Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reflections On Late 2012

With the calendar year winding down, I'm remorseful of the lack of blogging posts since election eve in November. Writing now during a flight from New York to Milwaukee, working to get a few thoughts of recent weeks on paper, err, on screen before the GoGo in-flight access shuts off, or the laptop battery runs out of juice.

Briefly, as a follow up to that election post: Thank God President Obama won re-election! I will remember the glee and relief of dozing off to sleep on election night, with NPR projecting the Obama win on my laptop. I can't imagine the last few weeks without the strong leadership, and it's exciting to anticipate that the new year may bring some meaningful discussion and changes on several fronts for the USA.

Mid-November was a fun blur of work with my 13th consecutive IAAPA Attractions Expo, the global gathering of (client) International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. We enjoyed a busy week with coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Business Journal, each of the Orlando TV stations (notably Central Florida News 13 and their series by Scott Fais) and the online versions of NBC News, the LA Times and USA Today.

It was fun also to collaborate on some new business pitches with friends at McRae, and I appreciate the freelance projects requested by the High Museum of Art -- early 2013 brings the arrival of some big exhibitions including Frida & Diego and the works of Georgia artist Gogo Ferguson.

Thanksgiving was fun with family in Oklahoma, and I enjoyed pre-Christmas time in the Milwaukee suburbs with my girlfriend and her family before one of the most relaxing Christmas visits to Oklahoma. It was nice to also celebrate my oldest friend's 40th birthday in Manhattan and his home in Stamford, Conn., these last couple of days, which also afforded time to visit the Whitney Museum of Art and the Guggenheim (stay tuned for reviews of their current exhibitions, and an excellent new Denmark restaurant in TriBeCa, on upcoming blog posts).

Also looking forward to celebrating my mom's 70th birthday in about a week.

This year was HUGE on many personal and professional fronts and it is bittersweet to wrap up 2012. Hope we all enjoy a productive and enriching 2013 from day one to day 365.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not The Turnaround We Need

In case you did not yet vote, please do so. And please vote for Barack Obama.

Just before the London Olympic Games, Mitt Romney many an Olympic gaffe. Unfortunately, his own Olympic record (of leading a very successful Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics organizing committee), could not save him (and likely contributed to his foot-in-mouth statements that rudely insulted the brilliant Olympic host city).

I once met Romney in Atlanta at the launch party for the Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay. He was very polite. And his leadership for SLOC impressed me. The book "Turnaround" is a good read for those interested in a great Winter Games.

But the leadership he brought to SLOC is not what we need in the USA or in the world on this day (or any). Please vote. Just not for Romney.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Phoebe Mills

It's November 2. Happy birthday, Phoebe Mills, the Olympic bronze medalist with 40 reasons to celebrate!

When I was 15 and it was spring of 1988, Mills emerged as a contender for the Seoul Olympics gymnastics competition around the time a newspaper ad appeared in the Daily Oklahoman inviting folks to volunteer for U.S. Olympic Festival '89. Chatting with a friend, I signed up to donate time stating, "Maybe this is one way I could meet that cute gymnast (who is my age), Phoebe Mills."

That volunteer gig changed my life, and on an early volunteer assignment we sat in a rain-soaked tent at the State Fair of Oklahoma recruiting more volunteers and watching Mills win bronze on the balance beam via NBC's Olympic coverage. So cool!

Of course, a few months after Seoul, Mills wrapped up her gymnastics career before the '89 Festival (drat!), but I did meet one of her sisters, a figure skater, when she competed in Oklahoma City. Phoebe was nice enough to reply to a fan letter I sent to her, and that was pretty much the end of that.

Until ...

Fast forward to the summer of 1993, during which I picked up a Texas Torch Relay volunteer spot for U.S. Olympic Festival '93 in San Antonio (another life-shaping experience that influenced my selection of public relations/journalism pursuits). When the relay ended at the gleaming new Alamodome (the Olympic Festival opening ceremony was the venue's debut event), in the press box I learned Phoebe Mills returned to Olympic pursuits as a competitive diver (hooray!).

It was a bummer to learn, however, I'd miss her diving competition by a day or two (with the Torch Relay complete, I went on back to Oklahoma early during the Festival, seriously bummed).

Just a college year later, during the summer of 1994 (best ... summer ... ever, working as U.S.O.F. employee in the Olympic Village at Washington University in St. Louis, site of 1904 Olympic competitions), the stars aligned, sort of, and I shared a brief, albeit embarrassing, introduction to Phoebe Mills. Hopefully she does not remember this intro.

