Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The IOC, Chicago and "All That Jazz"

Just returned from a fulfilling volunteer experience with the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid during the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission visit to the city.

My post was at the downtown Sheraton, in the media hospitality and workroom area just steps from the river and Michigan Avenue (the organizing committee helped with a special rate at the neighboring Embassy Suites, which was lovely -- Southeast room facing Lake Michigan, much like a similar room at the same hotel for a 2007 visit with client Rock City Gardens).

Flying into the city from Atlanta, it was a clear night and I caught a glimpse of the John Hancock Tower, site of an evening event with commanding views of the city. About an hour after landing and meeting for a CTA ride with my girlfriend (she arrived from Milwaukee via Coach USA as the plane touched down), we were up on top of the world with a few colleagues and the new contacts at Chicago 2016 inside The Hancock.

Every inch of the city, from the arrivals area at O'Hare, to The El, taxis, the train station, flag and light poles, bridges, shop windows -- everything -- had colorful signage proclaiming "we support the bid" or other "Chicago 2016" messages. It was impressive and reminiscent of arriving at Torino, Beijing or other Games decked out with "look of the Games" treatment.

Official volunteer business commenced on Saturday with a series of official press briefings at the Sheraton. Our team, lead by the media relations staff and partner P.R. firm team members, included several of Chicago's best and brightest communicators and volunteers with media-specific backgrounds. One minute some of us would compile or update press releases, the next we'd set up or take down portions of the press conference room.

I was fortunate on the first day to be assigned to two Olympians who were on site for media interviews after the press conferences -- Olympic Champion Donna de Varona was one of these athletes and it was fun to briefly get reacquainted (we first met at British Columbia Canada Place -- an Edelman client -- in Beijing last August) before she spoke with several Chicago TV stations. Later in the day, judo Olympic silver medalist Robert Berland (a Chicago 2016 staff member) also spoke with several reporters.

Day one was punctuated by viewing (and contributing to a press release for) President Obama's welcome video presented to the IOC. It was remarkable, and I believe unprecedented, for a sitting U.S. president to provide such advocacy for an Olympic bid at this stage of the process.

Day two was all over town! With four teammates packed in a rental car, we drove from site to site in advance of two media buses shadowing the IOC entourage visiting McCormick Place (a massive convention center and potential site of the 2016 Olympic media center and several sports disciplines), Soldier Field, Washington Park and United Center. I had not experienced any of these venues previously, but each one blew my mind!

Soldier Field, for instance, has the most mac daddy luxury suites ANYWHERE -- commanding views of the field with downtown's skyline decorating the horizon (historic and amazing!). Washington Park would be developed as the Olympic Stadium site, and reminded me of St. Louis' glorious Forest Park (site of the 1904 Summer Games near Washington University).

At our final stop of the day, dozens of young athletes played team handball and basketball, or did gymnastics, across the United Center floor while the IOC evaluators viewed a welcome video from hometown hero (and two-time Olympic champion) Michael Jordan.

Tuesday (day four) included a final volunteer assignment inside the final, and only, IOC press conference of the week -- it was enriching to be in the room with the IOC guests providing feedback to several of the nation's (and the world's) top Olympic and sports reporters. It was moving to see one of the Chicago 2016 official videos the IOC had screened earlier in the day -- athletes and folks of all ages were shown across the U.S. handing off 2016 batons symbolic of the city's strengths at sharing Olympism. A few fellow volunteers and most members of the media team then handed out the same batons to the working media, who had some strong and positive reactions to the display.

But I have to skip back to day three for the cake and icing assignment of the week: Red carpet for the "City Night" dinner and cultural event at The Art Institute of Chicago. With thanks to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for running with the story suggestion (submitted by our Chicago 2016 P.R. team from the Sheraton on Tuesday), I'll just add that seeing Oprah Winfrey in person, in her home town, was an experience I'll never forget -- at once it was similar yet drastically different from seeing Bill Gates speak at the Microsoft Vista launch in New York (disclosure: an Edelman project) or interacting with Ted Turner at the Atlanta Press Club (I only need to encounter Rupert Murdoch to complete the 'trifecta' of media mogul encounters).
It still does not seem real that Oprah was inches away speaking to reporters about all the positive potential Chicago 2016 has as an Olympic host. Hearing her enthusiasm and booming broadcaster voice in person was dramatic. I'm sure my jaw was gaping when she turned to face us.

The week did include a few critics of the bid. Part of the media volunteer assignment included keeping an eye on comments reported by media, or responding to those who have not yet embraced the Games' potential to be all positive for the USA, the Midwest, Illinois and Chicago. At least one of the responses we worked on is available online.
Several of the working media on site blogged or twittered from the experience. It was good to gain a few new Twitter followers, and start following new folks, during the week (in case you need it, follow me to for the real-time updates from April 3-8).

The complete volunteer experience was enriching -- I hope there will be further opportunities to contribute a verse to Chicago's efforts. It will be intense to track the other cities in the running, now that Chicago's presentations are complete, and very exciting when the IOC votes on October 2 in Copenhagen.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Web Analytics