Monday, December 15, 2008

Judy Fortin Touchés Olympic Fencing

One of my all-time favorite CNN reporters is "Health Minute" host and CNN Medical Correspondent Judy Fortin. Our Edelman teams work with Fortin from time to time, specifically during IAAPA Attractions Expo 2006 in Atlanta, and when Cirque du Soleil "Corteo" tour visited Atlantic Station later that year (disclosure: IAAPA and Cirque du Soleil are clients of Edelman, the public relations agency where I work) .

Surfing the Web after work tonight, I just found that today Ms. Fortin posted a new report featuring Atlanta's Olympic fencing medalist Sada Jacobson.

Here is the written report, and the video is at this link. Good stuff!

I've not yet found an opportunity to view fencing during an Olympiad, but it's been on my radar since trying on a fencing uniform in the gym at Minnesota State University-Mankato back in 1991 (it was fun but a real workout -- barely lasted two sessions). Guess there's some latent nervousness in me regarding the whole "Smirnov Incident" (ouch!) about which I had sparse knowledge until writing this post.

Here are some other helpful links for those who want to lunge forth with more fencing education, with thanks to the International Olympic Committee, Federation Internationale D'Escrime and US Fencing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dreamboat Annie

The rockin' sister duo Heart -- seen here with a cover shot by Annie Leibovitz circa 1980 -- has long been one of my favorite bands. I lose track -- either Heart or Don Henley provided my first outdoor rock concert experience (both played the glorious Oklahoma City Zoo Amphitheatre during 1990), each serving as an upgrade follow-up to Janet Jackson's big show at the Myriad Convention Center that summer of 1990. Good times!

Though "Dreamboat Annie" is a great Heart tune, this blog entry is not really about music. The song's title is just a pseudo-clever starting point for another thread of Olympic connections that goes something like this:

Ann & Nancy Wilson -- Heart -- "Dreamboat Annie" -- Rolling Stone magazine -- Heart photo on cover of Rolling Stone (thanks, Google) -- cover photo by Annie Leibovitz -- Annie Leibovitz portrait photos -- Annie Leibovitz Olympic Project for Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games -- Annie Leibovitz back in Atlanta on Dec. 10, 2008.

(The thread could also spin off, I suppose, with references to "It's A Hard-Knock Life" and such, but I digress.)

Last night in Atlanta, former Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz was in town showcasing her latest Random House book titled "Annie Leibovitz At Work" to a packed house in the cavernous main gymnasium of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA).

To me it was fitting that the world-famous photographer took the stage in a gym, since more than one segment of her live presentation (complete with wall-sized projections of some of her most famous photographs) referenced work with Olympic athletes.

Before delving into Leibovitz's presentation (see video), some notes about the book:

"Annie Leibovitz At Work" just hit bookstore shelves and includes 230 or so pages with about one iconic image for every three pages of text written from conversations Leibovitz shared with the book's editor, Sharon DeLano (though the text is written first person, I suspect DeLano did the lion's share of writing as, in person, Leibovitz seems to be a woman of few yet thoughtful words).

Of course, the book includes the famous images of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Rolling Stones, a rose-covered Bette Midler, Meryl Streep, Whoopi Goldberg (in milk-filled bathtub), Demi Moore and Queen Elizabeth. Also featured are some stunning aerial shots of Monument Valley, dramatic war images from Sarajevo (site of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games -- one shot near the city's Olympic stadium included) and interesting family portraits that give some ideas for capturing loved ones on film during the holidays ... though none will be taken involving bathtubs full of milk). The accompanying text provides some brief or personal stories behind each image, or some general comments or tips on photographic technique. It's a fast read -- three Olympians appear (Carl Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Charles Austin).

So, back to Annie Leibovitz's presentation.

Leibovitz admitted in so many words that she is not a natural born public speaker. She shared some prepared remarks as an introduction before spending most of the event seated in a leather chair and reading directly from the text.

I was surprised and delighted that some of her most impromptu departures from the text came while describing work with nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, who she photographed just before the 1996 Games. Leibovitz used her story behind the photo to drive home two main points of the evening -- there are some shots that become part of history (capturing Lewis at his pre-Games peak as one example), and you should follow through on commitments even when you don't think you want to (she almost skipped photographing Lewis as he was not expected to medal in Atlanta -- a few weeks later he became only the third person to win nine gold medals).

What did not entirely surprise me (an explanation why begins in two paragraphs) is that Leibovitz remarked on the diversity of connections made with her portrait subjects to arrive at "the shot" -- her most vivid descriptions on this topic came while showcasing a range of photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger during his early career, Hollywood days and pre-political aspirations, as well as her memories of working with dancers and athletes (her new book includes notes from working with Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses that paint this picture).
Leibovitz closed the remarks by taking a few questions from the audience. I was next in line at the microphone, ready with a personal question for Annie, when she cut off the Q&A to start signing books (DANG!). Eventually, later in the evening, I did get to ask my question, "where was you photo of Olympic silver medal-winning wrestler Matt Ghaffari taken?"

Here is the back story to explain why I posed this question (Leibovitz's answer also follows):

When I was an intern at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs during the summer of 1995 (assigned to work in the public relations department at USA Wrestling), one morning I arrived at the USA Wrestling office to find a message from my boss. He said, in so many words, "There's some hot-shot photographer in town to take photos of a couple of [Atlanta Olympic-bound] wrestlers -- we need you to go with the wrestlers when the photographer comes to pick them up, and spend the day with the crew taking the photos."

As planned, a crew picked up the wrestlers (including Matt Ghaffari, an Iranian American who is one of the most genuine and coolest Olympians anywhere -- a real class act) and I to a public park with a massive green lawn and Pike's Peak looming to the west under a cloudless summer sky.

I was confused because there appeared to be two freshly placed dump truck loads of dirt -- one was sand, the other a darker clay -- recently poured on one flat expanse. The whole scene was punctuated with huge scaffolding covered with tarps, and a couple of ladders were in place. We were at the photographer's "studio" for the day. The photographer, of course, was Annie Leibovitz!

Leibovitz had a big crew and it was clear no expense was spared. Easily more than $100,000 went into this one setting as the dirt was used to create a wrestling venue inspired by ancient Olympic wrestling sites near Olympia, Greece, and the different shades of soil were trucked in to provide a range of hues for black and white Polaroids that Leibovitz started shooting as the wrestlers got going on the Terra firma.

I still have the business card for the Swatch public relations executive who was on site, presumably bankrolling the whole operation for what became Leibovitz's 1996 book titled "Olympic Portraits" (my good friend, Meghan, gave me a sweet Swatch featuring some of the photos from that book -- thanks, Meg).

Imagine my stunned surprise when, during our picnic lunch (arranged by Annie's intern and yours truly -- go, interns, go!) in the park, Leibovitz pretty much scrapped the entire "Greek dirt wrestling" set up because Ghaffari, the USA wrestler who went on to win silver in Atlanta, started telling Annie a very personal story about how as a boy his father taught him to wrestle by "pretending your opponent is a tree and you are trying to wrestle a tree out of the ground."

Leibovitz LOVED this -- you could see the wheels turning behind her tortoise-shell glasses as she asked Ghaffari to take hold of the oak trees under which we were lunching. After just a few more Polaroids we were all sent packing. Photo shoot's over, folks! So long, Annie Leibovitz.

