The 25th Anniversary of the 1984 Olympics: Top 10 Moments, Part I

July 30, 2009

This past Tuesday marked the 25th Anniversary of the influential 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. To celebrate those historic Games, we present Part I of our Top 10 Moments and Performances from the XXIII Olympiad. Moments 5 through 1 will be discussed in Part II.

10. The Closing Ceremony

Although many aspects of the Closing Ceremony might be considered corny by today's standards, the '84 event truly brought a party vibe to the Games. After all, who could forget Lionel Richie memorably serenading fans and athletes alike with his hit "All Night Long," while over 100 local breakdancers popped, locked, and windmilled to his music on mini-stages set up on the LA Coliseum field.

The reactions of the athletes themselves best told the story, as after years of hard work in their various specialties, they finally cut loose, danced, and celebrated in the stadium. In other words, the athletes were not mere observers of the festivities, but rather became active participants in the event.

Even more interesting was the enlightened approach of the Los Angeles Olympic organizers.

Just think that in 1984, organizers proudly embraced the burgeoning Hip Hop and B-Boy cultural phenomenon that would later go on to captivate the globe. Although it might have been a little watered-down for mass consumption, at least it was on display in some form. Such progressive thinking truly deserves praise.

In contrast, one need look no further than today's NFL to see a far more conservative and backward mentality. Typically, NFL pre-game television songs and halftime entertainment shows are saturated with "play it safe" country music artists who appeal to only a limited portion of the U.S. fan base, and an even smaller part of the worldwide audience.

So kudos to the Los Angeles Olympic organizers for refusing to let the tastes of Middle America define the ceremony. Their decision to embrace urban youth culture was appropriate given the international nature of the event.

9. U.S. Team Dominance and the McDonald's Promotion

When McDonald's announced that it would give out a free food item every time an American athlete earned an Olympic medal, it probably did not anticipate a boycott from the U.S.S.R., Cuba, and 12 other nations. Because if their executives had anticipated such a move, they probably would have saved their franchises some financial grief.

The boycott allowed the U.S. to win a disproportionate share of medals, as they dominated the medal count with 174 overall. West Germany had the second highest tally in the medal count, finishing with a paltry 59 in comparison.

The United States' dominance cut across all sports.

In track and field, Carl Lewis, Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Edwin Moses, and Evelyn Ashford blew past their competitors in the short distance events, to help lead the U.S. team to 40 medals.

In volleyball, Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons, and company cruised to a gold medal. In swimming, the U.S. Men's and Women's teams racked up 34 medals, and were clearly the class of the meet. The U.S. also led the way in such other sports as cycling, wrestling, boxing, and gymnastics.

It turned out to be an expensive summer for the Golden Arches.

8. The Women's Marathon

For years, women had battled the sexist notion that they were too "frail" to compete in a marathon. For the first time in Olympic history, the 1984 Games gave female athletes their first opportunity to prove that such antiquated thinking was ludicrous.

American Joan Benoit took an early lead in the race and never looked back, earning a gold medal in a time of 2:24:52.

But the real story of the event was Switzerland's 39 year-old Gabbi Andersen-Schiess.

When Andersen-Schiess entered the stadium for her final lap, her condition was shocking to the eyes. Andersen-Schiess was hunched over, limping, and suffering from an apparent loss of her basic motor coordination skills. The exhausted Andersen-Schiess seemed to be on the verge of having a dangerous physical breakdown.

For an instant, it appeared that Andersen-Schiess would become the poster child for the "frailty" stereotype so many past critics had come to believe.

But what Andersen-Schiess did over the next 5 minutes and 44 seconds - the time it took her to complete that final lap - immediately erased all those misguided notions.

Andersen-Schiess bravely motioned away all medical personnel so as to avoid any disqualification from the race. She then gutted her way to the finish line in a display of sheer will, as she alternately stopped and stumbled her way along the track.

When she finally reached the finish line, she collapsed onto the track, completing the race in a respectable time of 2:48:45. Equally astonishing was her quick recovery, as she was released from the hospital less than 3 hours later.

7. U.S. Men's Basketball Team Crushes Its Competition

After missing the opportunity to defend its 1976 gold medal because of Jimmy Carter's 1980 boycott, the U.S. Men's Basketball team entered the 1984 Games on a mission to prove that America was still king of the basketball world.

The team was led by Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Chris Mullin, and was coached by Bobby Knight. Other contributors included Sam Perkins, the late Wayman Tisdale, Alvin Robertson, and current NBA referee Leon Wood. Notably absent was Charles Barkley, who Knight cut from the team during tryouts allegedly because of his round physique.

The 1984 squad went 8-0 and steamrolled its competition in a manner not seen since the legendary Jerry West-led Olympic squad of 1960. The team shot 55% for the tournament, and had an average margin of victory of 32 points. Their narrowest victory was an 11-point win over a weak 2-6 German team, when Jordan played on a gimpy ankle. Defensively, the U.S. held their opponents to 39% shooting.

As expected, Jordan was the team's top scorer with a 17 PPG average. Mullin contributed 11 PPG as well. Tisdale was the team's top rebounder, while Ewing and Wood led the tournament in blocks and assists, respectively.

In the final against Spain, the U.S. shot 63% and captured the gold with another one-sided win, 96-65. The U.S. team's dominance was so pronounced that the absence of the U.S.S.R. became largely irrelevant - the Americans would have won regardless.

6. Rafer Johnson Lights the Olympic Torch

How can this non-competitive moment be ranked higher than actual competitive Olympic events? Simple. It was more memorable.

The Opening Ceremony featured a guy flying with a jetpack, over 80 grand pianos, and a Los Angeles Coliseum crowd holding up placards of the flags of the various competing countries, and yet, all of those moments are a relative blur 25 years later.

On the other hand, Rafer Johnson's run up the stadium steps probably is one of the top two lasting images of the Games.

In fact, Rafer's run can be visualized more clearly in one's mind than many of athletic events of the Olympics. From the pace of his trot up the stairs, to the reaction of the crowd, the memory of that moment is quite vivid.

So why exactly was Rafer's run so memorable?

First, there was an element of mystery to the event. In the days and hours leading up to the ceremony, the media repeatedly reported that the identity of the final torch bearer was being kept secret by organizers. Naturally, a curiosity factor and suspenseful build-up began to ensue.

Hence, when Rafer Johnson finally took the torch, the audience got to share a collective "Aha" moment.

Second, Rafer Johnson himself was the perfect selection for the honor, as he brought an air of dignity, a local history, and his own athletic legacy to the moment.

Johnson had been a UCLA All-American track star along with his good friend, the late C.K. Yang. The two Bruins memorably battled for the decathlon gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics, with Johnson narrowly beating his friend thanks to a courageous performance in his worst event, the 1500m.

Johnson's leadership qualities were on display early in his life, as he was the student body president at UCLA. Moreover, in 1960 he became the first African-American to carry the flag for the U.S. Olympic team in an opening ceremony.

Johnson would later become part of the fabric of the city of Los Angeles, as he helped disarm Sirhan Sirhan in the moments immediately following Robert Kennedy's assassination. Johnson literally removed the smoking gun from the murderer's grasp. Johnson also was active in the film industry, starring in a variety of movies including a James Bond film.

Because it was Rafer, specifically, who lit the Olympic flame, the moment took on added significance for local Los Angeles fans. Quite simply, one of their own - longtime friend Rafer Johnson - was welcoming the world into their city's Olympic Games. A memorable moment indeed.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

No comments:

Post a Comment

We encourage all intelligent, passionate comments. Please refrain from any ignorant, racist, or offensive rants.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...