Erik Menendez

81 percent yes, or how to jump back into the game


What’s nine times nine, everyone? When you get poll numbers that scream 81 percent in favor of the Olympic Games coming to your town, the result of an early August poll in Los Angeles conducted for the U.S. Olympic Committee, that’s when you know, with certainty, that an LA 2024 bid would be good for Southern California, the USOC, the International Olympic Committee and, indeed, the broader Olympic movement.

81 percent!

The LA Memorial Coliseum's famed peristyle end // Getty Images

That is crazy high in a democracy. You can’t even get that number of people who want Donald Trump to zip it.

As USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said Wednesday in a telephone call with reporters, referring to that 81 percent, “That’s remarkable and very encouraging.”

Here is the other side:

Only 11 percent — 11 percent! — said, no thanks, not really feeling an LA 2024 Games.

That is crazy low.

There is sound basis for both these numbers, and it underpins the fundamental reason LA 2024 offers so much potential for all involved in and around the Olympic movement.

Paris, Budapest, Rome and Hamburg, Germany, are due to be in the 2024 race. Maybe Toronto.

That said, the IOC wants to have a reason to come back to the United States. That’s apparent after talking with members at the recent session in Kuala Lumpur, where the IOC voted to send the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing.

If that’s what the IOC wants, it needs — maybe even desperately needs — a marquee city in a functioning western democracy to take on the Games for 2024.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, referring recently to his would-be reform plan, dubbed Agenda 2020, declared that it’s not enough to talk the talk — the IOC, he said, must walk the walk.

Right now, however, Agenda 2020 is at considerable risk.


Where human rights protests are going to be in the news for the next seven years?

Where the 2008 Summer Games cost at least $40 billion and the 2022 Games will go down with virtually no natural snow?

Where a new high-speed train is being built up to those snowless mountains that are now two or three hours from Beijing — but the billions of dollars in construction costs for that train are not being included in 2022 accounting, a move that makes a mockery of Agenda 2020’s call for enhanced Olympic transparency?

The IOC knows — it absolutely knows — it needs for 2024 a soulful bid that makes sense.

Enter LA.

The LA 2024 plan is for a Games with an all-in budget of $4.1 billion, $4.5 including a $400 million contingency fee.

No project is without risk.

But a Los Angeles Games is almost assured of making an operating-side surplus — that’s the preferred word in Olympic speak, not “profit” — and so the risk factor is as benign as possible.

Why so benign?

Because, just to be super-obvious, most of the venues are already built, including of course the LA Memorial Coliseum.

The prospect of an NFL team, or two, in the coming seasons means more stadium stuff on the ground — again, without taxpayer dollars.

Have cost overruns dogged any number of recent Olympics? Absolutely. Why? Because of infrastructure projects built as part of a far-reaching urban development plan linked to a Games.

In LA, that’s not the plan. No massive urban development.

It’s as much — or more — what LA can do for the Olympics as the Olympics can do for LA.

The LA City Council, the county Board of Supervisors, the governor, the Southern California congressional delegation — all unanimously in favor of LA for 2024.

Again, why?

Because in Los Angeles the Games are part of the fabric of city life.

This is a huge piece of why eight of 10 of their constituents want an Olympics, too.

“The LA Olympics would inspire the world and are right for our city,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The Games were in LA in 1932 and 1984; the mayor keeps a 1984 Olympic torch in his office. Tenth Street has long been Olympic Boulevard, after the 1932 Games, the X Olympiad. Hundreds of Olympians — and would-be Olympians — call SoCal home.

More, the 1984 Games ushered in a golden period in LA — seven really great years, in which it seemed everything in and around Southern California was awesome. The golden glow lasted until the Los Angeles police department had its altercation with Rodney King — after which followed riots, wildfires, mudslides, the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the Menendez brothers and then, of course, OJ.

People want those golden years back. And they understand that LA and the Olympics are made for each other — LA is, truly, America’s Olympic city.

In 1932, LA gave the movement the Olympic village.

The 1984 Games all but saved the movement, ushering in a period of finance and prosperity that continues now.

A 2024 LA Games would also offer the movement precisely what it needs at the exact moment it needs it — an Olympics of sustainability and real legacy in a western democracy where the Games are not just welcomed but, genuinely, celebrated.

“On the Summer side,” Blackmun said, “there’s a whole generation of Americans who haven’t seen the Games on American soil,” since Atlanta in 1996. “We want to address that, and make sure the Games come to the U.S. on a regular basis.”

If it’s a little late for the USOC to have come to its senses — better late than never.

A few more details, and this ought to be a done deal, wrapped up in time for the Sept. 15 deadline to formally submit a bid to the IOC. What details? No one Wednesday was saying but it’s only logical to surmise that giving LA an option for 2028 might be up for discussion with the USOC after the debacle that was Boston, and the perception that LA 2024 and the USOC might well have to make up of starting at a distance.

Consider: when the USOC last conducted a poll in LA, the favorability ratings were in the high 70s. That was eight months ago.

Now, 81 percent, and even after the Boston horror show.

That’s how you jump forcefully back into the game.

Blackmun said the USOC and LA are “very, very optimistic we’re going to be able to get to a place that’s good for both of us.”

