Anxiousness, if not panic, set in last week among speculators—mostly private citizens but also some travel agents—who had hoped to make a killing on Olympic tickets. With surprisingly large numbers of tickets being dumped on California's legal resale market, sellers were rapidly scaling down their expectations. Two months ago, a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times offered two seats each for opening and closing ceremonies and one evening's finals in women's gymnastics for $5,000; the face value of the tickets totaled $900. Tickets for the same attractions last week were available for $1,800 or less. And tickets for not-so-glamorous events were selling for face value or, in some cases, even at a loss. A telltale notation seen more and more frequently in the acres of classified ads for Olympic ducats is OBO, which stands for "or best offer."
The ticket glut can be partly explained by the strong U.S. dollar, which has kept some foreigners away, and by the Soviet-led boycott, which has diminished the Games' appeal to both Americans and sports fans from abroad. Various national Olympic committees are unloading tickets, as are corporate sponsors who were obliged under terms of their deals with the Games' organizers to buy some tickets they didn't really want. In other cases, customers overordered for fear of coming up empty and, to their dismay, got everything they asked for. But the most frantic selling is being done by private speculators. Whether buying for their own use or for resale, a lot of people appear to have overestimated the public's interest in the Olympics.
Complicating matters for last-minute sellers is that they found themselves vying for customers last week with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, which held a "ticket faire" at Santa Anita racetrack, at which 100,000 tickets unclaimed by boycotting countries and other no-shows were offered for sale to invited Southern Californians. Those tickets were for such premium events as swimming, basketball and boxing. In addition, the LAOOC's regular ticket centers were still selling seats to many preliminaries and even some finals. "We never expected to sell everything out," said committee spokesman Steve Montiel. "We'll sell tickets on the day of events at those centers."
In trying to explain why speculators, most of whom presumably obtained their tickets through the LAOOC's normal sales procedures, would have hoarded seats in the face of this abundant supply, one ticket broker said, "The public were hogs. And you know where hogs go. To the slaughterhouse." But with most tickets still selling for at least face value, that seemed to be overstating the situation. Another broker, Brian F. Harlig, a partner in Good Time Tickets in Hollywood, was probably closer to the mark when he said, "It doesn't look good for the guy who speculated in Olympic tickets to finance his trip to Europe. He'll be lucky to get to Van Nuys."
TED MACK TIME
The liberalization of Olympic amateurism rules hasn't affected the hordes of placard bearers, trumpeters, choral singers and others taking part in Saturday's opening ceremonies. "Out of 12,000 people we may have 200 professionals, people who get paid," says David Wolper, the event's producer. "All the others are high school kids, college kids.... So they have 30 rehearsals where they don't get paid five cents.... What each one of the 12,000 will do, I can't say. I can only hope it's what we planned and what we've been rehearsing."
WHERE THEY'RE FROM
The 613 members of the U.S. Olympic team hail from 48 states (Delaware and South Dakota have no Olympians), the District of Columbia and one foreign country. The foreign country is West Germany; Michael Kraus, a field hockey player, lists Frankfurt as his hometown but can be a U.S. Olympian because he's American by birth. There are 188 Olympians from California, or 30.6% of the team; New York has the second largest number of team members, 47. Nine of the 13 women's volleyball players and 10 of the 14 men in that sport are Californians. All 13 water polo players are from California, and four of them attended Stanford. Six of the 10 freestyle wrestlers either live or attended college in Iowa or Oklahoma. Counting the coaching staff, 12 of the 19 members of the women's field hockey delegation are from Pennsylvania; four of them are graduates of that state's Ursinus College. Four of the eight U.S. divers live in Mission Viejo, Calif.—although all were born elsewhere—and three more call Ann Arbor, Mich. home; the other diver is from Columbus, Ohio. New York is the dominant state in fencing, claiming eight of the 24 team members. Twelve of the 24 men swimmers either have attended Pac-10 schools or plan to do so in the fall. Six of the men swimmers are products of Florida colleges. Both alternates on the men's gymnastics team are from Reading, Pa.
Eight of the U.S.'s 22 shooters live in Georgia, a testimony to the sport's strong tradition at Fort Benning. There are three Olympians from Rhode Island and one each from New Hampshire, Alaska and Wyoming; oddly, all six of these athletes are on the rowing team. Boxer Virgil Hill is North Dakota's first Olympian since 1960; he has lived in Grand Forks and Williston, and tries to appease both communities, which are 300 miles apart, by listing his hometown as Williston-Grand Forks, N. Dak. USC, whose athletes have won gold medals at every Summer Olympics since 1912 (including the '80 Games in Moscow, where Trojan Michele Ford of Australia got hers in swimming), should keep that streak alive in these hometown Olympics; 31 past, present or soon-to-be Trojans made the U.S. team, including such medal contenders as swimmer Mike O'Brien, diver Wendy Wyland, basketball players Cheryl Miller and Pam McGee and no fewer than six members of the men's and women's volleyball teams.
