The 2012 bid underscored the type of bid L.A. can be expected to keep putting on, a “privately funded, no-taxpayer-burden Olympics,” Sanders said. It relied on existing facilities and called for minimal construction expense.

A host of venues, including Staples Center and the Arrowhead Pond, have been built since 1984, and would essentially be ready to go -- today -- for a third edition of the Games.

Also new in the last few years is the sprawling Home Depot Center in Carson, which features a 27,000-seat soccer stadium, a 30-court tennis complex (which includes an 8,000-seat stadium, expandable to 13,000), and other facilities for softball, baseball, beach volleyball, basketball, track and field and other sports.

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The center is an official U.S. Olympic training site as well as the national team training headquarters for the U.S. Soccer Federation. The San Diego Chargers will be conducting preseason training camp there for the next five seasons.

Because so many facilities already are scattered around the Southern California landscape, the 2012 bid envisioned that only one facility of 33, a shooting range, would have had to be built from scratch.

Bidders projected a budget surplus of $96 million on revenue conservatively estimated at $2 billion -- what Sanders called a “superior legacy” that could help underwrite Olympic operations worldwide, in the same way that hundreds of millions of dollars, investments from the 1984 profit, have been distributed to youth sports in Southern California.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, however, eliminated Los Angeles from the list of applicants in a lengthy contest that winnowed a group of eight to two, San Francisco and New York, and then in 2002, to New York.

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“We wish them all the best,” Sanders said. “But if they don’t make it and the thing were to open up again for 2016 and we were invited to bid, we would be up and ready to go.”

To that end, the area has been the scene in recent months of several Olympic or international sports events, including the Olympic swimming trials in Long Beach this month and gymnastics trials in June at the Pond.

Last year saw the women’s soccer World Cup tournament and the gymnastics world championships.

On tap for 2005 are the world championships in track cycling on the velodrome at the ADT Events Center, North America’s only indoor velodrome, at the Home Depot Center and, again at the Pond, the badminton world championships.

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Scheduled for 2006 is a stop at the Home Depot Center track on the World Cup track and field circuit.

“Did we go after these things because of the Olympics? No,” Simon said. “These things are good in and of themselves. But these are events that help us build relationships with officials that can help us get other events.”

Said Sanders: “We’re respecting New York. We’re doing things that help the movement when we’re not bidding.

“But when the moment is appropriate, we are very serious,” he said, adding a moment later, “Someday, the Olympics are coming back to L.A.”

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