Real people: why LA wants 2024

It’s a no-brainer that Los Angeles can put on the Olympics. Everyone knows that. Twice before already, and to great success, in 1932 and 1984, so 2024 — like, LA could, if pushed, be ready by Christmas. That is the obvious starting point for an International Olympic Committee “evaluation commission” team, which on Wednesday kicked off three days of putting-on-a-show inspection.

The commission will see the Coliseum, Staples Center and more, all of which exist now, meaning no permanent-venue costs. All good. But what the members won’t see is what sets Los Angeles apart from every other place in the world. They won’t see it because it’s not a see-able thing. It’s a feeling. It’s the feeling the people of Southern California have for the Olympics because the Games are deeply woven into the fabric of life in SoCal.

Tom Yoo, barbecue restaurant owner: ‘It would bring out the best in the city and show the world Americans aren’t all that bad’

Sofia Cervantes, 25: ‘I want to attend the Olympics!’

Gerald Avance, 63: his niece looked like Mary Lou Retton

In a 2024 contest in which Budapest, Rome and Hamburg have dropped out, this — along with the zero-dollar permanent construction budget — is the real story.

In her opening remarks Wednesday to the evaluation commission, Angela Ruggiero, who holds a bunch of titles — LA 2024 chief strategy officer, IOC athletes’ commission chair, IOC executive board member — talked about the Olympic movement’s collective responsibility.

“Our role as IOC members,” she said, “is to look beyond the tangible, for the intangible – for the magic.”

This is the magic. The real people of Southern California. They want the Games.

For the past month, in anticipation of the evaluation visit, regular people were asked about the Olympics. At the barber shop. The grocery store. The chicken take-out place (if you have never been to LA, two recommendations: Zankou, a local legend, with outlets all over town, and Mashawi Grill in the South Bay).

Who did the asking? Me, along with students in my University of Southern California graduate school class, among them Linda Wolff, Matthew Essex and Juana Lopez.

Out of the 24 people (24, get it?!) who were asked for this story if they wanted LA for 2024, only one — a U.S. Postal Service carrier who declined to give her name — said no. Money spent on an Olympics ought to go toward the homeless, she said. Two others said they had no idea LA was in a race for the 2024 Olympics. Every other person not only knew but said yes to LA and 2024, and enthusiastically.

Do the math: 21 of 24. That’s 87.5 percent. Typical polls show approval ratings for the Games in SoCal in the 70s, 80s, as high as 88 percent. In a western democracy, 88 percent approval for anything is exceptionally unusual.

Could this sort of highly unscientific experiment be replicated in some way, in say, London or Athens or even Beijing? Maybe. But in Los Angeles, year after year, since 1932 and especially since 1984, the answer is the same: people genuinely want the Games back.

Simple question: with so many cities dropping out, with so many taxpayers and officials in recent months and years saying no and even hard pass to the IOC, wouldn’t the IOC want to come to the one place in the world where, when folks are asked about the Olympics, the answer is yes?

Only in America, perhaps, could an Asian-American guy run a barbecue place. Maybe only in California. Perhaps only in SoCal.

Tom Yoo, 45, runs Joey’s Smokin’ B.B.Q. in Torrance, California, about a half-hour away from downtown LA in the sprawl called the South Bay. Twice in recent years, Joey’s has won a best-locals barbecue award.

Little-known facts about Torrance:

It has a great craft-beer scene. (Strand Brewing!) Torrance High starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of the finest classics of American cinema. Chuck Norris went to North Torrance High. The Del Amo Mall is, like, enormous. El Camino is, like, a good junior college. Snoop Dogg once lived in Torrance. So did Quentin Tarantino — who filmed the 1994 classic “Pulp Fiction” all over the South Bay.

This is actually the great secret of Southern California.

To live here is to understand that in Los Angeles County alone there are 88 cities, plus 140 unincorporated areas and communities. Again, that’s just LA County. Then there’s Orange County. And Riverside County. And Ventura County.

In all these places, on all these streets, in all these neighborhoods, on all these blocks, in all these towns, amid the millions of people — almost everyone wants the Games.

“In 1984,” Yoo said, “I was 12. I thought the Olympics were the coolest thing ever.

“At the time,” he went on, “my oldest brother was 14. We took the bus to Anaheim,” south to Orange County, “to watch [Olympic] wrestling. I think I still have the box of memorabilia at home. Pins, too. Civic pride!”

So why 2024?