Olympic officials have refused to grant press credentials to South African journalists for the Los Angeles Games, a decision they consider consistent with their long-standing ban against the participation of South African athletes. In fact, it's not consistent at all. The exclusion of South Africa's athletes is part of an international campaign to protest apartheid and bring about changes in that country's racial policies. Banning the South African press may actually work against those objectives. If South African journalists were allowed to cover the Games, newspaper readers and TV and radio audiences back home would be that much more aware of the absence from L.A. of their country's athletes. So excluding South African reporters from the Games doesn't make sense. Not incidentally, it's also at odds with American ideals about press freedom and the Olympic Charter's commitment to the "fullest news coverage" for the Games.
People who hate computers will gnash their teeth over this one. Going into Wimbledon, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl were one-two in the weekly computer rankings of the Association of Tennis Professionals. The fact that McEnroe won Wimbledon while Lendl lost in the semis naturally strengthened Mac's position atop the rankings, right? Wrong. In the next ATP rankings, the positions of the two were reversed. Lendl was No. 1 and McEnroe, widely recognized as the best player in the world, was No. 2.
As you might expect, there's an explanation. As you might also expect, the explanation gets complicated. It has to do with the fact that the computer rankings take into account not only how somebody plays, but also how often, thereby rewarding the fellow who plays every week. For example, winning Wimbledon doesn't count for that much more than winning other events. Also, before Wimbledon, Lendl had appeared in 14 tournaments to McEnroe's 12. When a player competes in his 15th tournament of the year, he gets what amounts to bonus points. It was that windfall that pushed Lendl ahead of McEnroe.
ATP officials point out that the rankings are used to determine who should be given berths in tournaments. The purpose isn't to distinguish between the likes of McEnroe and Lendl, whose lofty positions qualify them for any tournament they choose to enter, but to sort out the Mario Martinezes (No. 78 last week) from the Rolf Gehrings (No. 81) when it comes to filling out the bottom of a tournament draw. But Dewey Blanton, the tour's media director, admits that the rankings have "a major credibility problem" with the public. "A guy looks at the agate type and says, 'Geez, what's Lendl doing at Number One?' " Blanton says. He hastens to add that when McEnroe plays in his 15th tournament sometime in the next three or four weeks, he will almost certainly move ahead of Lendl and regain the No. 1 spot.
One gets the feeling that whoever prepared the press release listing the events for Banditland Fest, a celebration in the Tampa district of Ybor City the day before the USFL championship game, isn't much of a football fan. The release identified one of the celebrities scheduled to be present as Elsie Greenwood.
AN ANNOUNCER WHO'S AS SHARP AS A HAWK
In 1967, when he was a first baseman with the Kansas City A's, Ken Harrelson, a.k.a. the Hawk, was released after publicly declaring that owner Charlie Finley was "detrimental to baseball." Three years ago Harrelson, then the Boston Red Sox' TV color man, earned headlines with a speech in which he described the club as being "in disarray, confused and chaotic...almost the laughingstock of the American League." Though broadcasters don't usually criticize the teams they cover in such strong language, Harrelson wasn't fired, but he eventually quit his Boston job and is now the color man for the Chicago White Sox. He also does occasional NBC telecasts and has spurned the advances of ABC, which approached him about possibly doing Monday night telecasts.
"It just didn't appeal to me," Harrelson told the Los Angeles Times. "I just hate to leave the team [the Sox] that long on weekends. Besides, I don't particularly like the way ABC puts on a game. They always make it an event rather than just a game—baseball is secondary to network promos.
"With them, it's almost formatted as to what you're going to say, and that's crazy. The game will tell you what to say—when to shut up, when to be a little funny. Actually, the game demands some dead air; it's that kind of a game."
As you can see, Harrelson is as outspoken as ever. He also makes a lot of sense, so let's have him continue. "Over the years you develop your own style, your own philosophy. I still believe that one of these days—and I hope I'm the one that does it—we'll learn how to use silence as the biggest communicator.... It's not what somebody is saying, it's what they're not saying. At that point, the viewer's imagination comes into play, his mind works. I don't want to be in the booth telling people what they see—that's like kindergarten, telling a child about the abc's. Who needs that?"
THEY SAID IT
•Wilt Chamberlain, taking issue with an oft-expressed view of him: "People say my ego is grand. I think it's in proportion tome."
•Sam Wyche, Cincinnati Bengal coach, on the team's contract battle with unsigned first-round draft choices Ricky Hunley and Pete Koch: "The NFL has decided to go ahead and play the season without them."