The thing is, on that summer internship day in Colorado, I had NO CLUE -- ZERO -- who Annie Leibovitz was -- the entire day! The name did not ring a bell at all. For real. It was a day or two later, when I told a fellow intern or a family member about work that day in passing, that it finally registered "Holy Sh*t! That was that Annie Leibovitz!" I still cringe about my naïveté that day!

I also cringe because, as an intern on site at the photo shoot, I was asked to help collect all the trash and "Polaroid rejects" belched out of Annie's camera into the dirt. At one time my hands held dozens of "no good" photos staged and lost forever following Leibovitz's work on the ladders (I kick myself monthly on this point -- these shots would be extremely rare Annie Leibovitz originals now, and they are in some landfill instead of my apartment!).

I learned the following year, when the Leibovitz Olympic book debuted at an Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) press conference at The INFORUM in Atlanta, that Leibovitz wound up re-shooting Ghaffari wrestling trees at another location later in 1995. As an ACOG staff member, I was in attendance at the packed press event, and tried to pose the question at a cut-short Q&A there, too -- until yesterday it was my understanding the final Ghaffari wrestling trees portrait was snapped at Midtown Atlanta's Piedmont Park, down the street from my current residence.

The answer, after 12 years: Annie Leibovitz does not remember!

While she signed a copy of "Annie Leibovitz At Work" she answered my question with a friendly and frank reply that they did re-shoot the "wrestling trees" at a later date, but she was not sure when or where. She offered a sincere thank you and handshake during our brief reunion (she has, by the way, some of the most graceful, large and strong hands of any handshake in recent memory) she asked about Ghaffari and how he is doing, perhaps signalling that although he was not the most famous celebrity in her repertoire, a connection was made that day in Colorado Springs.

She did not remember me, so it seems we're "even" on naïveté about each other (ha-ha).

I appreciate Annie Leibovitz taking time to answer one more question -- this one for the Flip Video camera -- just after signing the last of thousands of books sold at last night's MJCCA event.

The question: Would she take on another Olympic project in the future?

The answer (see video) yielded a surprise -- Leibovitz apparently was supposed to attend the Atlanta Games but was denied access near the last minute. It's tough to read whether she remains miffed about this fact (will let you, video viewers, draw your own conclusions).
It is my hope the future will in fact bring Olympians into focus for Leibovitz's craft (if Swatch is out there reading, let's see what you can get in the works for Vancouver 2010 or London 2010, OK?).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Vancouver in 432

In just 432 days, Vancouver will ignite the 2010 Olympic Cauldron to kickoff the XXI Olympic Winter Games. It's never 'too soon' to start planning travel to the next Olympic host city, and the New York Times published a great read on the city in yesterday's 'Escapes' section.

In the cover story by Dave Caldwell, there's a taste of things to come regarding the Vancouver Olympic Village, the city's great quality of life, real estate and references to ABC Sportscaster Jim McKay (his misnomer for Vancouver apparently remains the talk of the town for some during the last 19 years).

Are you considering a trip to Vancouver, or will you be tuning in to wall-to-wall Olympic coverage on NBC or other national Olympic broadcasters? I'd love to hear from those already researching their Canadian adventures.

For me, absolutely! Glad the New York Times gave me a nudge to look the Province of British Columbia over the weekend.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

He Ted, Not Jane

On the eve of travel to work at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008 in Orlando (er, actually it was just a couple of hours before the flight to Florida from Atlanta, on Nov. 14), the Atlanta Press Club hosted another great lunchtime event at downtown's Commerce Club just a few blocks from my desk at Edelman.

The guest of honor was one of my favorite fellow-Atlantans: The one and only Mr. Ted Turner. "The Mouth of the South" has a new book titled "Call Me Ted" which I've found to be an interesting read that filled in the blanks on several excerpts from another Turner biography of the mid-1990s titled "Citizen Turner" (sidebar: I picked up a copy of this book from a dumpster at Columbia University's School of Journalism, which was undergoing asbestos abatement while I was house sitting in Manhattan during October 1996, on post-Atlanta Games holiday -- by contrast, I paid the cover price for "Call Me Ted" and it is worth every penny).

Turner was on site with several members of his family (no sign of his former spouse, Jane Fonda, who was filmed for this blog just the week before Ted's press club engagement -- thanks again, G-CAPP, which wants you to know that three out of 10 girls in the U.S. become pregnant at least once before age 20 - see their other "fast facts" to learn more). There were also many current or former CNN employees in the audience, and Ted spent most of his time at the podium answering questions from the standing room crowd.

As shown on the video for this post, I posed an Olympic question to Mr. Turner that was only half-answered by "Citizen Turner" and escaped mention in "Call Me Ted." Paraphrasing here:

Mr. Turner, your book mentions milestones of your sailing career, but not your attempts to make the U.S. Olympic Sailing teams of the early 1960s (as noted in "Citizen Turner") -- can you please talk about any level of regret or recollections on the Olympic trials?

Turner's answer was very good (see video) and not entirely surprising, and he also kept on message about his book talking about his last days at AOL/Time Warner. Thank you, Mr. Turner, for answering my question.

Among many other memorable remarks of the event (reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in "PeachBuzz" the day after the lunch event) was the notion that Mr. Turner is looking for new friends (an audience member suggested he create a new reality TV show to recruit a few). I also loved Turner's answers to audience questions about CNN Headline News ("I can't watch it anymore"), President Bush and General Motors. Former CNN Chairman Tom Johnson's introductory remarks were outstanding as well.

One other remark that stuck with me was that Turner commented about litter and downtown, with sort of a "Give A Hoot: Don't Pollute!" Woodsy Owl tone. He explained that while walking through urban Atlanta he often takes time to pick up litter, and my impression was that he encourages his current team to do the same.

Since we are neighbors and he made a good point, since Nov. 14 I've taken a moment to pick up cans, discarded newsprint or other waste while walking to lunch at CNN Center or on MARTA, and it would be cool to see others do the same (that was, after all, an action that led me to that copy of "Citizen Turner" while exploring Columbia University back in the day).

I'd love to hear other reader feedback about "Call Me Ted" and hope folks will post their impressions of the text as a comment. Happy reading!

Sweet Caroline

As a quick follow up to the post on Neil Diamond in Milwaukee, here's another video from the big night at the Bradley Center. This one was captured specifically for my good Olympic friend, Brian, and his little girl in Shreveport, La., who shares a name with the title of this tune.
Also, I could not resist posting this link to Will Ferrell portraying Neil Diamond on a Saturday Night Live spoof of "VH-1 StoryTellers" of days gone by -- hilarious!

Hello, My Friend, Hello

There are plenty of "right place at the right time" moments that have made 2008 grand. One recent example came in the arctic northern city of Milwaukee, Wis., while visiting my girlfriend of five years for Thanksgiving.

After a big night of eggplant parmigiana and limoncello at Buca di Beppo, we steered the Corolla over by the Bradley Center and found that Neil Diamond was in town (actually, we knew for a couple of weeks he would be there, and also found that remaining tickets were slightly out of our price range).

Thanks to a friendly curbside negotiation (and two crisp-from-the-ATM Jacksons) with a parka-clad "I Need Tickets" guy, in minutes we were searching for our Section 217 seats expecting to be in the not-quite-nosebleed section of the arena.

Imagine our surprise to find our seats (face value $120 each) were on ROW FOUR at stage right! HELLO! Man, what an awesome show!