“It would bring out the best in the city and show the world that Americans aren’t that bad.

“Especially now, with our president saying not-so-smart things. They must think we’re morons for electing him.”

Tom Yoo paused, and on the notion of Americans being morons, declared, “We’re not.”

At 25, Sofia Cervantes, who lives in Woodland Hills, California, in the San Fernando Valley, already has her bachelor’s (kinesiology) and master’s (adapted physical activity) degrees, from Cal State-Northridge, and is pursuing a doctoral degree.

Growing up in Orange County, she went to Garden Grove High School, where she learned to speak Vietnamese to go along with Spanish and English.

“I want to attend the Olympics!” she said.

“I am a huge fan of basketball — to have all those great athletes together playing for one country is amazing.”

In 2024, “If LeBron James is still playing by then — LeBron! Klay Thompson! Kevin Durant! Yay!”

Gerald Avance, 63, of Lakewood, California, has been a service technician for the ADT home security company for 28 years. In 1984, he was living in Bellflower, south of downtown LA, and he remembers Mary Lou Retton scoring those perfect 10s on the vault and in the floor exercise: “I have a niece growing up that looked just like her.”

“Why do I want the Olympics to come back?” he asked. “Because they’re fun. It’s prestigious. It’s just crazy!”


Olga Fikotová Connollyová, who now shuttles between Las Vegas and Orange County, doesn’t like to tell her age. (It’s easy enough to look up.) She doesn’t like to brag much about her many and considerable achievements, either. The front of her business card identifies her as “certified fitness specialist.”

Olga Connolly is the 1956 Olympic Games women’s discus gold medalist, when she competed for Czechoslovakia. She married the American Harold Connolly, the 1956 Olympic men’s hammer champion. In 1972, she carried the U.S. flag into Munich’s Olympic stadium.

Why LA for 2024? “The enthusiasm of the people in LA! It was a labor of love, 1984. It caught the imagination of the people in Los Angeles. To this day, you still see cars with 1984 stickers!

“We have more facilities than the Olympics need. They are accessible. Because they are accessible, the traffic won’t even notice it. There won’t be any traffic snarls. I say we can make the Olympic Games in six months.”

Olga Connolly: ‘To this day, you still see cars with 1984 stickers!’

Emonie Butler, 12 (big Gabby Douglas fan), and her mom, Fancy Lewis

Tanun Kodaganti, 24: ‘The city will enhance the spirit of the Olympics’

Saad Bholat, 23, on the Olympics and LA” ‘It should never have left’

Sandra Sallin, 76: ‘I’m not a sporty person, but I’m excited about it’

Debra Dresner, 59: ‘I would go to any sporting events I could get tickets to’

Fancy Lewis was herself just a girl in 1984. Now she is a school administrator and has a daughter of her own, Emonie Butler, who is 12 and a sixth-grader at La Tijera school.

Emonie is a big fan of the gymnast Gabby Douglas. who in London in 2012 became the first African-American to win the individual all-around. In London and again in Rio in 2016, Douglas won gold with the American women’s team.

If she could ask Gabby Douglas one question, Emonie said, it would be this: “I would ask her — was it hard, really hard, to get to where she is now?”

Her mother recalls 1984. “I believe the new generation needs it,” she said. “It would be a big advantage.”

The hipsters have taken over downtown LA. They even have a hipster name for it: DTLA. Tanun Kodaganti, 24, who is from Hyderabad, India, and studying engineering at the University of Southern California, just a stretch up Figueroa Street, is, like, dude, essential DTLA.

If LA were to win, the main press center would be at the new USC journalism school building — just a short Uber drive away. Over the past few years, Uber (OK, Lyft, too, whatever) has significantly contributed to the hipsterizing of  DTLA. After all, if you don’t have to park, you’re not tethered. If you’re not tethered, anything’s possible.

“The city reflects the diversity we see in sports,” he said. For 2024, “The city will enhance the spirit of the Olympics, bringing people from around the world and uniting them toward one goal.”

Saad Bholat, 23, drives for Uber when he’s not otherwise pursuing his studies at the California Islamic University in Fullerton, in Orange County.

His views on the Olympics are clear, concise and succinct.

Should the Games come back to Los Angeles? “Absolutely!”

Moreover: “It should never have left.”

Further: “Please.”

Sandra Sallin is 76 and remembers, like almost everyone who was here then, how the 1984 Games made for maybe the best traffic conditions in modern LA history.

