The Nation Sports Festival, a shaky $1 million investment a year ago, completed its second edition tonight as an artistic winner and a financial draw.
Ticket sales of $215,000 and program revenue of $25,000 more than double last year's income and $500,000 payments by Coca-Cola and the national Broadcasting Co. enabled the United States Olympic Committee to come close to matching its $1.3 million budget. Regardless, the city of Colorado springs had guaranteed $285,000 to meet any shortage.
A year ago the USOC shelled out $1.4 million to get the Festival off the ground and there was no assurance, following modest crowds and luke-warm interest, that it would become an annual fixture.
This time, sellout crowds swarmed over gymnastics, boxing, diving and figure-skating sites and thousands more sat on grassy banks to view track competition. NBC provided seven hours of coverage and enough nationally ranked athletes appeared to stir national interest.
It is not the intention of the USOC to present America's top athletes in every event. The greater outlook is to provide summer competition at a time when many U.S. athletes have nowhere to go, to give upcoming athletes a chance to compete against proven stars, and to stimulate interest in many Olympic sports that largely have been neglected in the U.S.
"The National Sports Festival was never intended to be a vehicle solely to display the elite athlete," said Don Miller, executive director of the USOC. "A mix of young athletes with elite athletes is what the whole program is all about."
The failure of such top athletes as Renaldo Nehemiah, Franklin Jacobs, Phil Boggs, Willie Smith and Linda Fratianne to appear after promising participation prompted some editorializing for more strict observance of commitments. USOC officials, however, do not wish athletes to feel compelled to come.
"This is a free country and no one has to take part in the Festival," said USOC President Bob Kane, who dreamed it up. "It would be a great mistake for the USOC to ever enact any written agreement to take part. Those who want to compete will be here."
What Kane does envision is regional competition leading to the Sports Festival, possibly on a statewide basis, although he concedes such an arrangement would be far in the future.
There will be no Festival in 1980 because of the Olympics, but Syracuse and Orlando already have joined Colorado Springs as possible hosts for 1981, with Indianapolis a 1982 contender. The USOC would like to see Los Angeles serve as the 1983 host, as a dry run for the 1984 Olympics.
Although such cities as Syracuse and Indianapolis lack the charm of this beautiful city nestled under the shadow of Pikes Peaks, a Festival in those sites would force the construction of new facilities, which would be available afterward. That is a powerful selling point for a shift.
Many top athletes used the Festival to introduce new routines that they had not previously attempted in competition, and one of the lasting memories must be gymnast Kurt Thomas, performing a reverse triple somersault off the horizontal bar. If it wasn't perfect, it was electrifying.
As a counterpoint, there was Ron Galimore, attempting a new maneuver in floor exercise, landing awkwardly and tearing ligaments in his knee. His future could be in jeopardy.
Also in the gymnastics competition, there will be long recollection of Rhonda Schwandt's remarkable 10.0 floor exercise, a performance that lends hope for Moscow gold if she can overcome her chronic knee problems.
On the springboard, there was Greg Louganis, laughing with the crowd after he was announced as attempting a 2 1/2-reverse somersault with an incredible degree of difficulty of 3.0. Then he accomplished it, fairly well, and was still laughing afterward.
In the weightlifting competition, there was 14-year-old Kenn Rapach, hardly rippling a muscle, coming up to his last lift in the 114-pound competition with tears in his eyes as he led national champion John Chappell. Rapach had lifted 209 pounds in the clean and jerk, but he couldn't manage 214.5 and Chappell then earned gold with a 220-pound effort. Rapach will be heard from again.
For sheer reverberation, Antoine Carr was the winner with his dazzling dunk that smashed a backboard and forced a sudden change in location of te basketball competition. Fans rushed out to pick up bits of glass for souvenirs.
Autograph hunters were out in force, from little boys seeking the scribble of 12-year-old gymnast Tracee Talavera to big girls demanding the signatures -- and phone numbers, if available -- of the divers whose brief briefs gave the ladies a chance to do some whistling and watching of their own for a change.
In the wrestling competition, three generations of Peery's provided insight into the tugs on the heartstrings that sport provides While 17-year-old Greg Peery of Annapolis, Md., battled his way to the 132-pound freestyle silver medal, he was encouraged by the shouts of a pair of three-time NCAA champions, grandfather Rex and father Ed, the coach at Navy.
The strain of competition is rarely displayed in fashion similar to that 800-meter stretch battle between Joetta Clark and Robin Campbell, with both helped off after their wobble to the tape.