Although we missed a couple of the megahits (specifically, "Hello Again" and "Love On The Rocks" -- we did arrive 20 minutes into the concert, which explains the friendly ticket guy's rock bottom pricing) we WERE on site for The Jazz Singer's big Olympic-related hit "America," which was, for me, the unofficial theme song of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bid -- I have vivid memories of this song playing on the radio the 1990 day Atlanta won the bid (turns out NBC saw fit to make it somewhat official in their July 19, 1996, broadcast of the Opening Ceremony from Georgia, and the song was also a more official component of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games of Salt Lake, according to this bio). See the video below for a little taste of the show.

Atlantans have a chance to experience the magic of Mr. Diamond next week (I highly recommend this show to anyone who has or has not experienced Neil Diamond live) at The Arena at Gwinnett Center, and I may just have to be there, too, if the right "friend in the ticket business" and Buca di Beppo are in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

IAAPA Attractions Expo part 4 -- Joan Lunden and the Olympics

During IAAPA Attractions Expo, one of the celebrity attendees was an exhibitor who millions would recongnize from "Good Morning America" and ABC's coverage of the Olympic Games.

Former ABC anchor and reporter Joan Lunden was on site with her husband and daughter, Lindsay, and their team showcasing KinderKord, a new device intended to help families stay together while visiting attractions or just out on the town. It appeared they were getting a lot of attention for this new item, and media outlets like USA Today were checking it out in advance of the Expo as well (thank you, Jayne Clark).

With thanks to Lindsay for making the arrangements, I was able to spend a good deal of time with Ms. Lunden asking her about several Olympic memories from ABC. She had some amazing stories (see video) from Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Games and 1988 Calgary Winter Games on the ABC front, and also some personal family memories all the way back to the 1960 Winter Games at Squaw Valley, Calif. Donna DeVarona, Jim McKay, Charles Gibson and other ABC anchors and reporters (and their shared Olympic reporting duties) were obviously some good times for Lunden who enthusiastically told many cool tales from the Olympic front lines.

Turns out as a youngster, Lunden's family had a home on the same mountain as the Winter Olympic downhill ski runs, and she used to attend skating and ski lessons in Squaw Valley with some of the Olympic coaches and officials in town preparing to host the Winter Games "back in the day."

Lunden also shared fond memories of working with the 2002 Winter Paralypics for several broadcasts, and her trial run using the same ski equipment used by blind skiiers at the event.

Many thanks to Ms. Lunden and the KinderKord team for making time to chat at IAAPA Attractions Expo!

IAAPA Attractions Expo part 3

Last week, working with Edelman client International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008 in Orlando, we met some of the most creative people in the world of theme parks, water parks, zoos, aquariums, family entertainment centers, attractions and cool places where people have fun.

There were plenty of head-turning rides and inventions on site -- one that captivated attention was an import from Tokyo: The Management of Dr. Fish! You may have seen this one on the news back in the late summer -- minnow-sized fish (technically, they are carp) with tiny teeth that will devour your dead skin while you soak your feet, hands or whatever needs "treatment" by the Good Doctor.

Since it was obviously an opportunity to "carpe diem," I asked the management team whether they approached the Tokyo 2016 Olympic bid organization about their treatment (apparently Dr. Fish already has a massive following in Japan and their marketing materials at IAAPA state they had more than $2 million in sales as fish "spas" in and around Tokyo.

Unfortunately, my questions were likely "Lost in Translation" so the International Olympic Committee 2016 selection team and/or Tokyo 2016 teams will have to discover Dr. Fish on their own during a site visit to Japan.

In the meantime, you can check out Dr. Fish here on the video posted with this entry. My colleague, Rachel, took time to try out Dr. Fish with me -- the sensation of being gnawed by tiny carp was interesting (at first, much like having one's feet tickled with a feather followed -- all the while bringing up memories of that great fish film, "Pirhana").

If there are any venture capitalists or other investors out there, drop me a line ... I want to tell you about my business plan for a "Dr. Fish" spa and on-site "Circle of Life Sushi Restaurant."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

IAAPA Attractions Expo, part 2

Hello again from Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center, site of IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008, which is hosted by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions - pronounced "eye-AP-pah" for IAAPA (disclosure: client of my employer, Edelman).

Yesterday we were again in awe of all the creativity on display from more than 1,100 exhibitors filling the convention hall and even part of its parking lot. Back for the Expo are some of our popular favorites, like the triple-decker carousel from Argentina's Felimina Luna Park S.A., and Bob's Space Racers and all their new midway-style games.

New this year (some of which were reported by USA Today and the Orlando Sentinel):

  • Zamperla's "Surf's Up" ride, which is basically a giant surf board-shaped platform on which passengers stand while on blend, frappe or whip speed spin-cycles
  • New from Europe, Haystack Dryers are the coolest and newest full-size (er, family-size) body dryers since the shower scene in Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." When you are at a water park you step inside for a quick session under heat lamps and fans and voila you are dry!
  • Dr. Fish -- those little minnows that gnaw your dead derms while you soak your feet -- is here from Japan (will try that out later in the week)
  • The debut of Guitar Hero Arcade Game (yes, fellow-bloggers and video game gurus, it is here and it is b-b-b-bad to the bone!
Peter Shankman from Help A Reporter Out is still in town and we are about to embark to explore and FlipVideo some more from the show (more to come!).

Monday, November 17, 2008

IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008, part 1

For the 10th consecutive year, this year my team from Edelman is working at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008, the global gathering of the $24 billion attractions industry hosted by our client the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Is there an Olympic connection? Absolutely! But I will save that for a post later this week.

To help Peter Shankman of Help A Reporter Out (HARO) -- a guest speaker at the Expo education sessions -- make a point about how quickly FlipVideo shots can make it online, this post includes a video just shot moments ago via FlipVideo at his session on social media at the Expo.

Shankman is making a great point about how handy the Flip is for visitors to theme parks, water parks, zoos, aquariums, family entertainment centers, hotels, casinos and other attractions served by IAAPA. Looking forward to more posts on the great new rides, games, technology, food and park news we will learn throughout the week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taylor Swift's "Change" for the Olympics

I'm not ashamed to admit that the Taylor Swift P.R. machine has drawn me in hook, line and sinker. She has to be the fastest moving new country star in years.

After reading about the young CMA performer in The New Yorker, USA Today and EVERYWHERE else the last few days, then catching her on-screen quick-change on the CMA Awards tonight (for the catchy tune "Love Story" she transformed from singer to would-be bride), I will soon proceed, zombie-like, to purchase her new CD or tunes online. That is, if ever I figure out this whole "music download thing." (Disclosure: The Country Music Association CMA organization is a client of Edelman, my employer.)

Little did I know that during the China Olympic experience, back home in the USA, the good folks at NBC were airing Ms. Swift's new tune "Change" for their Olympic promos or highlight reels.

According to Great American Country and their August 18 online report, fans could download Taylor Swift's then-preview track of "Change" via iTunes, with funds going to Team USA (I have a call in to ask the U.S. Olympic Committee media relations team for an estimate of how much money was raised -- see update below posted Nov. 13). This song is not quite as catchy as her other hits, but it'll do just fine.

All this country music chatter takes me back to Salt Lake City and the 2002 Winter Olympic Closing Ceremony, at which Willie Nelson took on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" -- AWESOME! (In Nelson's case, perhaps a good thing the ceremony stars are not subject to the same performance testing as the Olympians.)

