Philip Barker ©insidethegames

US President Elect Donald Trump has called International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach to "express his strong support" for Los Angeles 2024. 

They are in competition with Paris and Budapest in the race for the the Games in eight years time. If the southern Californian city is successful, it will be the third time they have held the Games, a distinction which the Parisians would also achieve if they were to become hosts. 

Many consider LA the favourites with a third city Budapest, never an Olympic city, cast as outsiders.

Los Angeles was the only candidate city for the 1984 Games. They were selected in Athens in 1978. 

Few were optimistic about their prospects but they were a monumental success despite a Soviet boycott and made a staggering profit nearing a quarter of a billion US Dollars. 

There was more than a sprinkling of Hollywood dust, just as there had been the first time the Olympics came to the City of the Angels in 1932. Back then, film stars Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin were among the supporters. Here too, the Californians pulled off a remarkable success with a million dollar surplus, less than three years after the financial meltdown of 1929.

Streets in Los Angeles dressed up for the Games in 1932 ©Philip Barker
Streets in Los Angeles dressed up for the Games in 1932 ©Philip Barker

The idea of Los Angeles welcoming the world had first been mooted in 1919 at a meeting of the California Fiesta Association. The timing was perfect. The organisation’s president William May Garland planned a trip to Europe the following year.

A man of excellent connections, he swiftly arranged to meet some of the members of the International Olympic Committee at the Games in Antwerp. It was reported that "he was very courteously received".

Los Angeles were told that 1932 would be the earliest they could expect to stage the Games. Garland would soon be co-opted as a member of the IOC to give the Californians their man on the inside. The following year two other prominent American officials, Gustavus T Kirby and Frederick Rubien attended the IOC Session in Lausanne where Paris was formally accorded the 1924 Games.

Kirby told the members: "Los Angeles would remain at the disposal of the IOC in the event that the celebration of the Olympics in Paris became impossible as a result of unforeseen events."

They also invited members to the opening of the Los Angeles Memorial Colosseum. This had been built by the city’s Community Development Association as a memorial to the fallen.

At the 1923 session in Rome came a further formal bid for the Games. Never before had they been held on the shores of the Pacific and this time the IOC were to decide on the Games for 1932.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin himself had been keen that: "the new world was to stage the Olympic Games in every third Olympiad. There were some dissenting voices against designating the host city so far in the future but in the end the Games were awarded to Los Angeles by acclamation."

"Like the Westward march of civilisation itself has been the course of the spirit of modern Olympism which in the 34 years since its founding, has rallied to its banners the youth of 62 nations," was the breathless message of a news bulletin from the Los Angeles Organising Committee.

It was decided to erect a large torch embracing a special arrangement by which a flame could be lighted at an appropriate moment during the opening ceremony and kept burning continuously until the termination of the closing ceremony.

The cauldron bowl stood 107 feet above the stadium. There was no torch relay. An engineer simply lit a switch to light the flame.

The athletes were accommodated in a purpose built built Olympic village.

As early as 1924, the Swede Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom had been concerned that "in a large city, the athletes and teams might lose contact".

Garland had been quick to reassure him "in very clear terms" that this would not happen in Los Angeles.

"It was hoped that in the Olympic village, the sons of many lands could find a common ground of understanding. Here would be a crucible of inherited emotions in which barriers of race or creed could not be distinguished," he said.

Organising Committee President Garland wrote a letter of welcome to those arriving: "Let us all demonstrate to the world that Olympic self discipline can produce a record of peace and happiness among the 2000 inhabitants of the village." 

There was even a hospital and travelling dental clinic, while "all sheets and pillowcases were of the highest quality" according to organisers.

Building work was swift. It began on the first day of April 1932 and everything was ready by June.

US Vice-President Charles Curtis opening the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles ©Philip Barker
US Vice-President Charles Curtis opening the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles ©Philip Barker

It was estimated that some half a million visitors came through the Olympic Village. A little dog was even born in the village. He was named Smoky and soon became adopted as a mascot.

The central area was the athletes’ lounge, an area where all could congregate. Written on the wall was the Olympic creed. The room was decorated with Navajo Indian rugs and the furniture was designed along Spanish colonial models.

The only woman in the village was ''the chief of house service''. The female competitors were put up in the Chapman Park Hotel in town where "tea was served each afternoon until the opening ceremony".

Although women were in the minority and the athletic programme provided for them was limited, a star was born. Mildred Didriksen, known as "Babe", won gold in the 80-metre hurdles and javelin.

In the pool, Larry "Buster" Crabbe won the 400m freestyle and after the Games, earned himself a contract playing "Tarzan" and "Flash Gordon" in the cinema. 

It was the Japanese who dominated the aquatics and 14-year-old Kusuo Kitamura was outstanding while India’s hockey team continued their dominance thanks in part to the legendary Dhyan Chand.

As the Games came to a close, the Olympic flame flickered and died. But from that point, many in Los Angeles dreamed of the day the Games would return.

Almost a century ago, Paris became the first city to host the Olympic Games twice. If they are successful in the IOC vote in Lima they too would make it a hat-trick .

In fact, they were very keen to host the first Olympic Games of the modern era in 1896. That honour went to Athens, but Coubertin had been born in Paris and he was determined that his home town would become involved.

They were held to be held in 1900 in conjunction with a World Exposition. Officials called it "an event without precedent". 

But trouble lay ahead. Expo Commissioner Alfred Picard and Coubertin did not share the same concept for the sporting events.

Coubertin suggested: "a building within the precincts of the exhibition or its immediate surroundings. a reproduction of the altis of Olympia."

He reflected bitterly that: "While assuring us of his friendly interest, Mr Picard had obviously filed away the scheme and was only waiting for the opportunity of consigning it to some dusty archive."

