What can LA Olympic planners learn from the Winter Games in South Korea?

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Among the throngs headed to Pyeonchang for the Winter Olympics this week is a small delegation from Los Angeles. They’ll be taking careful notes about how well South Korea has planned its Olympic Games and the day-to-day mechanics of hosting the global spectacle.

The delegates are from LA 2028, the group charged with planning the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.

Vice-chair of LA 2028 Janet Evans, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, is in charge of preparing Los Angeles for the arrival and care of Olympic athletes.

She said the LA 2028 team hopes to learn practical lessons that can be applied to the Los Angeles games a decade from now. Planners of the 2028 Summer Olympics estimate it will cost over $5 billion to stage. However they’ve promised that public funds won’t be used because of sponsorship deals, television rights and ticket sales. They also say they’ve negotiated a great preliminary deal with International Olympic Committee, which mandates that the IOC provide millions of dollars to Los Angeles to underwrite local youth sports activities.

Before her departure to South Korea, KCRW sat down with Evans at the offices of LA 2028 to discuss what she hopes to learn in Pyeongchang and the general state of Olympic planning in Los Angeles.

Olympic medal winner and vice chair of LA 2028 Janet Evans speaking at last year’s ceremony announcing Los Angeles’ successful bid for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games. Because the International Olympic Committee picked two host cities at the same time, the other being Paris in 2024, Los Angeles has 11 years to prepare for its Games instead of the usual seven. (Photo courtesy of LA 2028) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

KCRW: What do you hope to learn at the Pyeongchang Games?

Janet Evans: You know, as a representative of LA 2028 at the Winter Games, I’m excited to go see it from the athletes’ point of view. I’m excited to go to the Olympic Village to see what the athletes are experiencing, to see how their food is laid out, to understand how their transportation works. So I am very excited to go in a listening and learning capacity and bringing that back and implementing what I’ve learned.

KCRW: So there are concrete things you can learn at the Winter Olympics in 2018 that you can apply to the Los Angeles Summer Games ten years from now?

JE: Yeah, certainly. Things will change, however the athlete experience remains the same. You still have athletes working on how they get to their bus to get to the swimming pool, or how they get to the dining hall within the Olympic Village, or how they’re taken care of once they get off the airplane, how they receive their credentials. Those are things that in 10 years don’t necessarily change.

KCRW: And what are you most interested in as an athlete? What are you going to pay particular attention to in South Korea?

JE: As an athlete, I’m interested in the athletes. That’s my role here at LA 2028: athlete relations. What can we, as a city, give to them in terms of their athletic experience, their entire experience, the legacy that we leave for them through our Games?

KCRW: Our Olympic Games are more than 10 years out, and we have the advantage of time versus other Olympic cities, which usually have seven years to prepare for the Games. The advantages of time are obvious, time to prepare, time to make mistakes and correct them. But what are the problems that come with having more than 10 years to prepare for the Games?

JE: I think time allows us to experience more. I think time allows us to learn more, allows us to listen more. You know, I’m not averse to the 10 years. I think 10 years can only help us.

KCRW: I imagine it also puts pressure on you because people are going to say if there are problems with the LA Olympic Games, they’re going to say you had a lot of time to prepare unlike other cities.

JE: Yes, but we don’t have any venues to build, so we can take the time and the expense of the venue building and put it towards what I love, which is the athlete experience. We see the 10 years as an opportunity to do greater things, to do bigger things, to do better things.  

LA 2028 says the Olympic Games will be cheaper to stage in Los Angeles because the city and surrounding region will already have al the venues in place, like the Rams and Chargers stadium now under construction in Inglewood. (Photo courtesy of LA 2028) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

KCRW: I’m struck coming in here that I’m walking into an office where people come to work every day and they plan for the Summer Olympic Games. Can I ask now, early in 2018, what do you do exactly?

JE: Well, it’s funny. I always liken it to training for the Olympics, right? You have this goal, and this goal is really far away. And then the goal is 16 days, the Olympics are 16 games days. The Paralympics are 11 or 12 days, so we have all this planning to do. We’re also are working with the City of Los Angeles on developing a youth sports program with money that was advanced to us by the International Olympic Committee, $160 million. And we are planning a youth sports program within the city of Los Angeles through the Parks and Recreation Department that can give kids access to sports, access to Olympic sports, access to Paralympic sports. That’s going to be one of the legacies of the Los Angeles 2028 Games. And we want our legacy to start now. We don’t want our legacy to start after the Games, so we have a lot to do.

KCRW: City leaders and the planners of the LA Games sold this as an event that we’ll be ready for and the public wouldn’t be exposed financially. Do you still stand by those promises?

JEWe still stand by those promises at LA 2028. And we believe in our mission. Our venues are built. Our athletes are going to be ready. That was a promise we made to the City of Los Angeles and its people. And we have the DNA of the Olympic and Paralympic movement in our veins here in Los Angeles. We have 15,000 volunteers that have already signed up through our volunteer site. So we have these incredible programs that are beginning as testament to people and how they want the Games here.

KCRW:  And to those who want no part of the Games in Los Angeles, who don’t like the idea of the Games being here, who say LA has plenty of other problems it could be working on and not hosting this kind of event, you say what? And more specifically, are you ready to engage with critics of these Games?

JE: Well, yes, course. We had 88 percent support for our Games during our bidding process. And I think in any democratic society there’s always people who disagree with what you’re doing. Our bid was privately funded. There are no public monies and our organizing committee is also privately funded. So we feel that we are bringing something to our city that inspires people, that leaves a lasting legacy and that helps people. We are not averse to criticism, but we also believe in what we’re doing. We believe in our mission. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.