You see, one morning in the Olympic Village dining hall, I dragged myself (dog tired) in to breakfast, and while dispensing grape juice or some other beverage, half-awake I looked up to find Phoebe Mills standing beside me in line at the juice bar. Hello!

In an instant I thought, "Finally, I can tell this person she changed my life! If I hadn't volunteered in 1989, specifically to meet her, my Olympic aspirations might have remained dormant. I'm your No. 1 fan! Thank you for changing my life, Phoebe! You're beautiful ... (etc. etc. more embarrassing crush stuff)."

If only I had spoken up!

Sadly, these thoughts were all for naught as in my dazed and surprised state, the grape juice I dispensed overfilled my glass, pouring over my clueless hands and cascading into a messy pool at our feet.

Mortified, I stepped away apologizing, retreating to retrieve an Olympic Village mop, and by my blushed return, Phoebe Mills vanished from the dining hall and my message of thanks remained only in my brain. Until now.

I appreciate that Phoebe Mills, the newest 40-something Olympian, was driven during the 1980s in gymnastics and that she inspired me (and I suspect thousands of other fans) to step into the Olympic circles and get involved with this great Olympic Family. I am thankful that Phoebe's family pushed her, and her fellow Olympic siblings, as members of a peer family in the Midwestern U.S. (still have the magazine article about their collective five-ringed aspirations).

I also wish our paths had crossed again at one of the eight Olympics and two Olympic bids at which I worked or volunteered over the years (we had a near-miss again in Salt Lake as we apparently were on the same Park City bus but I was on a new-fangled cell phone too many aisles away).

It is really cool that Phoebe continued with athletic pursuits after gymnastics, first as a diver and then as a snowboarding entrant (it's my understanding she now is an attorney and/or board member with the U.S. Snowboarding team). See, she turned out to be beautiful and athletic and smart, too! Bravo!

While visiting family in Oklahoma last week, I stopped by the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, which is now nestled in the science museum in Oklahoma City. But there was no mention of Phoebe Mills! Hello, will someone in the international gymnastics community wake up and nominate Mills for the Hall of Fame?!? She's a bronze medalist, after all. Duh! Wake up, H.O.F., and get this nomination started, pronto!

Just now online, a quick search yielded Mills' name among the inductees for the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame (whew!).

Writing this post tonight, there was also a reminder that in London at USA House this summer, I shook hands with Bela Karolyi, the famous coach of Nadia, Mary Lou Retton, Mills and other U.S. women's gymnasts, and asked him specifically about Phoebe, "Do you keep in touch?"

Karolyi smiled, then sort of winced and said in that Bela voice, "Not as often as I should."

Here's hoping on this milestone birthday year he remembered to reach out and catch up with Mills.

Phoebe Mills turns 40 today. Happy birthday and thank you.

Photo copyright Corbis via this link

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Talking TOTEM by Cirque du Soleil

When Cirque du Soleil is in town, I'm there. Well, most of the time.

My introduction to the Montreal-based entertainment extravaganza took place under the Grand Chapiteau at Turner Field's parking lots in 1999, when the big top tour of "Dralion" arrived in Atlanta. The Headline Group -- the boutique public relations agency for which I was then a new employee -- worked with Cirque du Soleil from their early 1990s Atlanta debut through the end of that decade, and my boss and mentor managed the local team for "Dralion." Jolly good show.

We missed a 2002-03 tour on a technicality: Edelman acquired The Headline Group, so with THG showing up as "closed" our agency missed the option to pursue the Cirque du Soleil project the one time it was in suburban Cobb County (we also represented a competing entertainment property, so timing did not work).

But the sun did not set for our team as we renewed contact in time for 2005 when "Corteo" arrived at Atlantic Station and our team at Edelman landed this entertainment project. It was great fun working on this dream-inspired tour, and we later enjoyed collaboration for "KOOZA" and "OVO" before "Dralion" returned on an arena tour just a couple of years ago. C'est magnifique!

On my own dime, I experienced the magnificent water-themed "O" in Las Vegas, the arena tour for "Alegria" in Oklahoma City, and Cirque du Soleil's racier "Zumanity" (also in Sin City) in recent years. Each show brings to mind special memories -- though there are similar themes from one tour to another, they are all unique in as many ways. "O" remains the one to beat in my personal scorekeeping for Cirque du Soleil thrills.

It was my good fortune to work on the "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" earlier this year as a freelance P.R. partner for Cirque du Soleil, and it was bittersweet to learn their selection of another communications counselor for the new big top tour -- "TOTEM" -- now at Atlantic Station through December 30. But the "sweet" part meant that, as in 1999, I could again experience an Atlanta big top stop as a spectator.

