Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The City of Los Angeles

Anis Haffar

When the 1984 Olympic Games takes off this week few people would remember the exhaustive preparations that have gone into it. In this article our correspondent in Los Angeles, Anis Haffar, provides the vital statistics of the City of Los Angeles and the behind-the-scenes technological inputs aimed at making the games a resounding success.
The city was named in September 4th, 1781 as "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senor la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula." The Spanish may be translated, in short, as: the town of the queen of angels, even shorter still: L.A.

Today the city has a population of 3 million, and the 'country' - L.A. and its immediate neighbours - has about 7.5 million people. Only the New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Shanghai urban areas are larger.

L.A. weather is Mediterranean type, generally temperate with very pleasant four seasonal variations. During July and August - the period of the games - high temperatures average between 84-91 Fahrenheit; low average 62-71°. Humidity averages from a low of about 42% to highs of 89%. It is quite unlikely to rain during the games since the rainfall patterns indicate the highest precipitation in the winter.

However, it is in the summer that the infamous 'smog' is more prevalent: the frightening combinations of fog and air pollutants from motor vehicles and factory emissions. The country has one of the largest concentrations of vehicles in the world: there are some 4.8 million of them cruising the 491 miles of freeways. As far as industry goes, California as a whole could easily be one of the richest and most productive states in the world ranking 7th behind the U.S., U.S.S.R., Japan, etc. The state happens also to be a major bread basket, and the entertainment capital.

The L.A. international airport handles some 35 million passengers with over 503,000 take-offs and arrivals every year. For the Olympic and subsequent traffic, the airport was completely overhauled with modern, (Chicago) type double-decker allowance for incoming and outgoing over sophisticated facilities, and an O'Hare traffic.

The city has 19 television stations, about 70 radio transmissions, and more than 90 newspapers, 14 of which are dailies. In education, the city boasts 15 universities and 21 commun- ity colleges, over 2,000 elementary and secondary schools and 152 libraries. (No small boast for contemporary living.)

In African affairs, the black mayor of the city, Thomas Bradley, has developed a task force for Africa encouraging economic and cultural exchange programs while hosting a good number of African representatives. Robert Farrell, a city councilman, was involv- ed actively with TransAfrica, the Black American lobby for African/Caribbean affairs in the U.S.


Los Angeles redefined the term Olympic village to house athletes at two sites: the University of California (UCLA), and the University of South- ern California (USC), at the student residences. These facilities will also play host to continuous special conferences and sports camps. Athletes will be housed by nations rather than by sports. The idea is supported to help staff members catering to the athlete in support services.

Village residents will pay $35 each day and includes room and board, entertainment, office space, security, training facilities. Deposits for up to 50 persons per nation ran as much as $4,200. About 10,000 athletes and 3,000 officials are expected.

Security at the Olympics will be heavy. Some 20,000 police and security officers from more than 50 different law enforcement agencies will be on hand to protect the athletes. Critics have been known to use the term 'Gestapo' to describe some of the security measures taken.

The efficiency of the Los Angeles police, considered one of the best in the world, during the February marathon cannot go unnoticed. From side streets to the sky, vigilance and protection of the athletes was at its peak.

Already, half of the $50 million appropriated by Congress for security has been allocated, mostly for 84 heli- copters and crew; that is said to be nearly three times the number of choppers requested earlier by the organizers.


About 8 million tickets were made available - the most in Olympic history. Many events have already been sold out, notably the opening and closing ceremonies. About a third of the tickets were reserved exclusively for use by the 'Olympian family' - made up of news media, officials, athletes, coaches, sponsors and supporters.

Prices ranged from $3 to $95. Opening and closing ceremony tickets cost as much as $200. On the brighter side, there are some free events which include the men and women's mara- thon (except the finish), men's 190 km cycling road race, women's 70 km cycling race trial, and some selected weightlifting events and yachting.

The arts festival will offer an array of presentations in dance, theatre, music, film and the visual arts. There will be about 220 performances in all.


Guess how the events will be viewed around the world? Take the marathon for example: when the runners begin the 26 mile trip, a fleet of vehicles equipped with 'space galactica' accout- rements will move right along with them. The vehicles will be electrically powered to avoid exhaust fumes- one van will have six specially mounted cameras carrying a cameraman, com- mentator, three technicians and a security guard. The van will move in front of the athletes and film every step of the front runners. Then the camera shots will be beamed by microwave to a helicopter hovering some 10,000 feet in the sky, its position firmly glued by radar so that it is exactly in focus with the ground cameras at all times.

The helicopter in turn will radiate the pictures to televisions headquarters in Hollywood through some 660 miles of cable wires including a newly installed fibre optics network. From here, the coverage will be beamed by satellite and microwave to viewers all over the world in milliseconds.

"There'll be so many helicopters in the sky during the Olympics, Los Angeles will be like Vietnam," said ABC television vice-president. The space age gadgetry summed up the advancement in the 10 years of television history. In all, 1,300 hours of Olympic events will be offered to the international community. Advertisers expected to pay half a million dollars per minute for a prime time commercial.

Each of the 200 events will be re- corded in their entirety. World coverage will be neutral, with each country's competitor getting equal time on the tube which nations can pick and choose and add their own commentary.

Besides the electrical cars and motor- cades, a 'sky camera' has been dev- eloped. It was designed to race along- side a sprinter or get a bird's eye view of a pole-vaulter. The camera moves swiftly from six inches off the ground to 150 feet above the stadium floor. The ultimate goal in the maneuverings is to give the viewers the 'feeling of being there.' Television crews have travelled to many nations within the last two years to film some 115 profiles of outstanding athletes to be used as part of close-ups and personal story lines just before the races began.


The Soviets' refusal to join the 84 Olympics took the optimists by sur- prise. The pessimists seemed to have been positive this time, and peace lovers who looked to the world's athletes to mend international fences of hostilities were bitterly disappointed. So was this writer.

The politicians just can't keep their hands off the Olympics. But the show must go on.

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