sam-the-eagle-spoonWho collects spoons?

Good friends in Los Angeles pleasantly surprised me recently with a couple of gifts, including a souvenir spoon from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The mascot, Sam the Eagle, adorned in a loud red-white and blue had, proudly holds the Olympic torch aloft at the tip of the spoon’s handle.

After marveling at the thoughtfulness of my friends, and this artifact from my university years, my mind lept to that simple question.

Who collects spoons?

Spoon collecting, as I now know, has a long tradition. In the mid-1800’s in Europe, merchants would sell spoons, and likely other utensils, with images of famous people or local landmarks on the handles or in the bowls of the spoon. Wealthy Americans who travelled in Europe would make it a habit to collect souvenir spoons wherever they went.

In the late 19th century, souvenir spoons became a big business in the United States, triggered by two particularly popular souvenir spoon lines, One was the George and Martha Washington series, manufactured by a company called Galt & Bros initially in honor of the 100th anniversary of America’s first president.

The second hit series was the Salem Witch Spoon series, featuring, well, a witch. An American jeweler went to Germany and saw a wide variety of ornate and unusually designed spoons, and decided that America was ready for a souvenir spoon recalling the 17th century witch hunts of Salem, Massachusetts. According to this PBS article, by the mid 1890’s, there was an unprecedented boom in spoon collecting. With the advancement of mass manufacturing of the industrial age, and a collapse in the silver market, spoon collection was affordable to the growing middle class while still maintaining that hint of posh.

salem-witch-spoon

Here’s how the magazine Antiques and Art described the boom:

At the end of the year 1890, there were only about five souvenir spoons patented or in production in America; by May 1891, there were hundreds on the market. More patent designs were issued for souvenir spoons during this decade than for the entire period from 1790 to 1873 or after 1900. The 1890s witnessed cutting-edge innovation in the making of souvenir spoons: this decade saw the production of cast spoons (i.e. souvenir spoons made according to the lost wax process); the perfection of engraving and bright cut decoration; the introduction of embossed designs in spoon bowls and on handles; and, the production of exquisite enameled spoons which today are considered miniature works of art.

Apparently, spoon collecting is still obsession for many people today.

For a detailed display of one person’s own spoon collection, watch this unusually framed video.

XXIII Olympic Summer Games

In the 1970s, after the tragic Munich Olympics in 1972, and the financially disastrous Montreal Olympics in 1976, there were not many cities that had an appetite for the 1984 Olympics. In fact, Los Angeles may have been the only real bid, and thus were able to extract significant financial concessions from the IOC. LA Olympic Committee head, Peter Ueberroth then kept costs low by getting corporate sponsors to contribute massively. In fact Corporate America played a huge role in bringing financial accountability and world-class production values to the Olympics.

In the case of the Olympic mascot, Ueberroth was able to rely on a trusted member of corporate America, Disney. While Disney was a bidder for the mascot design project, it was true that one of the member of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee’s executive committee was Card Walker, then chairman of the board of the Disney Corporation. Thus it was no surprise that Disney won the bid.

The design of the Olympic mascot was handed to legendary artist and publicity art director, Bob Moore, whose work has been seen in such films as Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo. In the early stages of the design process, Moore and his team worked on ideas that would emphasize the sunny Pacific Coast environment and weather, or symbols of the state, California. As a matter of fact, they thought they could use the Golden Bear, which is California’s state animal…until they realized that following on the popular Moscow Games mascot, Misha the Bear, would be more than a small cold war embarrassment.

bob-moore
Bob Moore

According to this detailed explanation of the development of the 1984 Olympic mascot from Mouse Planet, Moore’s team of 30 artists drew up animated versions of orange and palm trees, cactuses, bisons, snakes and turtles. Apparently, a beefed-up bison standing on two legs looked awkward and was abandoned. I suppose that was true for the humanoid cactus….

In the end, the bald eagle became the symbol of choice, with its associations to freedom, independence and fighting spirit. In fact, Sam the Eagle, as the mascot was eventually called, represented the very motto of the Olympic Games “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, which is Latin for faster, higher, stronger. How a “short, stubby, cuddly little eagle” as Mouse Planet describes Sam represents faster, higher, stronger is debatable, the idea that the stuffed toy would sell millions was not. As Mouse Planet explains, 43 companies ended up licensing to sell Olympic branded products. Sam the Eagle was featured on t-shirts, cups, pins, keychains, watches, picture frames, even Frisbees and spoons.

Sam the Eagle soared, as did the American Olympic Team, at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Although Misha the Bear may have had a word or two for Sam the Eagle….

NBC Rio logo

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) aired the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Games in America, the first time events were broadcast live via satellite. With a 13-hour time difference between New York and Tokyo, the opening ceremonies of the Games on October 10 appeared on American televisions in the middle of the night. After that, NBC offered about an hour of highlights after prime time, fearful of eating into the ratings of their lucrative evening programming.

NBC didn’t get high marks for their coverage, and eventually lost the Games to ABC, which became the network of the Olympics over the late 60s and 1970s. Thanks to ABC’s coverage, the Olympics emerged as a premier marketing opportunity for sponsors and broadcasters. In America, the three networks fought furiously for broadcast rights.

