Thursday, July 30, 2009

HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco

Posting earlier about International Olympic Committee Member Anita DeFrantz reminded me of another IOC conversation of days gone by (specifically, days of 2002 in DeKalb County, Ga.). Unfortunately, no video to support the latter IOC encounter, but there are photos!

During early '02, the DeKalb International Training Center (now Atlanta DITC -- at the time a client of Edelman, the P.R. firm where I work) launched in Atlanta with the attendance of one of its patrons/co-founders, HSH the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, Albert II. The Atlanta DITC remains a key legacy of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games of Atlanta (check out their intro video).

The launch event included several government officials and local politicos, media, Atlanta DITC Co-Chair Ambassador Andrew Young and Mr. Grimaldi in attendance with Atlanta DITC Co-Founder/Co-Chair, Dr. Marc-Daniel Gutekunst, who had his own Olympic introduction to Prince Albert back in 1996. For those who are curious, in 2006 the World Olympians Association published a DITC backrounder by some guy from Atlanta.

What impressed me most about Mr. Grimaldi was his approachability. In addition to speaking with dozens of guests eager to shake hands and discuss business with him at the "official" event, when we were behind the scenes he was friendly as well.

The best candid moment of the day (as an entourage from Atlanta DITC took him on a venue tour) came at the Emory University student aquatic center, where a young college student named Molly recognized Prince Albert from the pool. Her shy self-introduction quickly melted into an easy conversation with The Prince, and in no time she was asking many questions.

Without hesitation, the IOC member cheerfully answered Molly's eventual request to speak with her mother in Texas via cell phone (see photos). His conversation by phone was as down-to-earth as any other moment of the day, and he was appreciative of every volunteer and experience across Atlanta.

A few years later at another Olympic function, HSH was just as approachable.

My travels have not yet taken me to Monaco, but Monte-Carlo is on the list, including a visit to the nation's international sports events and a casino or two. I'll be looking for the royal bobsleigh training course (did you know The Prince competed at five Winter Olympiads in this sport?) -- you can bet on it!
Photo by Rick Diamond of Rick Diamond Photography in Atlanta c. 2003 for the DITC; Rick was a good sport and rode shotgun at 110 mph in the Prince's summer motorcade trek across Atlanta ... in my old Audi sans airconditioning. Rick is now with WireImage. The colleagues joining The Prince and I in the photo are Carol Milliron (beside Mr. Grimaldi) and Lisa Tilt, now of Full Tilt Consulting -- you can check out her excellent blog regarding branding.

IOC Member Anita DeFrantz & Olympic Villages

Since the 1996 Olympic Games, I've crossed paths with International Olympic Committee Member Anita DeFrantz a few times: During the Atlanta Games and their "one year later" celebrations, at Olympic media events, USOC or Olympic bid functions and most recently at the LA84 XXV celebration in Los Angeles.

DeFrantz shared a few minutes to describe her part in shaping the Olympic Villages of the LA Games (see video), and some of her remarks in California relate back to her answers at an Around The Rings Newsmaker Breakfast event in Beijing last summer (also on the video) held at the McDonald's on the Olympic Green.

During the Q&A with Around The Rings publisher Ed Hula and U.S. Olympians chief Willie Banks (a three-time Olympian and part of the Atlanta Olympic Village leadership team), DeFrantz answered questions about how each Olympic organizing committee can succeed by creating a pro-athlete environment at their Olympic Villages and venues.

Her work on the Villages for 1984 definitely remains part of the Olympic Village experience for each Games since.
Headshot photo via International Olympic Committee / bio for Anita DeFrantz

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rafer Johnson 25 Years Later

As noted recently, the LA Sports Council hosted a gala LA84 XXV celebration of the Olympiad and city "that saved the Olympic Games," according to former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Today (July 28) marks the "official" anniversary of the spectacular kick-off to those Games -- yes, 25 years ago tonight I was glued to the TV as ABC broadcast David Wolper's masterpiece opening for the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad. The LA Times has a great series on the anniversary featured for the next few days, and a gala gallery of attending Olympians. USA Today's Christine Brennan also reported on the silver anniversary of LA's second Olympic host stint.

There were dozens of "moments" that night: The biggest card trick of all time, the "Rocketman" flyover, 84 grand pianos appearing out of nowhere, and the debut of John Williams' outstanding Olympic fanfare are highlights.
But it was Rafer Johnson's ascent to ignite the Olympic Cauldron that captivated me most. Bill Dwire really tells the tale well in the LA Times features.