USOC board chair Larry Probst: “The USOC and the city of Los Angeles believe this is potentially our time and we can work within a strong partnership to make it happen.”

He also said, “We continue to believe a U.S. bid for the 2024 Games can be successful.”

Like air in the tires or water in the bottles

My first nine years at the Los Angeles Times were spent covering hard news. The 1990s were incredible years to be a news reporter in Southern California: wildfires, earthquakes (Thursday marked the 19th anniversary of the devastating Northridge quake), riots, the Menendez brothers and, of course, the O.J. Simpson matter. When I moved over to the sports section in 1998, and almost immediately started covering the Olympic movement, a friend at the New York Times told me, referring to the athletes I was now covering, "You know, they're all doping."

That initially seemed -- implausible.

I learned quickly.

Indeed, and to be fair, not all of them were doping.

Then I met, for instance, Marion Jones.

And then others. Along the way, I covered the BALCO affair.

In 2005, and Lance Armstrong knows this, because I have told him about it, I took my wife and three children to Paris to watch him cross the finish line on the Champs Élysées, a winner of the Tour de France for a record seventh time.

You might want to remember this, kids, I told them then. For a lot of reasons.

Did I know that day in Paris that Armstrong was a cheater? After everything I had learned by then, it was patently obvious it would be inordinately difficult to win the Tour -- especially the years Armstrong was riding -- without performance-enhancing drugs, in particular the blood-booster EPO.

But where was the proof?

The proof came the next year, in the form of tests, testimony and other documents that emerged in the course of litigation over a bonus Armstrong claimed for the 2004 Tour from a Texas company, SCA Promotions, Inc. In the course of my reporting, it became clear what was what. Even so, the case had been settled, with SCA agreeing to pay millions of dollars.

The Times printed what it could.

In our house, the truth of the matter was understood.

As was this: truth always emerges with time.

Everyone who ever watched Lance Armstrong ride the bike took a hesitant step toward the truth Thursday with the first of his two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey. Part two airs Friday.

To be clear, the 90-minute Oprah show Thursday is nowhere near a full and complete accounting of the record. Armstrong did not, for instance, address what really happened in a hospital room in Indianapolis in October, 1996 -- when Betsy Andreu, the wife of a teammate, says he admitted illicit drug use.

Though he admitted in Thursday's show to doping through his Tour wins, Armstrong did not name names. One can only imagine the advice his lawyers -- understandably viewing the possibility of millions of dollars of civil liability, not to mention the possibility of criminal exposure -- gave him before he went on-camera.

Of all the things that were so striking -- and different people will of course see things differently -- it wasn't just Armstrong's affect, which often came off in this first part of the interview as flat, or that he acknowledged the way he so readily bullied so many people, Betsy Andreu and others.

It was the matter-of-factness about the doping.

It was, he said, like air in the tires or water in the bottles.

Moreover, he said, he didn't consider doping cheating -- even though he also did acknowledge that the oxygen-boosting drugs he was taking were, in his words, "incredibly beneficial."

Further, he never really worried about getting caught. Even though he was, in 1999, for instance, with a corticosteroid positive -- which got explained away.

He said he viewed doping as leveling the playing field.

He said he looked up what it meant to "cheat," and it said "to gain an advantage on a rival or a foe," adding in an implication that his significant rivals in the field were doping as well, " I didn't do that."


Cheating means breaking the rules.

It's also absurd to assert that a race among dopers is a level playing field. As another of Armstrong's former teammates, Jonathan Vaughters, has explained, there are three reasons why:

One -- Athlete A might get a bigger boost than Athlete B from using the same doping technique. Two -- Athlete A  might physiologically adapt better to a particular drug than Athlete B. Three -- athletes with greater resources are typically going to have access to better doctors, better coaches and better drugs.

At the time he was cheating, Armstrong said, he didn't feel bad about cheating at all. Not in the least.

Let's be candid. The primary reason Armstrong is talking now is because he wants to compete in triathlons, and he can't because he has a life ban hanging over him because he got caught.

Why did he get caught? Because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency pursued the truth when others -- including the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles -- would not. Why that office last year mysteriously dropped an inquiry into Armstrong's conduct remains an open question.

If Armstrong's comments to Winfrey awaken the rest of America -- and, indeed, the world -- to the culture of doping that has beset not just cycling but track and field as well as baseball and other sports for far too many years, then it will have done good.

A culture that considers doping like air in the tires or water in the bottles is insidious, and must change -- or be changed by others who understand better not just what is right but what is good about sports.

As far as Lance himself -- he knows already that this public-relations ploy isn't going to get him where he wants to go. But as he explained on-air, he has thrived on control, and this is a way for him to test what it's like to tell the truth.

To see the tape of himself on the podium in 2005, to relive that day in Paris, when he was given the microphone and said, "I'm sorry you can't dream big and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles" -- it's all so awkward now, even ugly, perhaps for him as well, because as he told Oprah, "Watching that -- that's a mistake."

But this is the crux of it:

What was the real mistake?


Or -- getting caught?

“Tonight," the chief executive of USADA, Travis Tygart, said in a statement issued after the television show aired, "Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit.

"His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”