So if we got one more country singer for this blog post -- let's say, Clint Black (known for his song "The Strong One"), we now have an Olympic/country music pun ready to go:

With Taylor Swift + Willie Nelson + Clint Black ... Country Music goes Faster, Higher, Stronger (the Olympic motto!).
Nov. 13 Update: The U.S. Olympic Committee media relations office quickly responded, sharing that the AT&T Team USA Soundtrack program generated a $1 million donation to Team USA. Taylor Swift was in good company, joining Sheryl Crow, Goo Goo Dolls and Queen Latifah, among others, for the project. Good stuff!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Never 'Just A Game'

On the heels of the Lily Tomlin encounter last Friday (it was so cool to meet the Mark Twain Prize winner), today her name popped up in headlines as the 2008 recipient of the same honor, George Carlin, was celebrated posthumously in Washington this evening.

The are dozens of Carlin quotes I've memorized over the years, notable his monologue about the famous "Baby On Board" yellow car window signs of the late 1980s:
"... instead of 'Baby On Board,' how about an honest sign, like, 'Assh*le at the wheel!'? They could give those out free to people who drive Volvos and Saabs."

According to Wikiquotes, it turns out Carlin took on the legitimacy of a few Olympic sports, too. Given today's unfortunate incident involving a downtown Atlanta MARTA police team, Carlin's comments on boxing seem timely:

"Boxing is not a sport. Boxing is a way to beat the sh*t out of somebody. In that respect, boxing is a more sophisticated form of hockey. But beating the sh*t out of somebody isn't a sport, in spite of what the police think. When police brutality becomes an Olympic event, fine, then boxing can become a sport."

On sports, I think he punctuated his thoughts on competition with the notion that, "It's never 'just a game' when you're winning."

Just a few months ago, when George Carlin played a packed house at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, he did not really touch on sports and 'stuff' (unfortunately, his final 20 minute rant was a bit much).
But it was good to see him live, and it will be fun to search for recordings or video of more of his material, like this one my boomer blogger friend and colleague, Marilynn, might enjoy (all in good fun, though in this case, not clean).

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Path of Northern Lights

The chilled nights of autumn inspire thoughts of how to keep warm. One method for consideration: Checking out the info for the 2010 Winter Olympic Torch Relay set to begin in Olympia, Greece, less than one year from now.

According to the VANOC website, the relay will involve 12,000 runners across Canada, blazing "A Path of Northern Lights" along the massive route (I'm struggling to convert the 35,000 km to South of the border figures, but it will take three months to complete the journey).

I'm diggin' the Lynda Carter-like female illustration incorporated with the Vancouver 2010 "Look of the Games" on the website. Makes me ponder, "What would Wonder Woman look like wearing a red suit covered with maple leaves rather than the Stars and Stripes?"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kicking Myself

I'm kicking myself for missing today's NBC Sports premiere of their Paralympics special coverage. They have a range of special broadcasts taped in Beijing, providing U.S. audiences with more opportunities to connect with Paralympians. Here's a link to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) press release with more details (disclosure: the IPC is an Edelman pro-bono client). Marking calendar now for the upcoming broadcasts.

Anything Is Possible

While researching Alabama media websites for work, a recent report popped up regarding the USA's lone boxing medalist (a bronze, as reported here) from the Beijing Olympic Games. Looks like Deontay Wilder shared a story of inspiration for a school group in his hometown of Talladega, Ala. Good stuff!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fun With Nick & Jane

Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts (disclosure: an Edelman client) was the funniest place in Atlanta last night, with Mark Twain Prize (and Emmy, and Tony, and GRAMMY) winning comedienne Lily Tomlin playing to a standing room audience.

As a special treat (though not surprising), local star resident Jane Fonda -- Tomlin's co-star from one of the first Beta-tape home video cassettes I ever viewed: Nine To Five -- was in the audience. Jane was seated on the center aisle, on about row 15. My seat was on the front row (purchased online at 12:01 a.m. ET/12:01 p.m. Beijing time, as I was working in China during the on-sale moment, determined to have an excellent seat, and it was, as we could practically see Tomlin's nose hairs whenever she strolled stage left!).

During her 90 minutes of monologue, in-character sketches and even some pantomime and dancing, Tomlin delivered and outstanding array of laughs. Given this week's election news, perhaps Tomlin's best pseudo-impromptu line was her lamentations on how she is "now deeply worried about the future of comedy" in a post-W. presidency. She also described how graffiti in her hometown of Detroit sold thousands of cars:

"Teenagers used to spray paint that four-letter word that started with 'F' on bridges, and overnight the adults would repaint it to read 'BUICK'!"

Tomlin also touched on Hollywood, family and sexuality several times, noting that in her youth, family and society, "no one was gay -- they were only shy."

Following a sustained standing ovation, a couple hundred "VIP" ticket holders joined Tomlin and Fonda on stage for a delightfully informal meet-and-greet session. Everyone got as much time as they wanted to snap photos, ask questions or seek autographs from both stars.

For the sake of this blog, when it was my turn to chat with Tomlin, I decided to reprise my "reporter" role in an Olympic version of "The Chris Farley Show" and ask whether Lily had a favorite Olympic moment, athlete or experience (Tomlin is now the fifth celebrity to indulge my Olympic curiosity after Ennio Morricone, Kelly Clarkson, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and most recently Garrison Keillor).

Tomlin took a minute to think about it, and eventually replied (see the video) that she was amazed by the opening ceremonies in Athens and Beijing, in particular the giant LED "scroll" in the Bird's Nest. A bit later, off camera, Tomlin introduced the topic to her stage manager while we were exchanged e-mail information (Tomlin missed Fonda's departure from the event, and I offered Fonda's G-CAPP manager's e-mail to Tomlin & Co. -- thanks, Ms. Tomlin, for answering my questions and for signing my ticket).

Before she left the venue, I also asked Fonda whether she had ever seen Tomlin perform live on stage. The answer was, "No. No, not ever in Atlanta. And this venue [The Ferst Center and Atlanta] was a great place for this."

On the advice of Fonda's team from G-CAPP, I did not go down the Olympic path of questions, which I now regret. One of Fonda's G-CAPP colleagues said that she did not believe Jane had attended an Olympics, and unsure about the Goodwill Games with Fonda's then-husband Ted Turner.

Today, the morning after, the Web yielded that Fonda DID have at least one five-ringed connection as host of some sort of 1984 televised "Olympic Gala" (with Neil Diamond, The Beach Boys, James Stewart, Paul Hogan, Olivia Newton-John, Christoper Reeve, Dizzy Gillespie, Brooke Shields, Bruce Jenner, Peggy Flemming, John Houseman, Robert Wagner, Placido Domingo, Johnny Mathis, Henry Mancini, Barbara Walters, Andy Williams, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster and even Prince Charles and Princess Diana -- man, I need to find a tape of this) which presumably took place in Los Angeles before or during the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad.

Oh, well -- guess I'll have to ask Jane the next time we cross paths at the Midtown Whole Foods Market.

But back to Tomlin. Of several dozen celebrity introductions over the years, Tomlin was one of the most gracious, friendly and genuine. I appreciated her time to talk with so many people and her thoughtful answer to my questions -- some of the best 1x1 celebrity time since working with Benazir Bhutto's media tour at CNN. To paraphrase the interviewer Chris Farley, "That was AWESOME!"

And that's the truth.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Track 29 -- Great Shine!

Odds are good that if your older than 30 or live in Eastern Tennessee and North Georgia, you know the lyrics -- or at least the tune -- that goes, "Pardon me, boy. Is this the Chattanooga Choo Choo?"