I was extremely lucky to speak with Mr. Johnson inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 18 at the gala (see video) and witness his encore lighting of the cauldron.

Off camera, when asked his level of nervousness in the moment climbing the stairs, Johnson and I happened to be at the base of that stairway, and he looked up it, smiled and said there were countless, incredible emotions before and since that night and iconic moment in 1984, but that one thing relieved him at the gala.

"I was nervous. And looking up these stairs again, one thing is certain: I am happy not to have to run up them again tonight!"

Three Years To Go!

Just three years to go until the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The organizing committee's "On Your Marks" quiz is a fun course to get the basics on their planning and preparation.

Photo via the London 2012 organizing committee.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mary Lou Interview, Part Deux

As noted previously, Saturday night's LA84 XXV gala at the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Stadium (Los Angeles Coliseum) afforded media and guests some time to speak directly with several Olympians. Mary Lou Retton answered many questions posed by a circle of reporters, and I was happy to see her answers to more than one of my own questions appeared in another media outlet on Sunday.

There were lots of questions posed to Retton regarding the impact of the Games for the U.S. and for her career; I was more interested in her personal experiences in the Olympic Village (created by Anita DeFrantz, who was then an LAOOC vice president -- interview with DeFrantz, now an IOC member, to follow later this week).

Over the years since 1984, especially after working in the Atlanta Olympic Village and the Sydney Olympic Village, I was often curious about whether Retton remained in the L.A. Village after her life-altering competition ended.

Glad to get these questions answered!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mary Lou and 60 other Olympians, too

Saturday night in Los Angeles, the LA Memorial Coliseum was decked out for the 25th Anniversary of the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad. More than 60 Olympians from LA84 and other Games assembled with hundreds of LAOOC and other Olympic officials and veterans for a gala under a perfect LA evening sky.

It was indeed a special celebration, and the hosts paid great attention to detail, bringing back some of the most iconic moments from LA84 while honoring Los Angeles' prominence in the history of the Olympic Movement.

Time Magazine's 1984 Man of the Year and LAOOC chief Peter Ueberroth read a letter from former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who wrote a note of congratulations and memories, stating, "We will never forget that LA saved the Olympic Games," referencing how the host organization and city turned the Olympic Movement for the better following a most challenging Olympic decade filled with terrorism, financial fiasco and boycotts that nearly closed the Olympic tradition forever.

Ueberroth, the architect of the new financial system that worked wonders and set a new standard for host cities, stated that when he took the helm of LAOOC in 1979, the IOC had a respectable $1 million in its bank account, and as earlier this year, they maintain an account estimated at more than $1 billion, with billions more moved over the 25 years since LA's success. Ueberroth thanked the thousands of volunteers, government and Olympic officials who contributed, and he also honored several LAOOC and LA government executives who are no longer with us.

The event afforded attendees and media access to speak 1x1 with Ueberroth, IOC Member Anita DeFrantz, Edwin Moses, Greg Louganis, Bart Conner, Nadia Comenici, Evelyn Ashford-Washington, Henry Tillman, Peter Vidmar and Mary Lou Retton. Emcees for the night included ABC Sports veterans Keith Jackson and Jim Lampley. Also spotted on stage, where they assembled 60 Olympians, were Janet Evans, Mark Spitz, Billy Mills, Wyomia Tyus and Rafer Johnson.

Johnson, who lit the 1984 Olympic Cauldron, also took time to answer questions about his experience climbing the stairs in that perfect moment of the Opening Ceremonies (I will post video of that conversation and others throughout the week). Johnson repeated that moment, sans stairs, igniting the night before spectacular fireworks capped the night.

Posted now, part of the conversation with Retton. More to follow as time permits (heading to the beach then back to LAX and ATL)!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Boxed In On The 103rd Floor

A Glass Half Full

After a previous post about its name change to Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and a proposed new paint look for the iconic Windy City building, I was pleased to learn via several national July 1 news reports and wire photos that "The Ledge" -- the building's newly installed glass cube observation ports on the Skydeck (103rd floor) level -- would open to the public just in time for my July 4 Weekend visit to Chicago. Some must-see video from NBC5 in Chicago was a big incentive to learn more about "The Ledge" first-person.