The minutes of the organisers reveal that: "A committee had been founded in order to examine the addition of sporting events to the general programme. These could be staged in the Vincennes area of Paris during the universal exposition and would be called an annex to the exposition."

The programme was to include gymnastics, fencing, equestrian events, cycling, life saving and even military drill. There was also to be provision for athletic competitions "military training exercises" and even balloon races.

The Special Consultative Committee for athletics was led by Paul Escudier who was President of the Union des Societes Francaises de Sports Athletiques. (USFSA). He was also a municipal councillor. Coubertin as honorary secretary of the USFA was named as Vice President of this Sub-committee.

Unfortunately, bitter disputes behind the scenes between French sporting organisations continued to plague preparations.

Coubertin himself actually resigned from his position with the USFSA and was increasingly marginalised.

When the teams arrived in Paris, they discovered that many of the events were scheduled for a Sunday.

‘’No first class American club or team holds meets on a Sunday,’’ fumed American IOC member Caspar Whitney and his compatriot William Milligan Sloane talked of ‘’that band of incompetents in Paris".

The Velodrome de Vincennes, used for the 1900 Olympic Games ©Philip Barker
The Velodrome de Vincennes, used for the 1900 Olympic Games ©Philip Barker

In some events, professionals were even allowed to participate. This ran completely against the strict amateur regulations of the Olympic movement then in force. Some of the shooting events even featured live pigeons, though doubt remains to this day as to whether they were part of what is now regarded as the Olympic programme.

Matters were not made any clearer because the word Olympic was actually missing from any posters concerning the Games.

The sports stretched over five months. For all their shortcomings, they did include the first events for women and British tennis player Lottie Cooper took her place in the Olympic roll of honour as the first individual female Olympic champion.

In the Athletics events exclusively for men, the outstanding American Alvin Kraenzlein came away with four titles. Another star was his compatriot Ray Ewry. A polio victim as a child, he won the standing high jump and standing long jump.

At the Velodrome de Vincennes, rugby players from Moseley in England arrived bleary eyed after an overnight journey across the channel. It was perhaps little wonder that they lost their match to the French XV. 

The venue was also used for football. Upton Park came over from the East End of London to claim the title and in cricket, a team from Blundell’s School and Castle Cary Cricket Club beat France, who were all expatriate British workers who had settled in Paris.

There was no expensive Aquatics Centre. Instead swimming took place in the Seine, which was also used for Rowing. Many teams used youngsters from the locality into service as coxes because they were lighter. The Dutch team had the youngest of all barely 10 years old. His identity has not been established but recent research has revealed the intriguing possibility that he might be a young Georgian emigree, who according to his members of his family "had won a prize for a boat race".

When the Paris 1900 Games were over, many of the competitors were unaware that they had even taken part in the Olympics.

"We should be careful never to allow the Games to be dependent on or taken over by a big fair where there philosophical value vanishes into thin air and their educational merit becomes nil," said Coubertin.

Yet it was only a quarter of century before the Games returned to the French capital. As the Olympic movement recovered after the devastation of the first world war, the 1920 Games were held in Antwerp. Meanwhile in Paris, the French government made it clear they would support the hosting of an Olympic Games.

In 1921 at the IOC Session in Lausanne, the Parisians were confirmed as hosts for the 1924 Games. It fell to Count Justinien Clary to thank the members for their decision.

A stadium at Colombes was to be the centrepiece for the Games and by the 1923 IOC Session in Rome, Clary was able to update his colleagues on the progress in providing this and a swimming arena. They still had a number of options for the sailing events.

A "village" to house the competitors was also announced. There would be a maximum fee of 50 francs per day full board. Meals included wine or beer.

The Marquis de Polignac announced details of the artistic contests, still a very important part of the Olympic Games in those days and it seems that formulating judging panels was a big problem.

On the track, the Finnish dominance continued. Paavo Nurmi, Ville Ritola, and Albin Stenroos won every medal going in the long distance events. Nurmi won the now discontinued cross country event for good measure. No wonder he was called "The Flying Finn".

The British sprinter Harold Abrahams won the 100m, held on a Sunday. Eric Liddell, a Chinese born Scottish missionary and lay preacher who won the 400m refused to run on the Sabbath. Instead he spent the day preaching in the Scots Presbyterian Church in Paris. 

The episode provided the inspiration for the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire. Although the film shows Liddell learning of the schedule as he boards the boat taking him to France, he was actually well aware of the schedule some months before.

"I have never felt for one moment that any of the liberties that we took were wrong," the film’s producer Lord Puttnam said later.

Street sign outside the Stade de Colombes bearing Baron Pierre de Coubertin's name ©Philip Barker
Street sign outside the Stade de Colombes bearing Baron Pierre de Coubertin's name ©Philip Barker

Making waves in the pool was another man destined to feature on the cinema screen. American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller destined to find fame as Tarzan, proved a sensation.

The football tournament was a great success and pointed the way towards the future and the establishment of a Football World Cup. The Uruguayans were a revelation and carried all before them. It was the first of two consecutive gold medals . The team were known as La Celeste because of their light blue jerseys.

These Games symbolised the end of an era. The following year, Coubertin stood down as IOC President. His name can be seen to this day on a street sign outside the Stade de Colombes.

He had not been satisfied by the 1924 Games, neither it seems were others. One French civil servant reflected ruefully "I cannot help feeling that the government has failed to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by this Olympiad".

Many would be delighted if the centenary of the ‘’Chariots of Fire’’ were celebrated in style with the return of the Games to Coubertin’s city. But another Presidential election, this time in France, could well have a significant bearing on the final vote in Lima next Autumn.