My earliest recollection of this Big Band song is from somewhere around age five or six with a brief skit on "The Muppet Show" involving the song. The magic of YouTube made the memory complete a week or so ago, when my boss at Edelman mentioned we'd take a return road trip to Chattanooga to meet a few new contacts and learn more about the city (we visited the city often in 2007 for our client Rock City Gardens and invited media).

It was a delightful day, complete with gorgeous autumn hues in the North Georgia Mountains and outstanding views from all the great lookouts in Southeast Tennessee's growing city with a spirit of "The Little Engine That Could" (and as we learned from some great tour guides today, the ARE making things very special in Chattanooga).

We learned about the Bluff View Art District (which my girlfriend and I visited in 2006 -- it's very cool), stopped by the Hunter Museum of American Art (fabulous), and took in the shops and parks on the north shore of the river that cuts through town. All this was after a delicious local lunch at Niko's Southside Grill (I recommend the scallop appetizer and shrimp & grits) and great coffee and conversation at the Choo Choo site (thanks to our hosts!).

We even learned of Chattanooga's ties to the Olympics through gold medalist Joe Jacobi (I need to explore Jacobi's website and blog to learn more). Looking forward to return visits to Chattanooga -- Woo-Hoo!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Best photo opp ... EVER!

Euphoria! Joy! Relief!

Oh, the wonderful range of emotions of the last 24 hours. Last night was amazing, and I envy all those who were in Chicago in person for America's, and the world's, big party at Grant Park.

It came as no surprise that every newsstand in downtown Atlanta was void of newspapers today -- my colleague John and I trolled eBay and before 8 a.m. there were already dozens of listings for what will become coveted newspaper bits of history. My favorite front page remains the New York Times, the first spotted in my driveway (it is a keeper!).

Watching last night, my favorite moments included John Lewis from Georgia (he was also on NPR this morning), and spotting Jesse Jackson's reaction just past 11 p.m. ET on CNN and WGN's local crews in The Windy City (caught a small dose from Chicago's NBC5 as well). The Daily Show had a few great moments, too. Fox News seemed remarkably subdued. I was pleased with McCain's speech (and actually proud of him -- those who wrote it did amazing work). I was inspired and moved by Obama's wise and timeless words.

Viewing with the public relations practitioner hat on, have been searching all day for photos of the massive media tents overfilled with live cameras rolling for all the world -- what an awe-inspiring photo opportunity with East Randolph Street's gleaming towers including Aon Center behind Obama's victory stage. I've seen some large press conferences over the years, and last night's event was like no other.

By mid-morning Wednesday, media reports started popping up about how Chicago's hours in the spotlight may work wonders for the city's 2016 Olympic bid (from what I can tell, the Associated Press and the LA Times' Philip Hersh earned the scoop on this angle). Just a few minutes ago (about 10:30 ET tonight) the New York Times added their two cents (by Juliet Macur) to outlets reporting on remarks from Japan and Tokyo's bid. It took me back to Patrick Ryan's answer to my question at the Bid Cities press event in Beijing ... I think Mr. Ryan may be able to sleep a bit easier now that Chicago got some limelight, Obama-style.

Some of the wire photos from the big event are comparable to the night shots from the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, or the evening skyline shots from Beijing with postcard-ready fields of spotlights ablaze over the scene. Check out the Chicago Tribune photos here, then go to these shots from Berlin and Beijing.

Journaling last night as the coverage was winding down (or settling in awaiting decisions on senators like hopeful Al Franken -- hang in their, Al!), I could not help but ponder how amazing it would be to see President Obama declare open the Games of Chicago in eight years. Could be Chicago's only way to top last night for "best photo opp - EVER!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What I'll Miss About ...

During the home stretch days to the election, Atlanta's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich came to mind thanks to The New Yorker magazine's two-page spread titled "What I'll Miss About George W." Hilarious! (and fitting!)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a great gallery of Luckovich's work for the 1996 Olympics and each Games since. Some remain as true (if not more so) now more than 12 years later. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Olympic Cities on Global Index

As reported by GlobalAtlanta, several Olympic host cities (or wannabee hosts) appear on the recently released 2008 Global Cities Index ranked by Foreign Policy magazine. Five-ringed metropoli (and their Olympiad) on the list include:

2. Paris (1900)
3. London (1908, 1948, 2012)
4. Tokyo (1964, and 2016 Olympic bid candidate)
6. Los Angeles (1932, 1984)
8. Chicago (2016 Olympic bid candidate)
9. Seoul (1988)
12. Beijing (2008)
14. Madrid (2016 Olympic bid candidate)
16. Sydney (2000)
17. Berlin (1936)
19. Moscow (1980)
23. Amsterdam (1928)
24. Stockholm (1912)
25. Mexico City (1968)
30. Rome (1960)
35. Munich (1972)
37. Atlanta (1996)
47. Rio de Janiero (2016 Olympic bid candidate)

I have ZERO doubt that Atlanta owes its placement on the list in huge part for its Olympic hosting duties. Also think it is telling that Rio is so far down the list yet still ranks among the favorites for 2016 potential (maybe the IOC will peek at Foreign Policy magazine's criteria for their list?).

Coke Is It!

For one of my early posts, the topic of The Coca-Cola Company and its longstanding support of the Olympic Movement was briefly detailed. In the months since that post, several new Coca-Cola Olympic experiences came into view both in Beijing and stateside.

It came as no surprise, Coke's pavilion on the Olympic Green was magnificent. Luck and timing took me to the site on three occasions during the Games.

First, our crew for B.C. Canada Pavilion visited Coke Olympic Central with the Premier of British Columbia (a VIP guest early during the Games). This afforded a few of us the opportunity to pose with a Beijing Olympic Torch at a photo- or postcard-ready window looking out to the Bird's Nest.

A few nights later, en route to retrieve photos taken on site (a generous gift for visitors to that makeshift photo-opp-spot), I ran into several Atlanta-based reporters in China to cover the Games, including Jennifer Brett from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a crew from WXIA-TV, Atlanta's NBC affiliate. They were wrapping up reports from a Coke-hosted evening media event at which I learned about a special film project of Coca-Cola.

I was also slated to visit the Coke pavilion -- which will become a new World of Coca-Cola Museum for China (like the original in Atlanta) -- for a media event involving VIP Olympic Family members chosen for a special award presented to them by Coca-Cola (unfortunately, my arrival was late due to taxi snafu, but the venue staff gave me a refreshing beverage in spite of my tardiness). Of all the grand pavilions on the Olympic Green, the Coca-Cola experience was in the tops list (right up there with GE and Johnson & Johnson, two clients of the p.r. firm where I work).

Back in Atlanta a few weeks ago, The Coca-Cola Company's senior manager of marketing communications, Petro, shared the stage with other Olympic sponsor representatives at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Georgia Chapter luncheon on Olympic P.R. His presentation filled in a few blanks on how Coca-Cola executed some of their highly visible Olympic activities -- such as the Torch Relay and pin trading centers -- before and during the Beijing experience. We learned the company brought several employees to Beijing, and in spite of many challenges they apparently generated gazillions of media "hits" that were 96 percent positive. I was glad to learn of their commitment to the Games extended to at least 2020.

