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1932: When Los Angeles turned Olympian



With the Olympic Games now officially started in Beijing, China, it seems an appropriate time to look back at the 1932 Games, held in Los Angeles from July 31 to Aug. 14. The '32 competition inaugurated several notable Olympic traditions:

* It introduced the three-tiered victory stand for the medalists.

* It was the first Olympics to use photo-finish cameras.

* It was staged over 16 days -- nearly one-fifth as quickly as the previous shortest duration of the Games -- and that became a feature of all subsequent Olympics.

* It was the first Games that featured an Olympic Village for the (male) competitors; the women athletes were housed in the Chapman Park Hotel.



There weren't very many athletes of either gender at these Games -- only 126 women and 1,206 men, less than half as many as had attended the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. The Great Depression was a global happening, and many countries simply couldn't afford to send athletes. Moreover, Los Angeles was considered a rather remote site to reach, especially from Europe. As 1932 began, hardly any country had officially made plans to attend, and it appeared the Games would be a massive folly.

Enter Hollywood.

The film community, led by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper and others, bought many tickets and promoted their sale. The stars took part in a massive opening ceremony that drew more than 100,000 to the Coliseum, which had been built in 1923 in order to get the Games:



As it turned out, the Games made a substantial profit.

Competitively, the '32 Olympics were also successful. There were 18 world records broken or tied, 14 of them in track and field. A total of 11 athletes won multiple golds, including two American women -- Mildred "Babe" Didrickson, in the 80-meter hurdles and the javelin, and swimmer Helene Madison, shown standing on the diving board alongside teammate Eleanor Holm, who also won a gold:



The Amazonian (5'10 1/2") Madison won three golds, and reportedly spent a night on the town with Clark Gable after winning in the 400-meter freestyle. Ah, the fruits of victory. (In fact, Madison appeared in several films after the Olympics, but -- pardon the pun -- never made much of a splash.)

Did Carole Lombard attend the Games? Sports fan and athlete that she was, there's a good likelihood she did. This portrait was probably made to coincide with the Olympics:

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