It is true that the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona represented a pivotal moment in Olympic history. The Dream Team changed world basketball and redefined the Olympics… but the seeds of Barcelona were planted eight years earlier in Los Angeles.
The black and white cover photo for this story shows the French soccer team celebrating after beating Brazil in the 1984 Olympic gold medal game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. This football match was a competition between professionals, not amateurs.
While the 1984 United States Olympic basketball team was still made up entirely of varsity athletes, including a man named Michael Jordan – who had yet to play his first NBA game – the Olympic tournament in 1984 football hosted professional, professional competition at the Games. This move towards professional involvement in the Olympics gained critical mass during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, which gave us the Dream Team. Nothing was the same after that… but it should be noted that 1984 in LA was a precursor to 1992 in Spain, as Jon Wertheim notes. in this extract from his new book, “Glory Days”:
If the 1984 Olympic Games widened the field of events, athletes and participating countries, these Games also opened the door to a new class of athletes: the professionals. Before 1984, the Olympic football competition was only open to amateurs. The consequence of this was to make the World Cup the quadrennial sports tournament, open, so to speak, to all players. It also meant that the Olympic format gave an advantage to players and teams representing Eastern Europe, where the entire concept of professionalism in sport barely existed.
For the 1984 Games, however, FIFA, the governing body of football, allowed professionals to compete, provided they had no prior World Cup experience. Considering that the big star of the Games, Carl Lewis, had blatantly taken money from fixture promoters and sponsors, that slight nod to professionalism seemed like a small concession.
The tournament was a great success. France beat Brazil 2-0, in a spellbinding final played in front of 101,799 at the Rose Bowl, then the biggest crowd to see a soccer game in the United States. the potential for marketing dollars resulting from a relaxation of the rules of amateurism.
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics put so many forces into motion and changed the way the Olympics were conducted on many levels. Women’s sports have developed, Chinese sports have emerged, technology has exploded.
The emergence of professional athletes is a story that is easy to forget, especially since Barcelona 1992 was so important in the advancement of professional competition. The 1984 Los Angeles Games created the ramp to the Barcelona showcase in 1992.