When the Olympics came to the San Fernando Valley

My personal journal about the 1984 Olympic torch relay

Thirty years ago, the Olympics came to Los Angeles. I have many memories of those games. One of them was when the torch relay went through the San Fernando Valley. The following is from my personal journal recollecting the event.

23 July, 1984

Never have I seen such excitement, emotion, and patriotism as I did Saturday and Sunday when the Olympic torch came to the San Fernando Valley.

I first saw the torch at the corner of Reseda and Ventura. When my brother and I arrived there at 10:00 p.m., an hour and a half before the torch arrived, a throng already gathered at the corners.

Up and down the boulevard, cars honked their horns and stuck American flags out their windows. Jeeps, trucks, and convertibles jammed with people flew larger flags. Each time one passed by and honked its horn, the crowd cheered. It seemed like anything red, white, and blue got a rousing ovation.

As time passed, the crowds filled up the sidewalk. Once the sidewalk got filled up, people moved into the street. Two lanes either direction were closed off by the expectant crowd.

All night, we awaited news on when the torch would arrive. The only bits of information we got were through hearsay or rumor. Maybe it’s in Van Nuys. Maybe it’s at the Galleria. We just joked and cheered at the cars and waited.

Then a helicopter with a bright search light appeared. Sirens and flashing lights were coming from the east. Police officers on motorcycles ordered people to move back. The crowd began to cheer.

Sandwiched in between an entourage of trucks, a woman in white shorts and a tank top carried a metal torch. The flame had a penetrating golden glow. As she jogged past, the crowd roared. We watched the flame streak down the street. It was a sight most of us would never see again.

But I did see the torch again. As soon as the torch left Reseda and Ventura, I went to Roscoe and Canoga where the torch relay would end that night. The crowd there was even larger. A giant American flag stretched across Roscoe Boulevard. The crowd was so great that the whole intersection was closed off for several hours before the torch arrived. When it did, there was another great roar of celebration.

I was so excited that I wanted to see the torch one more time. It was due to leave the parking lot of Zody’s at Topanga Canyon and Roscoe at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

I stayed up all night and came an hour early to see the preparations. There was a row of white cars and trucks with the emblem of the torch relay. On the back of a white Buick Riviera, there was a glass container. In it was a small golden glow that had traveled halfway around the world. A large group surrounded the car. Spontaneously, they began singing “God Bless America.” As a man who grew up during assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate, I had never seen such genuine love for America.

The torch was readied for lighting. I got to see it close up — close enough to see the motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” around the top and the engraving of the L.A. Coliseum. The torch was bronze colored with a leather grip and weighed two pounds. A gas tank inside the torch kept the flame burning brilliantly. While impressive in itself, the torch became inspiring when lit with the golden flame from Greece.

Torch from the 1984 Olympics
Torch from the 1984 Olympics (on display at Valley Relics)

As the sky did its own lighting in the east, Coach George Allen held the lit flame aloft. Among the acclamation of the crowd and the herald trumpeting of sirens, the torch continued its journey to the peristyle of the Coliseum.

Despite all the boycotts, scandals, bad movies, and even murders, the Olympics have endured. This weekend, I understood why.