Fast forward to 2022. Both the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021, and the current Winter Olympics in Beijing would have been great to attend. Why? No crowds, decent prices for hotels and food, ease of access to all venues, and reasonable ticket prices.
Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world. I love the culture, the food, and the people. And it is my motherland, as both sets of my grandparents immigrated from Japan.
Here is a rather old email on my Olympic experience.
I mentioned in a previous email that I attended the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. I was not able to get any tickets ahead of time and had given up any hope of attending. But I was able to find someone whose daughter worked for an Olympics hotshot in LA. I was able to get tickets for the Tennis at the new UCLA Tennis Center in Westwood, and the Boxing at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, in downtown LA. I passed on track and field since it centered on the decathlon only for that day.
I was able to get a flight down to LA in the early morning. My friend Brad picked me up at LAX, and we headed for Westwood. There was very little traffic, since the Olympic Organizing Committee encouraged people to work flex hours, take time off, or work from home. Much like what you saw in Beijing, the air got remarkably clear, and traffic was very light.
The UCLA campus is a beautiful campus, set in the hills of Westwood, not far from Beverly Hills. The new Tennis Center was built and ready just in time for the Olympics. We saw several morning matches, then headed out to Westwood for lunch. Although this place is gone, we had lunch at a nice place that sort of pioneered the concept of a group table. And of course, we had our obligatory beers for lunch. Brad could take two bottles of beer, and down them both in one swoop. It is impressive and earned us many free drinks over the years. The first time I saw him do it was at the famous San Francisco fern bar, Henry Afrika’s.
Anyway, sufficient lubricated, we headed back to the tennis venue, and spent a pleasant afternoon in the tennis stands. Tennis was a demonstration sport at that time. I can’t remember who played, but the big stars were Stefan Edberg and Steffi Graf, who both happened to win Gold Medals.
But the real highlight of the Olympics was the torch lighting ceremony several days before this. The final torch bearer, and the one who lighted the Olympic flame was Rafer Johnson. He won the 1960 Olympic Decathlon in Rome, and he was from my hometown of Kingsburg, CA. He was a great athlete. Many people forget that he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams and lettered in basketball for John Wooden at UCLA. He also made the Olympic track team as a long jumper. Perhaps he is best known for being with Bobby Kennedy in LA when he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan.
We had the same teacher for World History. Murl Dodson was also Rafer’s track coach in high school. He was the coach who figured out that Rafer had the talent for the decathlon in the first place. If you ever met this guy, you would have a hard time believing he could coach or teach anything. He was a dumpy looking man, who lectured in a monotone. Nice man, but the coach of a world class athlete?
One thing that went on was creative on the part of Olympic ticket holders. A hotel near the Forum in LA was designated as a place to buy, sell, and trade tickets. We went over there and sold a bunch of basketball tickets that we didn’t need. We were headed for the boxing, and the spotlight was on Evander Holyfield, who became the world heavyweight champion after the Olympics.
After dinner, we headed over to the Sports Arena for the boxing. We were able to park on the street and walk just a few blocks to the Arena, thanks to Brad. But first, we had to stop at a sports bar along the way. Brad had to do his two-beer bottle chug one more time for me.
When we found our seats, we could see the movie stars had front row seats. The only one I could really see well was Kirk Douglas. But the excitement was similar to the big fights that you see on tv or closed circuit from Las Vegas. Each country had a section with fans dressed in their country’s colors, and waving flags. It was very exciting.
As Evander made his way to the ring, the crowd was in a frenzy, as he was heavily favored to beat his opponent. This was the semifinals, and he was boxing a relatively unknown New Zealander. Somewhere in the 2nd round, chaos broke out. Someone made a sound like a bell, but the round was not over. Evander knocked the guy out instantly. Confusion reigned for it seemed forever, and finally he was disqualified. The referee was from a Soviet bloc country. He paved the way for the Yugoslav in the other semi to win the Gold medal against this unknown New Zealander.
That was a very sad end to my visit to the Olympics. As we left the Coliseum and Sports Arena complex, we saw all the flags flying over the Coliseum. It really did feel like the Olympics. As Brad dropped me at the airport, we both realized we had seen a slice of history. Time will tell if we get another chance.
Fast forward to July 23, 2021. After a year delay, the Games are destined to proceed, with or without Covid. I pray for the safety of everyone involved. And that Japan will shine despite the resurgent virus. Maybe I will get to the next Olympics, or better yet, perhaps the Winter Games?