“In ’84, everyone was afraid of the traffic and left town,” she said. “The town was empty and it was fabulous.”

An LA native, an artist/blogger, she said, “I enjoy watching the Olympics on TV. I love watching the artistic events, like ice skating, skiing, diving and gymnastics. It was very exciting to watch the U.S. beat Russia in hockey in the Olympics. I love watching the American basketball stars, too. I would love to volunteer to help at the Olympics. It would be really fun to be a part of it. I’m not a sporty person, but I’m excited about it.”

For 2024?

“I think it would exciting and glamorous, because we’re always looking at cities all over the world and the whole world would be looking at our city. I think people are fascinated by Los Angeles and Hollywood and would have a ball here. And our weather is the best.”

Debra Dresner is a 59-year old interior designer and realtor who grew up in LA.

“I went to the 1984 Olympics and watched the gymnastics,” she said. “It was really great – there were a lot of UCLA gymnasts participating. It was great to have it in my backyard.

“I love the Olympics. It would be incredible to have the Summer Olympics here. I would go to any sporting events I could get tickets to.”

She also said, “It would be great for commerce, travel and for enjoyment. We would get to show off our city.”

Apolo Ohno, 34, grew up in Seattle. The winner of eight Olympic medals in short-track speed skating, he lives now in Century City, on LA’s Westside.

“The culture of LA is something that can’t be written on paper. It can’t be shown on video. You have to be in this incredible place to experience it. Southern California is unique. It’s not just the weather. It’s not just the beautiful scenery and the beaches and the people.

“There’s a buzz and an energy. It’s a melting pot of people and history and innovation — the creative space here is unlike anywhere in the world. That’s why people come to LA. They want to explore their creative intellectual being, whether you’re a writer, a sports athlete, in politics, you’re doing green technologies. It’s endless here.

“Every part of the city has its own unique energy. Together, you’ve got bits and pieces from around the world. Isn’t that what the Olympic Games is about?

“There’s no place like it on the planet. I’ve traveled around the planet. When I’m flying back into LA is when my smile is the biggest.

“The vibe of LA is awesome. I hope they say it just like that: ‘Man, LA is a cool place.’ “

Apolo Ohno (eight Olympic medals, Winter Games), Allyson Felix (nine Olympic medals, Summer Games)

Allyson Felix, 31, has nine Summer Games medals in track and field. She went to high school in the San Fernando Valley and to college at USC.

Her longtime coach is Bobby Kersee. He is married to the great champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who has six Olympic medals — her first a silver in the heptathlon from LA 1984 — and Felix said she has grown up on a steady and happy diet of JJK stories, among others.

Speaking, like Ohno, after a seminar at last week’s Milken Institute Global Conference at the Beverly Hills Hilton, Felix said with a smile, “Bobby has a lot of stories. The ones that I think really resonate with me, competing in the Coliseum — essentially being able to be at home having family and friends there.

“One thing I wished I could have experienced,” Felix said, “is competing at home,” adding, “I’m really excited because I believe LA is such a special place.”

Felix has committed to trying to make the U.S. team for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

But 2024? She laughed.

“I wish, but no,” she said, adding, again with a smile, “I just don’t see it.”

Bunny Seawright in 1932

Annie Seawright, 51; ‘The spirit of LA is deep in my roots’

Bunny and Roy Seawright married in 1928. Each had grown up in the area around the Coliseum, which opened in 1923. A few years after their wedding, they moved to Hermosa Beach. Eventually, they moved to a Hermosa house on what locals call the Strand. The Seawright house turned into a landmark.

Bunny Seawright was a pioneer. In 1932, she tried to make the U.S. track and field team. She came up just a fraction shy in the 100 meters. She keenly felt the Olympic spirit, though, and served as a hostess in what was an LA innovation — the first Olympic village.

In 1984, she volunteered again.

Granddaughter Annie, now 51, ran track at UCLA. She qualified for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials in women’s steeplechase. For a peek into super-local culture, each July 4 sees an event called the “Hermosa Ironman.” You run a mile, paddle a mile on a surfboard, then come back on shore and chug a six-pack of beer; the winner is the first to keep the beer down for 20 minutes. Annie Seawright is a 13-time women’s winner of the Hermosa Ironman.

On a more serious note: she is also an assistant track coach at the local high school, Mira Costa, as well as at the Hermosa Beach Run Club. Younger daughter Piper is a freshman on the team. Jeff Atkinson, who finished 10th in the men’s 1500 at the Seoul 1988 Games, is an assistant coach for the boys’ track team at Mira Costa.

