THE LAST TIME L.A. landed the Olympics, it was because nobody else wanted them.
In 1977, when bids were due to host the 1984 Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee was still waiting by its mailbox in Switzerland for an application from some city somewhere in the world besides Los Angeles. Anyone? Anywhere? When the mailman didn’t stop, the IOC gave it to L.A.
Tehran had been in the running, but the shah of Iran — who could have filled a hundred Olympic swimming pools with light sweet crude — decided that the Games were too expensive. Everyone was spooked by Montreal in 1976, when the Games ran a billion dollars in the red. After that, a chastened IOC agreed to a budget Olympics — “spartan and businesslike,” as Mayor Tom Bradley put it, and, as it turned out, the first Olympics to make money.
Monday is the deadline for the last two U.S. cities in the running for the 2016 Olympics to file detailed bids to the U.S. Olympic Committee: Chicago and L.A., City of the Big Shoulders versus City of the Big Breasts. The USOC will choose one to forward to the IOC.
I thought I didn’t want another L.A. Olympics. I loved the no-traffic fortnight of the ’84 Games; it was so pleasant, like living in L.A. after a neutron bomb blast. But I couldn’t bear seeing “festive federalism” again, the 1984 Olympics’ color theme that was so anxious to offend no one that it inspired no one: magenta, vermilion, aqua and the color of French’s mustard when it dries on Levi’s. Plus, I am still sitting on a closetful of 1984 Olympic souvenirs worth jack-all on EBay.
But now I truly do want Los Angeles to land the 2016 Games. It has nothing to do with this little spat you may have heard about between the L.A. Times and its Tribune Co. overlords in Chicago. Nothing.
Why L.A. and not Chicago? Where to start? L.A. jogs. Chicago, as the song says, merely toddles. L.A.'s BMI, at least in westerly ZIP Codes, is awesome; Chicago was Men’s Fitness magazine’s fattest burg of 2006. Give us the Summer Games; Chicago can have the Olympic pie-eating contest.
I consulted my Chicago Trib sports columnist pal Mike Downey for more analysis of our dueling cities.
Downey: President Obama could proclaim, “Let the Games begin,” and Vice President Winfrey could host closing ceremonies.
Morrison: Nix. President Villaraigosa will do the honors, and Gov. Beckham will kick the first ball.
Downey: Chicago is a much safer city. When we throw an Olympic Games, our guests will be able to buy extra protection from some of our top mobsters.
Morrison: Have you ever seen the paparazzi in action? I’ll put the Academy Awards security guys up against the Midwestern mob any time.
Downey: L.A.'s stadium is too old. I think Hercules threw the discus there.
Morrison: The Coliseum is only as old as Henry Kissinger, but Soldier Field? The soldier it was named after is Ulysses S. Grant. Old Soldier Fields don’t die — they just get hideously made over by crashing flying saucers.
It’s sweet that Chicago has been trying so hard to copy us. Like California, it banned foie gras on the grounds of animal cruelty. Chicago’s mayor believes in bikes. Chicago might even ban smoking at the beach. (Beach? I guess I slept through “Baywatch: Lake Michigan.”)
Flattering. But why go with a copy when you can have the real thing?
By 2016, as we all know, L.A.'s fabulous transit system will zip visitors from Riverside to Santa Monica, from San Clemente to Santa Clarita. The freshwater, free-flowing Los Angeles River will host every waterborne competition. Palmdale International Airport will welcome tourists with jet-lag aromatherapy booths. Every venue will be more or less in L.A. — unlike Chicago, which proposes preliminary soccer games at the University of Minnesota. And whatever we have to build — Frank Gehry lives here.
None of this will wind up in the actual Olympics bid, which reads like a college admission form, asking such questions as, “Describe your motivation behind the choice of location of key Olympic infrastructure.”
Dump the essay questions. There is one supreme and salient reason why L.A. should welcome the world: We are not America. At least we are not the Beltway-think America that people have come to distrust and protest and fear the world over.
California has already been culled from the American herd by public figures who seize on every cultural earthquake as proof of the Left Coast’s depravity. Pat Robertson wrote a novel about a meteor hitting the coast and putting L.A. a mile under water, and don’t think he didn’t enjoy it.
Of course they hate us. We’re the high-risk, high-payoff destination where Nobel laureates and migrants, the Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, Disneyland and Hollywood arise and flourish, create and heal, connect and feed and entertain everyone else. Come to think of it, is anything more American than that?
Not even Chicago deep-dish pizza.