Coke also hosted a recent photo opp at the Atlanta World of Coca-Cola destination during which IOC Member and pole vaulting gold medalist Sergey Bubka joined Coke's archivist to install an official Beijing Torch into their vast collection of Olympic memorabilia (thanks, Petro, for the photo with this post).

All this Coke Olympic activity serves as a reminder of one of my earliest exposures to the public relations industry.

During the summer of 1993, while volunteering at the U.S. Olympic Festival in San Antonio, Texas, I spent two of the hottest summer weeks ever as a driver on the Festival's Texas Torch Relay around the city. On our last day of the relay, the crew chief assigned the primo driving assignment -- lead car ... a convertible -- as the team hosted three VIP guests from The Coca-Cola Company who were visiting as observers of the Torch Relay process (and more specifically how media were part of this Olympic Movement public relations tradition started in 1936).

Spending the day visiting with those Coke P.R. executives in the car convinced me to take a closer look at the P.R. track at college (to that point, I was undecided between newspaper journalism and P.R. -- thanks, Joan, Carlton and the other guest whose name escapes me while typing this post). And many of the elements they observed later became part of Coke's participation in the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay from L.A. to Atlanta.

I'll be sure to keep drinking in Coke's many Olympic touch points -- can hardly wait to see what they unfold for Vancouver, London, Sochi and beyond.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Olympic Movie Music

A few months back I posted some notes on Olympic films and their Oscar-winningness. A couple of days ago at an Edelman training event in Chicago, one of my colleagues -- Monte -- explained the inspiration for his cool movie soundtrack blog and website, which both ROCK!

In just a couple of days since starting to scan, several Olympic film scores and tunes have come to mind as research suggestions (in some cases, I've been trying to find the tunes for years).

For instance, though I did locate recordings of most of the "One Day In September" tunes by Philip Glass and Moby (his tune "God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters" also appeared in "Heat," which had a couple of establishing shots including Los Angeles Olympic venues) , and Vangelis' tunes for "Chariots of Fire" are easy to find, it's been tougher to track down other instrumentals from "For Your Eyes Only" (Roger Moore's ski chase through Cortina Olympic venues).

Cheers to Monte for renewing my quest to find some of these recordings!

Ohno Skating Into Vancouver

USA Today's Vicki Michaelis had a good report this morning regarding Apolo Anton Ohno's preparations for Vancouver 2010. It would indeed be thrilling to see him skate victorious in Canada after witnessing his gold medal feat in Torino a couple of years back.

Speedskating is among my favorite Winter Games sports (both long and short track). After following Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen during the late 1980s and 1990s, interest waned until experiencing the Olympic Speedskating Ovals, first in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, Wis., home of the Pettit National Ice Center, and the 2002 Olympic speedskating venue (the Utah Olympic Oval) around Salt Lake City (a curiously simple venue by comparison to the training facility up North).

During travels to Chicago for work this past week, I drove past the Pettit Center a few times and was surprised (well, maybe not that surprised) to spot a giant inflated pumpkin -- some sort of temporary Halloween superstore -- across the parking lot from the front door to the rink. One must wonder whether there are costumes for young trick-or-treat fans who aspire to be Ohno, Jansen, Blair or other Olympic speedskating greats.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Red Dawn

A wonderful surprise was in my mailbox last night. Right behind my 401K $tatement was this week's New Yorker, with their best cover art since Javier Mariscal put the Barcelona Olympic mascot, Cobi, in a convertible driving along the Pacific Coast Highway (sometime in the 1990s).

“Red Death on Wall Street” by Robert Risko is just hilarious to me. Although the upended world economy is no laughing matter, something about the cover artwork tickled me (at least to smile for a few minutes before opening that 401K envelope). Maybe it's the bleeding eye sockets in crimson ink, or the pinstripe suits. Or the clinched fists and expressions that seem to scream out, "Noooooooo!"

Earlier this year, the magazine also had some outstanding features on the Beijing Games, including an online audio report featuring architecture critic Paul Goldberger (fantastic!). The New Yorker also has some interesting archives from Olympic reports all the way back to London in 1948.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Less Than One Year

Just the other day (Oct. 2 to be exact), the calendar marked “one year to go” for the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the 2016 Olympic host city. Four cities – Rio de Janiero, Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo – remain in the running to host the Games of the XXXIst Olympiad.

Toward the conclusion of the Beijing Games, on level two of the Olympic Green McDonald’s, the top executives for all four cities gathered for the only combined press conference, a media breakfast and panel discussion hosted by the team at Around The Rings.

It was an interesting press conference, featuring some of the world’s smartest business and sports executives (with their P.R. counsel at their side – loved it!). ATR Founder Ed Hula was the moderator, with topics such as each bid city’s key messages and challenges covered while a couple dozen Olympic Movement reporters took notes and TV cameras rolled.

During the Q&A session following the program, I took the opportunity to pose the question, “What keeps you up at night about your bid and competition for the Games hosting duties?” Unfortunately, the metonymy “keeps you up at night” was lost in translation for CEOs of Rio, Tokyo and Madrid (each executive fell back to their message points about their strengths, a sign their media relations counselors trained them well).

It was very cool that Chicago’s Olympic bid leader, Mr. Patrick Ryan (Aon Corporation founder and executive chairman), gave a frank yet upbeat answer, reporting that Chicago’s main challenge (and cause for “lost winks” of sleep – another phrase sure to be lost in translation) is that The Windy City is well known in North America but not so much globally (while the cities from Japan, Spain and Brazil each are by-and-large ‘brand name’ destination cities with worldwide recognition). Thank you, Mr. Ryan! (His team created some great videos in China.)

Ryan’s remarks inspired me (during my last few days in China) to ask several hundred people, “Have you ever heard of Chicago?” and/or “Do you know what makes Chicago a great potential Olympic host?”

It was fun to learn that lots of the unofficial poll responders were very familiar with Chicago, with most having a favorable impression (though mostly from feature films of John Hughes).

Mr. Ryan’s sleepless in Chicago nights might be justified, however, as very few of those questions (mostly Chinese nationals or Europeans) could name any major sports events or teams from Lake Michigan’s shoreline metropolis (I laughed hard when one person from Japan actual mentioned my girlfriend’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wis., and their Brewers as a 'Chicago sports team').

One Mr. Nice Guy in Beijing who also took time to answer my Olympic Bid questions was none other than Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. This guy ROCKS! I would love to see Chicago win 2016 for a million reasons – among them, to affirm Mayor Daley’s remarks (which he graciously repeated when I had a Flip Camera snafu inside USA House in Beijing -- see video).

It will certainly be intriguing to track the candidates during the next 350-or-so days, and I’ll post some additional details and comments on each city in future posts. Good luck, Chicago. Boa sorte, Rio. 良い運 to Tokyo and buena suerte, Madrid. And THANK YOU, Obrigado, Gracias and ありがとうto the bid executives for answering my P.R. questions on site at the Around The Rings breakfast event.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

IOC: I Want A New Drug (Tested)

Ripped from the lyrics by Huey Lewis and the News, today the International Olympic Committee announced (reported by the Associated Press and other outlets) they will review up to 5,000 Beijing drug tests for a new pharma item recently detected at other world sports events. Apparently this is to make good on the IOC's strengthening stance about doping -- I concur. It's simple -- athletes need to Just Say No (to polluting their bodies, or the Games, or the sporting world) and lay off the doping. Fight the Madness, IOC!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fueling Olympic Families

It's been barely a month since saying goodbye to B.C. Canada Pavilion in Beijing, my Edelman Olympic assignment during the months leading to and during the 2008 Games.