NBC currently owns US broadcasting rights through 2032, having bid an incredible $7.65 billion dollars for the Summer and Winter Games through that period. With so much riding on the Games, not only for NBC, but obviously also for Brazil, the IOC and the athletes, it’s no surprise that commentators around the world are casting doom and gloom on the upcoming Rio Olympics. A doctor in Canada has even called for the postponement of the Games until the zika virus threat is deemed less of a risk.

It’s also possible that the entire track and field team from the Soviet Union will be banned from participating in the Rio Olympics due to state-sponsored doping. Michael Colangelo of the blog, The Fields of Green, recently wrote that the lack of Russian competition will strike a great blow on the success of the Rio Olympics, particularly on the viewer ratings of NBC. “The problem is that as doping seems to become more prolific — with Russia essentially running a doping program at a national level — bans and bad news could affect the television ratings this year and beyond.”

Colangelo went on to write, “It’s a balancing act and the only loser right now is NBC. As the Olympics get closer, the IOC and its partners will have to work to make sure that all parties’ investment in the games is worthwhile. That seems close to impossible right now.”

That was actually a concern in 1984. As you may recall, the United States and over 60 other countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, primarily due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, 15 nations led by the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Michael Payne, who wrote the fascinating book called “Olympic Turnaround“, said that the American Broadcasting Company paid a then-record $225 million for rights for the Summer Games in Los Angeles and the Winter Games in Sarajevo, and that ABC bean counters started shouting that the sky was falling when the boycott was announced.

Roone Arledge
Roone Arledge

 

And then stepped in ABC Sports President and Olympic broadcasting legend, Roone Arledge. Like Henry V in Shakespeare’s eponymous classic play, Arledge faced down the naysayers, according to Payne, and stated with conviction that the Los Angeles Games would be a moment of triumph.

By early 1984, ABC’s financial leaders were running scared about a potential ratings collapse due to the Soviet-led boycott, and attempted to renegotiate terms. Arledge argued that the Soviets had done them all a favor, as the boycott would only allow Americans to win even more gold medals. “They would not lose viewers, they would gain them.”

Arledge was right, ABC’s coverage of Los Angeles set new ratings records. From Los Angeles in 1984 onwards the Olympic Games began to have a dramatic effect on the US advertising market. More than half of the advertising available for all sports for all networks for the entire yea was spent on the Olympics over two weeks. “We’d not only captured the market, we’d suck it dry,” Roone Arledge observed.

It was round 3 of the gold medal championship bout in the light middle-weight division at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Broadcasters for the American Broadcasting Company, Marv Albert and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, already seemed convinced that the gold medal was going to go to the American, Roy Jones Jr, who was battling the South Korean, Park Si-hun.

“Jones just picking away and stepping away,” remarked Albert. Jones had already scored a standing 8 on Park, and the broadcasters argued that Se-hun should have had another standing 8. With only 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining, Marv Albert said “Park Si-hun is taking a thrashing. It was back in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics that Frank Tate won the gold in this light middleweight division. Roy Jones looking to join him in the record books.”

When the broadcast came back from the commercial break, the American announcers were pretty sure of the outcome. “Roy Jones severely outclassed his opponent, Park Si-hun of Korea, as we await the decision,” said Albert. “And Jones scored from outside, scored from inside and he scored from the middle distance,” said Pacheko. “Almost anywhere he chose to stand and give angles, he out-boxed, out-punched, out-sped and out-talented Park.”

Jones landed far more punches than Park over the course of the three rounds, 86 for Jones, 32 for Park. “Should be a no question, but you never know,” intoned Albert just before the announcement.

The decision: Park Si-hun wins, 3-2 on points.

Albert’s reaction: “Well there it is! Park Si-hun has stolen the bout!”

Park Si-hujn and Roy Jones Jr_1
Boxing: 1988 Summer Olympics: USA Roy Jones Jr. victorious with South Korea Park Si-Hun after Light Middleweight (71 kg) Final at Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium. Seoul, South Korea 10/2/1988 CREDIT: John Iacono (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X37085 TK33 R6 F21 )

Was this a home ring judgment? After all, Koreans still recalled the loss of Kim Dong-kil to American, Jerry Page, in the light welterweight semi-finals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. As you can see in this recording of that fight, it was definitely a close fight. I am not so big a boxing fan that I can explain in detailed fashion why one fighter deserves a decision over another, but I would reckon that Page won the first two rounds, and that Kim came on strong enough in the third to possibly win the third round….but all up, I can’t argue with a Page victory.

However, my amateur eyes tell me that Jones indeed did “thrash” Park in 1988. And as David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky explain in their fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists, Park seemed to fight unimpressively throughout the Olympic tournament, gaining their title as the most “underwhelming winner” in any Olympic Games. “Probably no gold-medal-winner in Olympic history has been less deserving of his prize than Park Si-hun, who benefited from five ‘hometown’ decisions.”

In Park’s first bout, he beat Abdualla Ramadan of Sudan, who retired after two illegal blows to his hip and kidney. Park then defeated East German, Torsten Schmitz, in a unanimous decision, even though observers thought Schmitz had won. Then Park