"TOTEM" delivers the goods.

In Cirque du Soleil's words from the official program (a beautiful publication), the new tour "traces humankind's incredible journey -- from our original amphibian state to our ultimate quest for flight."

The journey begins with "Crystal Man" (an artist beautifully covered head to toe by thousands of tiny mirrors) descending from the heavens, unveiling turtle shell-inspired staging around which colorful amphibians gaze upon the audience. As these sequin-clad reptiles warm up the crowd, they reveal the carapace as their playground for gymnastic leaps and trampoline bounds. Welcome to Cirque du Soleil!

I loved that the first act quickly moved to a First Nations feature (that's Canadian for Native American). The Hoop Dancer -- U.S. born Eric Hernandez -- delivered an elaborate performance showcasing many skills with five rings (the closest "TOTEM" gets to the Olympics -- though there are Olympians who are part of Cirque du Soleil's other tours, none are part of this tour). Beautiful. And the live band and musicians' many talents really started to shine in support of Hernandez.

The rest of the first act included a blur of amazing: more gymnastics via the Ring Trio (two males and one female dangling from way, way up); five Chinese-born performers who earned a standing ovation for their brass bowl and teapot tossing -- and catching -- on elongated unicycles; and two "Crystal Ladies" (a duo of Belarus beauties with the same surname, Tsodikova) who seemed to arrive from the future to showcase fine foot juggling skills (I made note of their costumes' similarity to outfits donned by Zhora at Taffeys Bar in "Blade Runner" and now feel I have an answer to what Harrison Ford watched in the film's fictional night club scene).

Cirque du Soleil also brought in the clowns -- this time in the form of Italy's answer to Elvis (with horse jockey physique) and a playful introvert with the morose eyes of The Cure's Robert Smith. They each take center stage several times throughout the show, twice in boats which "float" atop a well-executed stage configuration that blends video projection to create water.

A scene in which the evolution of man from monkey to modern office worker played out nicely and with good cheer.

"TOTEM" also included a few scenes that left me, and more than a few fellow audience members, scratching our heads.

I was not sure what to make of the Robert Goulet lookalike and his teammates in the "Perches" performance (their act includes plenty of daring feats, mind you, but it was the least connected scene for the evolution theme). A character named "The Tracker" also was a non-sequitur, as was the Spanish dancer and the Darwin-like "character" who worked to electrify the audience from within a giant beaker. Each of these fell flat, at least for this blogger.

But "TOTEM" included a lovely couple on the Fixed Duo Trapeze (breathtaking and beautiful -- I now have a crush du soleil on the Canadian performer Sarah Tessier) and a welcomed return of the Hoop Dancer with his female partner. And at this point in the second act, when the woman behind me exclaimed, "roller skates!?!" I must admit to some initial apprehension about wheel-clad Native Americans setting up for a spinning dance on an enormous drum -- but they brought down the house (it was spectacular; something I'll tell to my grand kids at a future Cirque du Soleil show).

It was during this latter pair of First Nations performances when I realized the "turtle shell" staging resembled an enormous Dream Catcher aloft in the big top. A lot of good dreams captured in "TOTEM."

I won't write much here about the final act, Russian Bars, which brought the evening's second "from the future" (???) moments. Were they supposed to be amphibians from outer space? Or going to outer space? Still not sure. But then, part of the beauty of Cirque du Soleil is the wiggle room for audience interpretation.

And with that in mind, my take was that this Russkiye act (with the help of Kym Barrett, costume designer extraordinaire) gave us a mini-preview of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic "Look of the Games," if only by coincidence (their costumes are similar to the upcoming winter Olympic outerwear and advertising, with an array of vivid colors and complexity). They are bright, glow in the dark, and they are strong.

Is "TOTEM" a great entertainment experience? Absolutely! Is it worthy of the $43.50 to $153.50 ticket price? Well ... I'll leave that to readers to decide (suggestion: though there is not a bad seat in the house, this show may be better experienced in the price level one or premium seating).

For a second take on "TOTEM" check out the AJC review by Wendell Brock, which provides more than a few apt notes on this tour experience (his colleague Howard Pousner also wrote some great reports about the tour, starting with the January 2012 advance story my team secured via P.R. circles last December).

Looking forward to the next Cirque du Soleil and to "TOTEM" talk with friends. Enjoy the show!

Photos via Cirque du Soleil by OSA Images

Monday, October 29, 2012

Conversation with Chris Cleave RE: "Gold"

Before the London Olympics, I did not know the Spandau Ballet song "Gold." Almost every night of the Games, the BBC played this tune during their medal count segment. Catchy.

