Thursday, February 11, 2010

International Society of Olympic Historians Presents Awards in Vancouver

Today in Vancouver's historic Gastown neighborhood, in a cozy coffee shop/basement restaurant named the Salt Tasting Room, the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH) presented three awards for lifetime accomplishment in the preservation of Olympic history.
The 2009 ISOH Award was presented to author/historian Robert K. Barney, while two 2009 Vikelas Plaque (named for the first IOC president) awards were presented to Olympic Order recipient/Emmy Award winning filmmaker Bud Greenspan and former USOC press chief (and so much more) C. Robert Paul, Jr.

This was the second time I've seen Mr. Greenspan in person, and though he is much older (now 83, unfortunately unable to speak) than our first conversation -- in Atlanta in 1997 at the premiere of his Centennial Games film -- he was in good spirits and visibly appreciative of the honor. The film company he founded in the 1960s, Cappy Productions, apparently provided some consulting to VANOC for capturing footage of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

His more senior fellow honoree, Mr. Paul, shared some amazing stories, as did ISOH officer and Olympic author/NBC contributor David Wallechinsky, who introduced the pair of honorees by explaining that Mr. Paul helped a young and then-Olympic-first-timer Greenspan to secure his last-minute media credentials at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

As a public relations practitioner, I was fascinated by Mr. Paul's additional stories from the front lines of old-school media relations on behalf of Team USA. He shared that at the Innsbruck 1976 Winter Olympics there was an "incident" (P.R.-speak for S.N.A.F.U.) when the last-place ice hockey team trashed a restaurant and they had to sneak the players out of town to avoid an international incident (over lunch we briefly talked about how their sneak-away tactics might now be foiled by instantaneous social media posts).

Also of note was how Mr. Paul invented the tradition of a U.S. Presidential phone call to gold medal winning athletes.

As the story was told, Mr. Paul planted that idea with a New York Times sports writer (Paul knew the White House press chief read The Times religiously) by convincing the reporter to include a closing paragraph about the lack of presidential attention to top Olympic performances (wouldn't you know it, the next day President Ford telephoned the day's U.S. gold medalist!).

Wallechinsky also noted that Mr. Paul was the USOC archivist when the younger historian began work on his first Olympic book, and the pair concurred that "the camaraderie is not the same as it was back then" (early 1980s) at the Team USA home office in Colorado Springs.

The biggest surprise of the event: Spotting IOC Member to Canada Dick Pound, who arrived just in time for lunch! (HELLO!!!) Pound took time to answer a couple of questions for this Olympic blog. THANK YOU, Mr. Pound! (and thank you, ISOH, for hosting a great event!)

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