Olympic Festival gets big embrace in San Antonio City hopes 10-day event turns into coming-out party

July 24, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- Grammy Award winner Bruce Hornsby sang. Olympic gold-medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi smiled and signed autographs. There was a laser light show, a pyrotechnics display and another show by the group that recently performed stunts in the movie, "The Last Action Hero."

A sellout crowd of 63,000 crammed into the Alamodome last night to watch the opening ceremonies of the United States Olympic Festival.

This is more than just sports competition for the nearly 1 million people who live here. This is possibly San Antonio's coming-out party.

"For the last couple of years leading up to this, we have been calling San Antonio one of the emerging sports cities," said Bob Coleman, chairman of the San Antonio Local Organizing Committee. "When this is over, we won't be emerging. We will be there."

Coleman said $256 million has been poured into San Antonio for facilities since 1987, when the city last bid unsuccessfully for the Olympic Festival.

The only events scheduled yesterday were cycling, team handball and synchronized swimming. But beginning today, local officials are expecting record crowds at the figure skating and other competition at venues across the city.

The biggest reason is the 72,000-seat Alamodome, which opened in May and is the only facility in North America with two Olympic-size, permanent ice rinks under one roof.

The NBA's San Antonio Spurs also will play their home games in the building.

Two NFL exhibition games will be played in the dome: Houston Oilers-New Orleans Saints on Aug. 7 and Dallas Cowboys-Oilers on Aug. 21. The first Alamo Bowl college football game will be played on New Year's Eve.

And basketball's Final Four will bring its big dance to the Alamodome in 1998.

"We estimate that about $25 million will be spent here directly from the festival," said Robert Marbut Jr., president of the organizing committee. "And we're just about guaranteed to break even just through ticket sales."

Coleman said 293,000 tickets, worth $1.9 million, for the 10-day, 37-sport event already were sold by midnight Thursday. He also said the group's break-even point is $2.6 million.

It's a reversal from the 1991 Olympic Festival in Los Angeles, which was the least-attended and the only festival to lose money ($2 million) in the past decade.

"I thought the problems there could pull us down here with the sponsors," said Coleman, who brought together a group of 22 investors in February to purchase the Spurs for $75 million. "In L.A., there's so many municipalities, but here there is only one Chamber of Commerce that speaks for the entire community. We had 295 local patrons that contributed in the 5-, 10- and 15,000-dollar range. Heck, we even turned down 5,000 volunteers because we had so many."

"In L.A., the event got lost in the city," said Gary Alexander, festival director for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "Here in San Antonio, they have engulfed it."

Apparently, San Antonio officials also have done a good job of selling the city to the athletes.

The Olympic Festival is not usually well-attended after an Olympic year. And the festival is considered more of a competition for younger athletes instead of veterans.

But about 125 Olympians will be among the 3,500 athletes competing, including such recognizable names as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gail Devers, Shannon Miller and Mark Lenzi.

Track coach Bob Kersee has decided to send a stable of world-class athletes from his Los Angeles-based training center, including hurdling veteran Greg Foster and triple jump star Kenny Harrison.

"San Antonio has created a great legacy for the future," said Harvey Schiller, USOC executive director.

U.S. OLYMPIC FESTIVAL

When: Yesterday through Aug. 1

Where: 37 locations in San Antonio

What: 3,500 athletes, about 125 Olympians

TV: TNT's first two-hour coverage starts today at 4 p.m. Prime Network's begins at 9 p.m. Both networks will begin at the same time tomorrow.

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