LOS ANGELES -- The granddaughter of Olympic immortal Jesse Owens burst into the stadium in a moment of Hollywood suspense before nearly 100,000 roaring fans and handed the symbolic torch to 1960 decathlon champion Rafer Johnson who lit the flame Saturday to begin the 1984 Olympic Games.
The identities of Johnson and Gina Hemphill were kept secret until both made dramatic entrances in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum under blue and warm Pacific skies. The unorthodox double-teaming at the end of the torch's journey climaxed an old-fashioned movieland extravaganza befitting the location of the XXIII Olympiad.
The Olympic flame flared from its pod high atop the Coliseum, lit by Johnson, the 1960 decathlon Olympic winner, at the end of a 9,000-mile journey by hundreds of runners through 33 states, stirring a steady wave of patriotism by spectators and bearers across America.
The torch had wound its way from New York through the nation's most affluent and most impoverished neighborhoods, kindling one its last sparks of pride in Los Angeles' Watts ghetto en route to the Coliseum.
President Reagan, viewing the lavish opening ceremonies from a tightly guarded Coliseum skybox, declared the event 'absolutely magnificent -- out of this world.'
'I've never seen the story of America told better,' he told guests in viewing box.
In his formal announcement officially commencing the 12 days of quadrennial competition, Reagan -- confined by tradition to uttering publicly only 17 words -- said:
'Celebrating the 23rd Olympiad of the modern era, I declare open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles.'
Reagan was the first U.S. president to launch an Olympics held in this country. He preceded the opening statement with a rousing 'win one for the Gipper' speech to U.S. athletes reminiscent of his days as a Hollywood film star.
All but forgotten in the glory of the moment was the boycott of the Olympics by the Soviet u2'Ko1Aor*ion,WkXP14 fellow communist nations and Libya and Iran, which withdrew at the last minute in protest over the State Department's refusal to allow Libyan journalists into the country to cover the games. State Department officials said the measure was taken as a security precaution.
Despite the boycott, an Olympic record 140 nations sent athletes marching to their colors into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the traditional parade of nations. The delegations were as tiny as the single athletes sent by Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burma and Haiti and as big as 589 athletes of the host United States.
Greece came first in the magisterial march of the athletes, an Olympic tradition going back to the Games' origins. The United States came last, with Ed Burke, a 44-year-old hammer-thrower from San Jose, Calif., who is competing in his third Olympics, proudly bearing aloft Old Glory.
Taking up the first hour of the ceremonies was the glittering, Hollywood-style variety show that included 10,000 entertainers, covered wagons, 84 pianos and thousands of balloons before an overflow crowd of 100,000 at the Coliseum.
More than 1,200 girls holding white and gold balloons lined the grass part of the running track and formed the five Olympic rings encircled by a large array of balloons that stretched completely around the stadium to mark the first Olympics held in the United States in 52 years.
The show was billed as the largest production of its kind, with choreographer David Wolper declaring he had aimed for a '20-goosebump experience.'
The pageant began with the 'Fanfare Olympique,' a musical overture played by 150 trumpets and 20 timpani augmented by church bells. An original song by Marvin Hamlisch and Dean Pitchford entitled 'Welcome' was performed by the 1,039-voice Olympic Choir.
That was followed by a performance of George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' performed on 84 pianos, and a rendition of superstar Michael Jackson's hit, 'Beat It.'
Also performing were a 750-member marching band, a 1,000-member choir, 300 dancers, and a 1,700-member ethnic parade.
Among the spectators at the extravaganza were such personalities as actors Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, actress-model Brooke Shields, dancer-actor Gene Kelly and television star Linda Evans.
More than 10,000 entertainers highlighted the show before the spectators at the Coliseum and an estimated 2.2 billion television viewers worldwide.
The film producer spent seven months recruiting performers and collecting 200,000 props and 15,000 costumes.
At one hour into the ceremonies, an emissary of the Soviet Union, host of the 1980 Games, had been scheduled to present the five-ring Olympic flag to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
But since the boycotting Soviets refused to participate, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, was pressed into service to hand Bradley the embroidered satin flag.
Spectators paid $200 each to attend the event. Southern Californians in casual summer clothes -- shorts, tank-tops, miniskirts - joined out-of-towners in 84-degree, relatively smog-free weather.