LOS ANGELES -- Tonight, the U.S. Olympic Festival plays Hollywood.
After barnstorming small and medium-sized cities since its inception in 1978, this catch-a-rising-star sports event begins a 10-day run with an opening ceremony at Dodger Stadium.
But how many will venture onto the freeways to catch a glimpse of more than 3,000 athletes participating in 36 sports ranging from archery to yachting?
After thriving in places such as Colorado Springs, Colo., Syracuse, N.Y., North Carolina and Oklahoma City, Okla., the festival is entering the most glutted sports market in the country -- a city feasting on 365 days a year of throwing, running, catching and dunking.
This is a place that takes Wayne Gretzky for granted. The only recent event that truly impressed Los Angeles was the 1984 Olympics -- you could tell because the freeways were clear.
Organizers are fighting an uphill battle to fill seats and avoid a deficit on a $15 million budget. Thirty thousand of the 55,000 Dodger Stadium seats have been sold for the opening ceremony. But unless 500,000 spectators purchase $3.4 million worth of tickets, the festival will be bleeding money.
This year's festival lacks a big-name cast. Top swimmers are in training for the Pan Pacific Games later this summer, and most of the elite track athletes have ditched the festival for big paydays in Europe and added training time before next month's World Championships in Tokyo.
Still, the festival is historically a springboard to stardom. Among those who emerged at this event were Evander Holyfield, Mary Lou Retton, Florence Griffith Joyner, Brian Boitano and Bonnie Blair.
The festival also has been the stage for superb performances. Evelyn Ashford and Calvin Smith set world records in the 100 meters in 1983 in Colorado Springs. Jackie Joyner-Kersee broke her world record in the heptathlon in 1986 in Houston.
"What makes the festival is the camaraderie of the athletes," said Jim Terrell, a canoeist from Millford, Ohio, who has a record 23 festival medals. "It's a real well-run competition. It's a lot of fun. It gives us all more experience in a competitive setting. Besides, this is a great way to hang out and do something fun."
Some of the athletes who may star next year at the Olympic Games in Albertville, France, and Barcelona, Spain are here.
Among them: figure skaters Todd Eldredge, Natasha Kuchiki and Todd Sand, hurdlers Greg Foster and Kevin Young, decathlete Dave Johnson, boxers Eric Griffin and Oscar de la Hoya, and synchronized swimmers Karen and Sarah Josephson.
Maryland athletes also will get a chance to play on a national stage. The list of top state competitors includes basketball player Dana Johnson, a Western High School graduate headed for the University of Tennessee, tae kwon do performer Lynnette Love of Temple Hills, shooter Bill Dodd of Queenstown and track athletes Kellie Roberts of District Heights and Tony Barton and Torrance Zellner of Baltimore.
The youngest competitor is 12-year-old Lanna Apisukh, a
rhythmic gymnast from Lake Mary, Fla., and the oldest is Joan Gladwell, a 59-year-old shooter from Big Pine Key, Fla. Like all the other athletes, they are here to participate in an event that celebrates sports and ignites dreams.
1991 U.S. Olympic Festival
Site: Los Angeles
Dates: Tonight through July 21
Format: Athletes from 36 Olympic and Pan American Games sports will represent four geographic regions (North, South, East, West) in individual and team competition. The event has grown from 1978, when it featured 1,900 athletes, to the present day, with close to 3,000 athletes participating.
Maryland competitors: Carrie Basy, Annapolis, water polo; Victoria Gorman, Annapolis, water polo; Diane Burton, Annapolis; yachting; Melissa White, Arnold, water polo; Peter Ulrich, Arnold, field hockey, Tony Barton, Baltimore, track and field; Torrance Zellner, Baltimore, track and field; Dana Johnson, Baltimore, basketball; Teri Smith, Towson, track and field; James Ross, Bethesda, canoe-kayak; Bradley Schumacher, Bowie, water polo; Jonathon O'Haire, Chevy Chase, field hockey; Jennifer Rhodes, College Park, canoe-kayak; Blaise Rhodes, College Park, canoe-kayak; Helen Collins, College Park, canoe-kayak; Kelli Myers, College Park, volleyball; Mark Parrish, Columbia, canoe-kayak; Clint Peay, Columbia, soccer; Todd Haskins, Columbia, soccer; Scott Young, Crofton, baseball.