As the global sports leader – yes, that’s a real title – for L.A. architecture and engineering giant Aecom, Bill Hanway worked on the 2012 London Olympics and is still working on Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, helping cities plan and prepare for the games. Now, on top of his ongoing work for those events, he’s working with LA2024, the group pushing for Los Angeles to be the home of the 2024 Summer Olympics. While most of the public attention paid to the bid is focused on the cost of the games and the venues that would need to be developed for them, Hanway knows there’s much more to planning a successful Olympics – from making sure there are enough food vendors to doing everything possible to help athletes break records. Because he’s working on the L.A. bid, he can’t comment on competing cities Paris; Rome; Budapest, Hungary; and Hamburg, Germany – that’s a no-no under International Olympic Committee rules. Instead, Hanway spoke with the Business Journal about what challenges the L.A. bid could face and the less obvious factors that go into planning the games.
Question: There’s a lot of focus on stadiums and transportation and other things that need to be built for the Olympics, but what are the things you look at, and plan for, that the rest of us don’t notice?
Answer: We want everyone to focus on enjoying the event and enjoying the city. Anything that distracts from that is something we try to minimize. We want to minimize the amount of time it takes for someone to get into a venue, make sure we have enough shade areas so people are comfortable, that they’re not waiting too long for food. We want to make sure people are focused on the fun instead of any hassle that might be associated with it.
What about the games themselves – the athletics?
We love when athletes break records. That’s one of the most exciting parts. So there’s a lot of planning around make sure athletes have every advantage.
What kind of advantages? How does that work?
So, we want to make sure the athletic track will be the fastest ever built, that pools will be the fastest. In swimming, for example, there’s technology constantly being developed where you eliminate the benefit of being in an inside lane or an outside lane. Rebound walls and lane dividers (that absorb the wakes created by swimmers) and the depth and the edge conditions (can be adjusted to help athletes swim faster). That’s the part that’s interesting at a minutiae level. So we work closely with the federations to make sure we’re taking advantage of the newest technology.
How does L.A. compare to other bidding cities in terms of what we would need to build to host the games?
We’re not allowed to comment on competing cities, but from working on London, Rio and Tokyo, L.A. is by far the best positioned of any city I’ve ever worked on in terms of sporting venues that are available. There are even options for venues for a majority of the major sports.
What about other infrastructure?
It’s interesting to separate out what’s necessary for the games and what’s needed for L.A. as it grows into a powerhouse of a city. For example, Los Angeles International Airport has historically had a challenging reputation, but investment there is going to make LAX one of the best destinations to fly through. So something that’s always been a possible criticism will be completely transformed by 2024.
London won the 2012 games long before the financial crisis; Rio won the 2016 games in 2009 and, with the games a year away, Brazil has slipped into recession; L.A. is bidding on the 2024 games during a historic drought. How do you plan ahead for the unknowable?
For London, no one could have predicted what happened in 2008, but we had some contingency built in. That kind of approach is going to have to inform our strategy. Water is one critical issue that’s going to need to be looked at. We’re looking at how we adapt a successful games to that constraint.
Angelenos seem to support hosting the games, at least according to U.S. Olympic Committee polling, but that could change. How big a factor is public buy-in?
There’s always a level of healthy skepticism, especially this far out. There’s a mythology that follows on from numbers suggested by the cost of the Sochi Olympics. But L.A. is comfortable holding major events. It’s part of the DNA of the city. There’s more natural comfort and the legacy of 1984 is still fresh. All that would lead to L.A. having an advantage.
What puts L.A. at a disadvantage?
The biggest criticism is that L.A. will have had it for a third time if it hosts 2024, though London broke that with 2012, making it the third time. That’s an issue with the IOC, and it’s something we will have to overcome. There’s also the mythology that it’s impossible to drive anywhere, that LAX is a challenge – all that is part of the work we have to do in our messaging.
Problems always crop up just before the games start, whether it’s security concerns in London or unfinished hotels in Sochi. How do you avoid that?
The biggest advantage in L.A. is that so many venues are built and ready to go. The idea you need to rush to complete venues and facilities, it will not be a challenge for Los Angeles.
What’s your favorite event to watch in the Summer Olympics?
Strangely, I have a fascination with weightlifting. That’s one I certainly enjoy. It’s such a pure thing. You’re one person and how much weight can you move?
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