But after spending a month with dozens of Canadians day and night, night and day, I can't help but keep an eye on news from the Great White North on all things Olympic (and other news, such as this Canadian newspaper blog asking whether Sarah Palin's ever visits Alaska's eastern neighbor with which her state shares a 1,538-mile border -- posing an interesting question about Palin's so-called international relations experience).

So this week, when an Edelman colleague mentioned our firm's work with Petro-Canada, it was fun to read about the company's new initiative to help the families of Canada's Olympians and Paralympians travel to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in British Columbia in just 495 days from today.

The program -- Petro-Canada's Canadian Athlete Family Program -- will help 500 athletes' family members see their loved ones compete live at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (in the interest of disclosure, Edelman also works on a pro-bono basis with the International Paralympic Committee).

This was not the first time I heard about Petro-Canada's support of the Olympic Movement.

Back in 1988, the only way to experience the Calgary Winter Olympics was via ABC Sports' broadcasts live from Alberta (including the spectacular daytime Opening Ceremony live on the day before Valentine's Day, which won't soon be forgotten as it was nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit -- in February -- where I lived in Oklahoma at the time).

But back to Petro-Canada.

As a souvenir of that marathon TV watching experience, and for the sake of learning more about Olympic torch relays, sometime around 1995 a garage sale yielded a copy of the book "Share The Flame: The Official Retrospective Book of the Olympic Torch Relay" presented by none other than Petro-Canada. It's a book filled with great photos and personal stories of how they got the flame across Canada, and a great companion piece to a similar book published after the 1996 Atlanta Games. By today's standards, this was an old-school Torch Relay (and one of the best, thanks to the support of Petro-Canada.

Earlier this year I also read about the company's Totem Pole Legacy Project, which is so cool, and in Torino in 2006 the Petro-Canada pin was one of the most popular on my lanyard.

Now if we could just get some of their fuel stations down here south of the border (where I've been walking to work on-again-off-again the last two weeks since the gas stations are out of fuel to sell), we'd be all set, eh?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Biden + Palin @ Olympic Site!

Tonight's great debate of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin is now history. I've been channel and Web surfing during the mix of facts and drivel dished out by both candidates, but so far have found no mention of the debate's strong connection to the Olympic Movement (this report is the closest located so far).

The Vice Presidential Debate venue on the campus of Washington University at St. Louis is in the athletic complex -- the David R. Francis Gymnasium -- shown in the photo with this post. That building was the site of two major Olympic events: First, the 1904 Summer Olympic Games of St. Louis (the athletic building is just east of what remains of the St. Louis Olympic Stadium), and second, the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival.

The Olympic Village for the Festival in the summer of '94 was also close by -- further west.

Though I missed the Clinton:Bush debates of 1992, and other big political events on campus before and since, my Olympic career did have a three-month stop at the Festival working in that St. Louis Festival Olympic Village.

BEST ... SUMMER ... EVER! Oh, the memories!

One memory for tonight: During a post-Festival job (to sustain my finances while remaining in the city for a few extra summer weeks) I worked in the LAUNDRY ROOM of the David R. Francis Gymnasium. Yes, I was "that guy" throwing football uniforms and such into industrial-size washing machines for two glamorous weeks. On breaks I would walk the halls reading up the building's history including candidate Clinton's big moments on campus.

Steps away from the Francis Gym building, also got my first "Olympic stadium smooch" under the gate that commemorates the 1904 Games (14 years later ... still waiting to be in another Olympic Stadium AND with the right woman for the next Olympic stadium smooch -- unfortunately I was traveling solo or single during 1994 to 208 travels to the Olympic stadiums in Los Angeles, Lake Placid, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, Torino and Beijing).

But bringing this back to the debate: I would bet money that neither veep candidate noticed their opportunity to mention an Olympic connection (disclaimer: I did not catch the entire debate, so maybe they did). It might also be a safe bet that one of the candidates didn't know much of what she was talking about in general.

πετρος Ueberroth in the News

I just learned the name Peter comes from the Greek word, πετρος (petros) or "stone" or "rock."

Its a fitting name for Peter Ueberroth, who was born the same day as modern Olympic founder Pierre de Frédy -- Baron de Coubertin died (handing off the torch?).

Ueberroth was in the news today -- the New York Times to be precise -- as his tenure in an official leadership role at the U.S. Olympic Committee may soon come to a close. He's used to headlines, methinks (being Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1984 and all), through staging one of the most successful Olympiads in history at Los Angeles.

Mr. Ueberroth is one of the good guys. He was also kind to an awkward 15 year old in Oklahoma City when I approached him requesting an autograph in my copy of "Made In America: His Own Story" (Ueberroth's autobiography of how they pulled off the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad). He was about to go on stage to speak to a packed house of potential sponsors for OKC's U.S. Olympic Festival '89 (it was 22 June 1988), so my timing could not have been worse, but he was very polite and answered all of my silly questions before personalizing that book (if located at home I'll eventually scan it and add to this post).

Those few moments were a big inspiration for me. Ueberroth's remarks to me, and on stage that night, helped solidify some of my Olympic aspirations, in the short term leading me to double my volunteer time at the U.S. Olympic Festival (more on that in future posts), and in the long run serving as a reminder of 'what the Olympics is all about' when some efforts to get involved with the Games have hit a snag.

I've had other opportunities to speak briefly with Ueberroth since then -- once in 1996 (during the ACOG days for Atlanta), again in 2004 and just a few weeks ago at USA House in China. He was consistently cordial, just as he was in 1989. Rock solid Olympic values. It's too bad things have to wind down for his involvement with the U.S.O.C. (though not entirely a surprise as he is now 71).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

France says "Oui" to 2018 Olympic bid

Looks like France is throwing their chapeau in the ring to try to land the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, according to published reports and There's a wide swath of potential candidates, according to the site, including interested parties from Norway, USA, Switzerland, South Korea, Germany, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and others.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Garrison Keillor and the Olympics, part two

Per the previous post, Garrison Keillor took time to talk about Olympic Rings and Other Things at the Atlanta History Center. The video below is our follow up conversation during his autograph session. Enjoy!

And if Mr. Keillor is out there reading this, my follow up question is this: Did you ever meet any of the "Miracle On Ice" hockey players you heard on the radio so long ago (and thank you again for answering my other questions)?

Garrison Keillor and the Olympics, part one

Author, humorist, national radio/film personality and very cool gentleman/nice guy Garrison Keillor was in town last week showcasing his new book -- "Liberty: A Lake Wobegon Novel" -- to a packed house at the Atlanta History Center.

I'm three chapters into the text and it is quite good (a bit lighter than my favorite Keillor text, "Homegrown Democrat," which is outstanding!). "Liberty" is getting great reviews, too.

During the evening's audience Q&A, I seized the opportunity to ask Mr. Keillor about the extent to which his writing was ever inspired by Olympic feats.

Unfortunately, in front of the crowd he had not much to say about Olympians (see the video with this post). But after the Q&A session -- cornered while he signed four books -- he did open up and mention tuning in to the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" as an Olympic memory of note (check the second video, which I will display in a "part two" follow up post).

A native Minnesotan, Keillor did seem a bit surprised (also on video) to learn that Minneapolis/St. Paul was at one time a contendor for the 1996 Olympic bid, briefly competing against Atlanta to the the U.S. bid city (we all know how that turned out).

