Head Over Heels


Illustration by Bill Brown

Before the summer of 1984, I’d never thought of Los Angeles as a cohesive city. To me it was a series of disconnected neighborhoods: the one I grew up in, the two I went to school in, the ones I had friends in. But that summer, thanks to the design genius of architect Jon Jerde and the organizational vision of businessman Peter Ueberroth, Los Angeles felt whole. The 1984 Summer Olympics were a defining moment for the city. I was 14 then and athletic, and that summer I watched my hometown transform. Bright pastel banners with typography that looked so chic and futuristic hung from every lamppost. I joined groups of strangers at USC Olympic Village to swap collectible pins commemorating the events. I met neighbors I’d never known who came out to greet the torch as it made its way down Burbank Boulevard. It was impossible not to get swept up in the patriotic fervor and be proud of the city for pulling it off.

Looking at the portfolio in this issue of Angelenos poised to compete this summer in London, I was taken back to the heroes I revered in 1984: Mary Lou Retton bouncing perkily across the mat to nail a perfect 10, Michael Jordan leading the Dream Team to gold on the court. Probably because my name is Mary and I was a runner, too, I was rooting for Mary Decker to win the 3,000-meter women’s race and asked my sister to take me to the competition. I’d never been to the Coliseum and was blown away by the spectacle: It was like ancient Rome, only the spectators wore dolphin shorts and espadrilles. Around the race’s 1,600-meter mark, Decker tripped over the foot of runner Zola Budd. In an instant she was flat on the ground, and the gasp of 101,000 of us sucked the air out of the arena. Though it was Decker alone who was crying on the big screen, we all shared her despair.

Then the bunting came down, and everyone retreated to their neighborhoods as the 1990s took their toll. Even a die-hard Angeleno could sense the city was adrift. In this issue’s L.A. Story, actor Elijah Wood, who grew up in the Valley, says that his love affair with L.A. has run hot and cold. But now he feels that the “whole city seems to be reestablishing itself,” and I know what he means. With a revived arts and culture scene and a growing mass transit system (the addition of so many Metro lines is pointing us in the right direction), we’re experiencing the sort of permanent changes that could make Los Angeles a hospitable Olympics host yet again. “It’s an awesome time to be here,” Wood says. He’s right, although we still need a world-class airport; I hope the revived Tom Bradley International Terminal opening next year will inch us closer. Rio has the 2016 Summer Games locked up, and L.A. is out of contention for 2020—but 2024? It could be another golden summer.