LA28 plans ambitious Coliseum makeover, building a track on top of the existing field

There was no way to bring the Olympics back to Los Angeles for a third time without holding track and field at the Coliseum. Not with all those ghosts knocking around.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias competed at the historic stadium during the 1932 Summer Games, winning the javelin and hurdles. Carl Lewis won four golds there in 1984, a competition that also featured the infamous Zola Budd-Mary Decker collision in the 3,000 meters.

But as local organizers devised plans for the 2028 Olympics, they faced a basic dilemma: There wasn’t enough room on the Coliseum floor for, well, a track.

Renovations in the early 1990s added 14 rows of seats at the bottom of the bowl, moving the stands closer for football, shrinking the size of the field. The LA28 organizing committee needed a temporary fix.

The solution will require thousands of columns and metal plates to build a new floor about 11 feet above the current one. Because the bowl slopes away in all directions, this elevated surface will have room to stretch out, covering all those added seats.

For a city that has enough existing world-class venues to host the Games without major construction, the $100-million project represents what LA28 chairman Casey Wasserman calls “the most-expensive and probably complicated thing we actually have to build.”

Not everyone is thrilled about the stadium’s role for 2028. A Coliseum official has expressed disappointment about a proposed opening ceremony that would begin under his renowned peristyle, but shift to the newer, glitzier SoFi Stadium for formal protocols.

“The torch and the parade of nations and the Olympic oath all should take place at the Coliseum,” said George L. Pla, president of the Coliseum Commission.

LA28 executives insist they are committed to showcasing the historic venue at both the Summer Games and the subsequent Paralympics. John Harper, chief operating officer, described it as “a beacon.”

Plans for track competition there began several years ago when organizers researched technology that had been used for European sports events. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, workers installed 6,000 columns and nearly 200,000 tons of steel components to create an elevated field.

To do something similar at the Coliseum, LA28 expects to begin construction as soon as USC plays its last football game of the 2027 season.

Turf and dirt will be scraped away to expose the stadium’s concrete base and adjustable columns will be arranged every 10 or so feet. The work will be laborious if only because the Coliseum has only one access point from outside — the tunnel where Trojan football players run onto the field. Some building materials might have to be lifted over top of the bowl with a giant crane.

“It’s an incredibly complex build in that it’s an incredibly tight space,” said Bill Hanway, executive vice president for AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm hired to oversee much of LA28’s preparations.

After laying a metal deck across the top of the columns, workers will add almost two feet of gravel and soil to create a stable base. Then comes a synthetic track and a turf infield for events such as discus and javelin.

The space underneath the floor could be used for a warm-up area and the call room, where athletes check-in before competing. LA28 is considering a mechanical platform that would slowly raise athletes to field level for a dramatic entrance before, say, the women’s 100 meters.

“We are incredibly excited about having the Games in Los Angeles,” said Max Siegel, chief executive of USA Track & Field. “Just the innovative thinking that they have.”

Constructing all this during seven or so months — after waiting for football season to end — means the stadium might not be ready for Olympic test events or the U.S. track trials in the early summer of 2028. It means crews will have to work quickly to restore the field for USC’s football home opener in the fall.

“I guess the good thing is we have all our venues in place,” Wasserman said of Southern California’s existing stadiums and arenas. “The flip side of that is, they’re used a lot.”

If spending $100 million on a temporary remodel seems extravagant, LA28 needed a major stadium for track — one of the most-popular Olympic sports — and faced similar challenges with options such as SoFi or the Rose Bowl.

“When you think about the cost compared to a new stadium,” said Hilary Ash, vice president of Games delivery and infrastructure for LA28, “it doesn’t even compare.”

Once the Games begin, organizers won’t waste any time showing off their work: They have decided to flip the usual Olympic schedule, moving the track competition from the back half of the 17-day Games to the very start.

“We have world-class athletics at the Coliseum the first day after the opening ceremony and that hasn’t happened in a long time,” Wasserman said. “I think it’s going to really create a lot of energy.”

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