He did not mince words about the Land of 10,000 Lakes' chances -- guess we'll have to wait a few more decades before Olympic yachting can be raced on Lake Minnetonka!

Thanks go out to the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum for putting on a great evening event with Mr. Keillor.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Space Olympics

Over the weekend, my friend Brian was in town for the local (and well-organized and fun) Olympic pin show in Lawrenceville, Ga.. It was a good time to get reacquainted with several collectors from back to 1996 and beyond.

After an evening of spending all the money raised selling items at the show, Brian and I wound up tuning in to Michael Phelps' big debut on "Saturday Night Live." Most of the segments of the show did not bring laughs, but it is possible the new SNL video short titled "Space Olympics" may soon be among the top spoofs of the Olympic movement since the Martin Short/Harry Shearer/Christopher Guest synchronized swimming segment of 198os.

Enjoy your trip to the Space Olympics. A pin to the first to comment with correct guess about my favorite line of its lyrics.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Phelps Phan, in conclusion

(continued from previous post)

... And there we were. Bound for the Water Cube, but stuck in a taxi halted by Beijing traffic police. Women's marathon, god bless it, was keeping us from our destination (the runner route crossed over the highway where we were stopped, and vehicles could not proceed until a break in the runner pack). The skies were not as sunny by this point.

From our vantage point at that moment (see photos), we thought out loud "it can only be half a mile or so" and pondered Murphy's Law, which -- applied in this case -- meant no doubt that if we sat in the cab, we would miss Phelps, and if we got out to hike, inevitably the traffic would be released (this happened to me when President Bush's 80-plus vehicle motorcade ground highway traffic to a halt on Aug. 11) and we would regret our premature hoofing it.

We went with the latter option, and started running up the highway, and actually made it a few hundred yards before looking back. That's when Murphy came through with what I swear was our "Lucky Eight" cab driver waving back to us as his vehicle got back up to highway speed (passing us several lanes out of reach of hailing him again).

The next part of our trek could be set to several favorite songs. Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" or perhaps Van Halen's great running tune, or even the Kate Bush song (it was, after all, up hill much of the way to The Cube). But we weren't really thinking about music. We were just running. Running through what seemed to be, at first hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of Chinese Olympic fans heading in the direction opposite our own. Heading to Olympic aquatics we were swimming against the current ... (O.K., okay, no salmon metaphors ... on with the story).

After the first 2/3 of a mile, we were drenched in sweat. Paul is in good shape. I am not. And Brian was weighed down down with a bit of stuff, so the gaps between us, and our strides, were starting to spread out. But we kept in ear and eye contact yelling above the throngs of spectators who were all gathered 20 deep around the Olympic Green perimeter fence. The highway formed the south border of the green, and we had just crossed most of it on foot. We were yelling directions to gaps in the crowd. We were yelling the time 10:15, 10:20, etc., so we could keep our pace on track to get into The Cube before Phelps' starting gun around 11 a.m.. We bit our tongues on countless expletives. Rain started to sprinkle.

At last, we caught site of the first goal -- a security entrance for the Green.

Access denied. "Staff and volunteers only -- go to next gate."

Another half mile. Another 5,000 people. Another gate.

"This one staff only -- go to next one," said the too-chipper Olympic volunteer, pointing to a tent another half-mile away. At least it was a level road.

"Stop freakin' smiling, volunteer!," was one thought to myself. I had shin-splints by this part of the unplanned jog. We lumbered along. Rain a bit more steady now.

Security gate in sight. Lungs heaving. Steps away. "They better not even THINK about sending us to another gate! Made it.

Finally a break -- thanks to our credentials, Paul and I were IN (sorry, Brian, another half-mile for you as he was with ticket but without a Games credential).

No ... air ... in ... lungs ...

Heart ... and ... legs ... malfunction ... ing ...

But from the security checkpoint to what we thought was salvation (the door to The Cube), only 100 meters! Euphoria. Relief. Rest soon. We had time to catch our breaths and high-five each other. See you at the seats, Brian.

Heavier rain. But that was O.K. as we were about to be seated, we thought.

We got to the door of The Cube. The volunteers and security smiled and checked our tickets. So close!

"This athlete entrance only -- go around," said the volunteer, smiling.

This is the part of the story when Paul and I lost it. I mean, lost it in the Cameron Fry going berserk in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and Steve Martin at the car rental parking lot sense of it all. Every word in the book was unloaded on those poor volunteers (believe me, we tried the 'nice' approach, then whining, then begging first, to no avail -- cussing did not work either, and we cussed often some more while stomping through tall grass and making ANOTHER half-mile stroll to get around the massive Water Cube footpath to the spectator entrance).

I think word of our athlete entrance outburst must have reached the spectator entrance volunteers before us, because they were even more enthusiastic than normal to welcome us to show our tickets for scanning.

"So glad you made it!" I felt large drops of perspiration and rain draining down my saturated outfit and did not respond as my hand snatched the "lucky ticket" from her hand.

We were there. Only one hour, 1.75 miles, thousands of personified hurdles and three gates later. We were there. Mercy!

We collapsed into our seats, completely spent, as the medal ceremony including Dara Torres' silver medal was presented.

Things started to get normal again. Brian made it to the seats a few minutes later. Smiles. We continued to catch our breath during the second to last race of the day, which also gave us time to unfurl the flags we brought with us. Time to cheer, at last.

I honestly barely remember the actual race for Phelps and team. The venue was (as shown on the Flipcam video of the race) somewhat subdued compared to other major sporting milestones attended in the past. But it was amazing to witness it all, including Phelps' later hand off of flowers to his mom, and the U.S. flag being raised with the national anthem (if memory serves me, Paul left the building to go find a taxi to head to the airport about this time).

Brian and I took some time to wander behind the scenes in the venue, where we witnessed Bob Costas' post race interview with Phelps, met Bela Karolyi (there for the big event, sweatless, sans harrowing run across town), and even snapped a shot or two of Phelps leaving the building.

We also got to shake hands with a few other Olympic medalists from Australia and even Tunisia's first gold medal swimmer (from the early races we missed while on the streets of Beijing). We started to feel guilt about screaming at those volunteers (eventually I returned to their post and gave them some Atlanta Olympic pins with an apology and thanks for directing us to the correct Water Cube door -- funny how they reacted when I walked OUT of The Cube through the door where they previously denied access).

Now it is easy to laugh about it all. The morning was punctuated one last time by another funny moment, which takes me back to the Atlanta Olympic Village in 1996, site of my first Olympic job.

In the Water Cube, just before leaving, I spotted a German TV station doing their wrap-up report from the venue and recognized one of the commentators as the great German Olympic medalist, Franzi Van Almsick. Franzi took home medals from four Olympiads: Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.

Long story short: I previously met Franzi in Atlanta's Olympic Village (after plunging her roommate's Olympic Village toilet on the night of the Olympic Park Bombing in 1996), and I was curious whether she would remember that introduction.

Alas, in the Water Cube now 12 years later, she did not recall our introduction (no big surprise, though I did think she would remember me holding a plunger back in ATL). But Van Almsick was friendly and willing to sign an autograph and walk out of the Water Cube with me, and she asked me THE BEST question ever.

Like Dave Barry, I swear, I am NOT making this up:

"Is it difficult to take a taxi in Beijing?" asked Van Almsick. "I just got here and have not yet taken one, but now I need one for another event that starts in an hour."

"If the women's marathon is over now," I replied, "Today, Franzi, is your lucky day!"

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