My Olympic Moment — The Orientation Meeting, Part I

IMG_5737The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) was nothing if not prompt.  The meeting began precisely at 7:00 with a slap of a palm to the podium.  The first of six speakers welcomed us.  I quickly lost track of who was what.  It takes a big bureaucracy to put on an Olympics.

First, we were welcomed into the Olympic family.  Whereas it used to be “they”, it was now “we”.  But there would be standards to be met and rules to be followed.  The LAOOC had dress and appearance rules, including length of earrings and color of nail polish.  And, our speaker smiled, as we might imagine, they had similar rules for the women!  We were reminded that this Olympics would be operated as a private business with no funds from the state or federal government.  The LAOOC would be a $2 billion corporation that would employ 77,000 people — paid staffers, contract employees, and volunteers — and would operate for only two weeks.

Next we heard from Race Director Len Wallach.  Len was chosen because he was race director of the “Bay to Breakers” race in San Francisco (actually a moving block party disguised as a race).  Len was introduced as a born leader and disciplinarian, but he was very nice to us.  Afterward, I noticed he looked older close up.  Being a race director will do that.

To get us in the mood (as if it was necessary), Len told us the legend of the first marathon — during the war between Greece and Persia in 490 BC, the Athenian messenger Phidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to seek help, was turned down, ran back to the Plains of Marathon (some versions claim he fought in the battle) as the Athenians beat the Persian army back into the sea, ran back to Athens with news of the victory, got to the Athens Forum, gasped “Rejoice, we conquer”, and then died.   On that note, we got down to brass tacks.

The race marshals were crowd control.  We would have to work both the men’s and women’s marathons on successive Sundays.  The original plan was to have 2500 marshals, but the final total would be at least 3100.  We would be spaced along the entire 26.2-mile course.  Each of us would be responsible for a frontage of anywhere from 18 to 25 yards — our area to protect.  Don’t worry, all the permits had been filed, and the course belonged to the LAOOC.

Now for the subtleties of crowd control.  First, there would be about 40 people lined up along our frontage.  Get to know them.  Establish a rapport.  Make friends.  Also, make mental notes about individuals.  For example, count the number of people wearing glasses.  That way, you can keep track of individuals, and you can remember who caused trouble.  If someone moves out of line, simply get in front of them and move toward them; people naturally back up.  And ask people to do something.  Ask them to hold up the restraining rope, for example; it makes them feel like they’re helping.  If none of that works, the LAOOC had a half-million miniature LA 84 flags for us to give out (pictured).  If there is a problem, it will probably come from a photographer.  All photographers must be accredited — they’ll wear color-coded bibs.  Keep everyone else off the course!  A man asked how physical we could get if there’s a problem.  Len half-smiled.  If it’s a photographer, just stand in front of their camera.  Crowd psychology can be strange.  There was one street corner in the Bay to Breakers that always cause crowd-control problems.  So one year Len stationed a half-dozen of the smallest, most petite women on his staff on that corner… and there was no trouble at all!

What do we do when the runners arrive?  DON’T WATCH THE RACE!  (Aw!)  NO!  If you turn your back on the crowd, you’re dead.  You’ve lost all control.  But there is way to watch the racers and the crowd at the same time.  Len demonstrated.  Stand facing the crowd and look to your right.  “Look, here they come!” Len pointed right.  As they pass behind you, watch the crowd.  Then look to your left.  “Look, there they go!”  Len pointed left.  See, you can do your job and still see the race!

We took a ten-minute break.  Most people headed for a soda fountain dispensing free Cokes — the official soft drink.  Noticing a partitioned area in the corner, I sneaked a peek over the partitions.  It looked like a security training area, with metal detectors and other security paraphernalia.


Next — Security

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