My girlfriend and I previously signed up for Chicago 2016 Olympic bid volunteer duties in the World Sport Chicago kids zone at Taste of Chicago for July 3; how better to wind down from a day of catering to kids than to walk in the steps (and beyond) of Matthew Broderick as "Ferris Bueller" and stand 1,353 feet above downtown city streets?

When my lady and I pulled into Chicago during sunrise July 3, we spotted "The Ledge" looming above and paused to reflect on the sheer height above us (see photos -- about a quarter-mile up!).

Throughout our on the ground volunteer shift, we joked about stepping off high rise Terra firma and the possible sensations awaiting our afternoon visit to the tower.

In general, I am OK with heights provided my feet are planted at least a few feet back from the glass (outdoor heights are OK, too, when tethered, as during the Sydney Harbour "Bridge Climb" high above the Sydney Opera House). I was both apprehensive and exhilarated by the prospect of being among the first to stand on the clear flooring of "The Ledge" during the start to a Midwest sunset.

Getting out on The Ledge is exhilarating, indeed!

Naturally, Donna (my girlfriend) fearlessly walked out on the 1.5-inch-thick glass, which was jammed full of locals and international visitors taking turns with cameras and squealing with delight. It took me a bit of time to "warm up" and admittedly I procrastinated, winced and whined a lot, before inching out onto The Ledge for real (first a toe or two, then one leg, and finally "all the way." It was at once terrifying and fantastic! Looking down is the real issue -- for the first and only time in my life, my eyes and head spun as did Jimmy Stewart's in that endearing Hitchcock film (among my all-time favorites).

My first visit to the Sears Tower, during a college spring break Amtrak stopover in 1994, was amazing. The Ledge takes the Skydeck beyond that "amazing" experience, and it appeared to be family friendly as a range of kids to seniors made their way into the small rooms of light on the building's western wall. The Ledge is definitely worth a visit for a first-timer or for those who previously put their foreheads on the windows.

I have to admit, we were taken aback by the extremely crowded labyrinth of hurry-up-and-wait lines to get upstairs. Granted, it was Day Two of the grand opening on a holiday weekend, so not entirely a surprise.

But we did overhear a number of fellow visitors [justifiably?] griping about the hours-long wait, and "bait and switch" stages before you even got close to the elevator to get upstairs (visitor hint: there is a winding path from the ticket window, to a waiting room queue filled with Chicago history lessons/exhibits, to another waiting room, to a small cinema for a "preview" movie, to yet another waiting room, and then another queue, and then a revolving door and FINALLY the elevator to the top -- WHEW! -- so plan accordingly if you are visiting Willis Tower and The Ledge on a busy weekend or holiday). Fortunately, the line (yes, there is another, final line) to get from the Skydeck back downstairs moves a bit faster, and there were only 1-2 minute lines to get into The Ledge glass areas.

On a bright note, we found every single employee of the Skydeck to be friendly, professional, patient and even entertaining -- they kept things interesting even when the necessary wait was presented.

Thanks and kudos to the Skydeck team at Fleishman-Hillard, the P.R. firm where I interned in 1995, as they accommodated our party for our visit. They secured some amazing coverage for The Ledge -- including phenomenal preview coverage and breathtaking post-opening reports, including a New York Times Science section cover story and graphics that would possibly bring some publicists to a place near Woody Allen Sleeper heights -- but I have to wonder whether they tried to get Broderick and fellow cast members of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" into the Skydeck or if that may be part of their publicity encore for the tower (if so, would love to be there to share a look at Cameron Fry's dad).
Though there is a song from that film with exactly the right title, though I'd prefer this one for that someday publicity event.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Great Cartoons Live In Amer-i-ca!

Until recent weeks, I had not seen the cartoon "Tom The Dancing Bug" by Ruben Bolling very often.

Upon reading his Supreme Court spoofs (shown above, via Bolling's website and, I have a feeling I'll read Bolling's work on a regular basis (another Tom has been on my list for awhile -- brilliant!).

Perhaps the closest friend I have is a Yale Law grad who worked at the Supreme Court as he was wrapping up law school requirements a few years ago. We've exchanged a few notes and detailed articles on Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Here's hoping her confirmation hearings are more of an Olympic sprint than a marathon!
Judge Sotomayor may not have direct ties to the Olympics, but I did find she shares a birthday (though five years his senior) with one of Finland's gold medal ski jumpers. One of Sotomayor's most interesting decisions, in my view, is related to copyright law for freelance journalists.

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