Annie Seawright’s husband, Cory Newton, carried the Olympic flame as it passed through Marina del Rey in 1996. The torch made a celebratory Athens 2004 appearance at a bar in Hermosa that locals still call Critters but is formally now known as the North End — that bar is where the LA Kings have brought the Stanley Cup to celebrate as well.

To continue the athletic legacy in the Seawright/Newton clan:

Oldest daughter Chloe, 17, will play beach volleyball next year at the University of Washington.

“My grandparents are from LA. All four of them grew up in LA. The spirit of LA is deep in my roots. I’m 100 percent LA. As a flight attendant,” for Continental and United, Annie Seawright said, “I have flown all over. I think it’s a great way to showcase where we live and what Southern California has to offer.

“LA can seem so spread-out and eclectic. It’s nice for all of LA to come together for this one event. No matter what part of LA you live in or your circumstances, we all pull together to show the world what we can do and what a special place we live in.

“The LA marathon,” which she has run eight times, “makes me feel a part of all that. The Olympics — exponentially more.”

Goose the Barber: ‘We got it all. I want to make some money!’

The scene inside Stolichnaya Bakery // Google Images from LA Weekly

Iva Božović: ‘You’re rooting for everyone from everywhere …’

Goose the Barber doesn’t remember much about the 1984 Olympics. He was living in Youngstown, Ohio, in middle school then, maybe elementary school.

But Goose would love it if 2024 happened in LA.

Goose has a real name — Brian Davis. He’s 46. He and his family live in Burbank. He moved to LA after college at UNLV, and his store, Legends, on LA’s North Fairfax Avenue, has been in operation for 18 years now. There’s even a sister store (four years and counting) in Sydney, Australia, run by Goose’s brother.

Brian is the father of three — Michael, 21; Brianna, 19; and Ella Grace, 2 — and that’s one reason he wants 2024. “My children are here,” he said. “I would love for them to have the Olympic experience.”

Then there’s the big picture: “Los Angeles is built for all competitive sports. We’ve got the space. We’ve got enough stadiums. We’ve got enough seating. We’ve got enough arenas. We’ve got it all.” And as a small business-owner,” he said, “I want to make some money!”

Anatoly Rekechenetsky runs Stolichnaya Bakery in West Hollywood, tucked into a strip mall next to a Whole Foods. It’s the go-to for Russian rye bread and traditional eastern European pastries.

Why the Olympics in Los Angeles?

“Why not?”

Should the Games be in LA in 2024?

“200 percent yes. 300 percent. 400. 5! 6! 7!”

A few moments later, amid a steady stream of customers, many speaking Russian, Anatoly in English, explained why:

“People become more friendly.”

Until 1992, the Summer and Winter Games were held in the same year. The 1984 Winter Games were held in Sarajevo, which was then part of Yugoslavia. Iva Božović, a 38-year-old international relations professor who lives now in Los Angeles, is from Sarajevo.

“You’re rooting for everyone from everywhere,” she said, “not just people or teams from your hometown. It’s the only time on TV when athleticism is 100 percent at its finest.”

Also, this:

“It teaches Americans we’re not the best at everything — [sports such as] archery, water polo or men’s soccer. It showcases the best athletes in the world in sports we normally don’t get to see. I mean, rowing and sailing — when do people ever get to see that? If the Olympics came to Los Angeles, imagine the youth who could go watch these events and become inspired from witnessing these sports and pursuing their newfound passions.”

Dori Gross, 67: ‘Instead of talking about bad things, we talk about the great things the Olympics bring’

Dori Gross came to the United States from Costa Rica when she was 15. Now she is 67, living with her husband, Robert, in Pasadena. Two granddaughters, 11 and 9, light up her life.

For 36 years, she worked as a hairstylist. “It was a great job! I was always there for my kids. I took them to school and then I went to work. I was room mom. I was team mom. I coached soccer. I was Cub Scout leader. I ran [my daughter] to gymnastics meets for the longest time. Now I’m back in the gym with my two granddaughters. The gyms always smell. I don’t know what it is.”

Dori is a morning regular at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. Sometimes, she sees John Naber, the 1976 Montreal Games swim star, there. Once, she saw the incomparable diving champion Greg Louganis, too:

“I said, ‘Hi, how are you!” Like I knew him! He said, “Hi, how are you?’ You know — you’re so used to seeing his face. It’s Los Angeles!”

