The start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo has reminded me of my own Olympic moment. In 1984, I was living in Anaheim, CA when the Summer Olympics came to Los Angeles. This was not only a chance to see some of the world’s greatest athletes, it also provided a way to give back to the sport I’ve enjoyed for many years. When the call for volunteers went out, some friends and I answered, volunteering to be race marshals for the men’s and women’s marathons. For the next week, I’m republishing my account of that experience, which I first posted in 2016.
I’ll admit I had mixed emotions about the Olympics coming to Los Angeles. On one hand, it meant the chance to see the finest athletes in the world. On the other, it meant politics, commercialism, more traffic, and large crowds. Some people spoke darkly of leaving town for the duration.
The in mid-May, a friend named Ken at work announced, “Guess what? My wife and I signed up to be race marshals for the Olympic Marathons!”
“Oh?” At that time, I had run two marathons and had a deep appreciation for the effort involved. “How did you do that?”
“We were at a 10K in Seal Beach this weekend, and someone from the Olympic committee was taking applications.”
“That sounds interesting. Let me know what happens.”
As the weeks went by, the Olympic spirit began to build. Directional signs went up on the freeways. Media coverage increased.
Then on July 9th, Ken came to see me again. “My wife and I are going tonight for our race marshal orientation.”
“Yep. The orientations are from 7 to 9 pm all this week. We’re going tonight to make sure we get accepted.”
I was turning green. “That sounds really interesting.”
“They may be able to use some more people. I have the race director’s phone number. Why don’t you give them a call?”
“Thanks, I will.” I almost broke my neck getting to the phone.
A pleasant woman’s voice answered. “Hi, do you need an more race marshals for the marathons?”
“Well, we have about 3000 people now.”
I told her I’d run two marathons myself and would like to help, so she took my name and phone number, just in case, so I had a chance.
Ken saw me the next morning. “Would you believe there were 1200 people there? But I think we’ve been accepted.”
“Good for you. What mile did you ask for?”
“One? The first mile? No one wants the first mile!”
Ken grinned. “That’s why we asked for it. We’ll be sure to get it! Besides, maybe we’ll be able to leave in time to get over to see the finish.”
Can’t beat that logic.
“Look, why don’t you go down there? You still might get accepted. They didn’t cross-reference our names with the applications.”
I hated to drive from my home in Garden Grove into Los Angeles on a maybe. But this might be my only chance. “OK, give me the address and I’ll try it.”
The address was west of downtown Los Angeles in Culver City. It took 40 minutes to get there. The building was a former helicopter factory the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was using as a headquarters. There were no signs, but Ken’s directions were good. People were pouring in. I followed them into a large open bay-type room filled with folding chairs. There was a large platform and podium in front. Wooden pillars held up the ceiling. We all stopped at a card table by the doorway and picked up an information folder with “Play a Part in History” across the top.
I’d allowed myself plenty of time, and since it was only 6:40, I opened the folder and started reading. There was a 1984 Olympic Games Staff Handbook that covered such subjects as “On-The-Job Performance” and “Working with Olympic Guests”. Next was an agenda for tonight’s meeting, a map of the marathon course, a 1984 Olympics Games Staff Pocket Guide, a checklist that began “Arrive at Assembly Area” and ended “Leave Assembly Area”, and a LA 84 button. Finally, there was a form for name, address, and mile preference, and a “Welcome to the Olympics” quiz. In their words, the purpose of the quiz was to assist us in becoming more knowledgeable about the Olympics, our city, and our country to answer visitors’ questions. Sample questions included “Where are the Olympic Villages?” and “How late will Disneyland be open?” Everything was colored in the same gaudy pinks, greens, and purples. Someone said the colors were magenta, vermilion, chrome yellow, violet and aqua. I’d learned something new already.
Next: The orientation meeting.