The Rose Bowl center has pools for all ages and all abilities — as Dori describes it, there’s the competitive pool, the recreational pool and the therapy pool. “The water is like 92 degrees,” she said, happily.

The center is a busy place. Just to pick one example: LA84, the legacy foundation from the 1984 Games, funds swim lessons for 435 at-risk third-graders, mostly from northwest Pasadena — each kid getting 15 swim lessons, a swimsuit, a cap and goggles, even towel service.

Dori’s action is the Monday-Wednesday-Friday 8 a.m. class in the therapy pool.

“In my pool, I have 12 ladies and three men. We are like so bonded. We do so many things together. We celebrate birthdays. We have Christmas together … they are like a lifeline to me.”

She said, “A lady I hadn’t seen in a while was at the 7:15 a.m. class, the one before us. She was asking how we were. I said, ‘We have two new hips, three new knees and there was something else.’

“We have all kinds of different people in our group. I am the only Latina. We have black people, we have Chinese, we have men, we have women. It’s Los Angeles. We all get along fine. This is why I want the Olympics here. We have that in common. Instead of talking about bad things, we talk about the great things the Olympics bring.”

Getahun Asfaw, 43: ‘I came here 27 years ago. This is my home’

Getahun Asfaw came to Los Angeles in 1989 from Ethiopia. Now 43, the father of three girls, he and his brother, Berhanu, run a restaurant, Messob, that is artfully decorated with crafts from their homeland and, in a place of honor, a picture of the longtime emperor Haile Selassie with Tom Bradley, who served as the mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993.

The ’84 Games were indisputably a highlight of Bradley’s tenure.

The Bradley Terminal at LAX is named for the former mayor.

“LA is everything,’ Getahun Asfaw said “For all kinds of people. Like the Olympics.

“You name it. You can find it here in LA.”

He also said, “All immigrants come from different places. I came here 27 years ago. Now this is my home. It is my place. LA belongs to me. It belongs to them. It is a welcoming place that accommodates everyone.”

Carlos Caamal, 26: ‘The market here and the city itself are fantastic’

Carlos Caamal is 26. The 1984 Games happened way before he was alive. Even so, those Games are alive for him, because when he was growing up in LA, the physical education teachers would show the kids 1984 videos.

Caamal lives now in South LA, a few miles from Jesse Owens Park (nine-hole golf course, indoor swimming pools). He’s a front desk assistant at a local Radisson hotel. “The market here and the city itself are fantastic,” he said, ticking it all off — two NFL teams, two MLS teams, UCLA, USC, the Galen Center, Staples Center and more. “Los Angeles,” he said, “is known and recognized for sports.”

Maria Lopez, 45: ‘Wow, it’s not ’til now that I realized I have always loved sports!’

Maria Lopez is a 45-year-old stay-at-home mom in Pomona, California, east of LA.

“I was in my hometown in Mexico when the 1984 Olympics were going on,” a small village in the southwestern state of Michoacán, she said, speaking in Spanglish — that is, mostly Spanish, some English. “… I was pretty much like the only one in my household that liked watching and playing sports — I played basketball, volleyball and baseball.”

Maria Lopez is one of 10 siblings. She was 18 when she came to the United States. She became an American citizen 10 years ago.

“Wow!” she said. “It’s not until now that I realized I have always loved sports! I watched all the Olympics alone … I want the 2024 Olympics to be in LA because it will bring a lot of money to the city because of tourism and whatnot.”

Danny Im, 55: ‘Sports is when the people of the world come together’

Danny Im watched the 1984 Games on TV. He was a U.S. Army soldier, part of the famed 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas.

Born in South Korea, Danny Im had come to the United States as soon as he could, in 1980. “I love America,” he said. He got a green card. He joined the U.S. army. The army, in its infinite wisdom, sent him back to Korea, to patrol the DMZ. He proudly did his time, got out, even more proudly — if that’s possible — became a citizen.

“I love LA,” he also said. Now he runs a phone kiosk, The Case Shop, at Koreatown Galleria, at the corner of Western Avenue and Olympic Boulevard.

Olympic Boulevard used to be 10th Street. It was renamed to commemorate the 1932 Games, the X Olympiad.

The 2024 Games? The XXXIII Olympiad. In Los Angeles? “I hope so,” Danny Im said, adding, “Sports is when the people of the world come together. It’s beautiful. Asian, black, white — we don’t hate each other, we love each other.”

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