The title "Gold" also caught my attention when NPR aired a pre-Games segment introducing Chris Cleave, the award winning British author of "Incendiary" and "Little Bee." Cleave and his publisher's P.R. team were debuting the author's auric text about British cycling at the Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London.

Intrigued by the radio review of the book and Cleave's down to earth interview, I requested a publicity copy and started reading "Gold" on the July flight to London. I finished it (via audiobook) on a late summer drive to Oklahoma, now overdue for a blog review. You could say the review's been circling in my mind like wheels in a velodrome.

Then I learned of Cleave's two Oct. 6 Atlanta book signings and seized the opportunity to interview him and gain clarity on some solid "Gold" questions. Before delving into Cleave's answers, here's my quick take, er, book report.

In his third book "Gold," Chris Cleave takes readers on a dizzying and high-speed ride into the world of Olympic track cycling.

The story opens with two of the five main characters, Team GB's Zoe and Tom; respectively, she is a first-time Olympian about to enter the Athens Olympic velodrome as hell on wheels, and he is an elder Aussie Olympian-turned-coach who missed bronze by an agonizing one-hundredth of a second -- a fourth-place one moment in time he's regrettably relived daily, hourly or worse since the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Also competing in Athens: Jack, the rising men's track cycling star for Britain. His young wife Kate is stateside watching the cycling drama unfold on the BBC's live broadcast from Greece. Kate and Zoe are teammates and best mates, and readers soon learn the former opted out of the 2004 Games to care for her newborn daughter, Sophie. We later discover that Zoe, Kate and Jack met young, and their mutually ultra-competitive natures led to a five-ringed love triangle in their early 20's.

Following the Athens opener, more pages are filled with detail of Sophie's struggles with pediatric leukemia.

Before proceeding, let me write here that one critic at The New York Times nailed it when he wrote that "Gold" is like "Beaches" on bikes. I love that, though I don't foresee Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey portraying Olympic cyclists when "Gold" hits the big screen, which I believe it will, just in time for Rio 2016.

My only complaint about "Gold" is that at times, too many times, the would-be-tearjerk detail about Sophie's illness and treatment is over the top, more of a cringe-jerk for this blogger.

Reading the book en route to London, I winced again and again at the medical jargon and play by play of young Sophie vomiting into her toys, which happen to be a collection of "Star Wars" vehicles (the girl is a big fan of the George Lucas series).

Listening to the audiobook, too often my hands moved to cover my ears while I hummed to drown out the treatment-speak with "La-la-la-la-la." When young Sophie suffers a seizure mid-text, I could not hit fast-forward quickly enough.

On the flip side, Cleave's play by play about track cycling, elite training and all that Olympic bike champions are made of -- that was all, how do they say in England (???) -- it was all brilliant!

Reading "Gold," I could not get enough of Cleave's detailed descriptions from within the helmets and heads of its fictional Olympians. He unknowingly wrote "Chariots of Fire" on bikes. And for the record, I think "Chariots of Fire" director Hugh Hudson should also direct "Gold" for the silver screen.

During my conversation with Cleave, the author revealed extensive research went into each of his books. For "Gold," the research included several months of training with national level cyclists and coaches, which led to Cleave's excellent second by second descriptions of Olympic velodrome racing (as it turned out, Cleave also researched pediatric leukemia in as much detail).

As readers of this blog post will find in the videos of Cleave's comments, the London Games brought to Great Britain as much elation and positive energy in 2005 as in the summer of 2012. Though Cleave never attended the Olympics prior to writing "Gold," it's clear his experiences with the book and as a London 2012 spectator may lead him to attend Rio 2016 as he predicted. Will he write another five-ringed story? Probably not. Will Cleave write again about individual pursuits? Likely yes, as he hinted his next work may delve into the world of a person struggling with a long-term recovery.

But the focus of "Gold" comes down to one thing, in Cleave's words.

"I wanted to write about a rivalry," said Cleave. In the pages of "Gold" he said, "Zoe and Kate live their lives, their rivalry in very different ways."

In his remarks at one of the book signing events of Atlanta, Cleave described Zoe's path as a trail of descruction, and that through his own cycling training the author learned the "savage joy" of winning against his training partners. He touches a bit on another result of this training in the video for this post (hint: hospital).

Another off-camera conversation briefly tied back to "Star Wars" trivia. Cleave shared that his birthday is May 14, the same day as Jedi creator George Lucas, Talking Heads front man (and cyclist) David Byrne, and the author of one Olympic blogger who aspires to the same level of creativity as these fellow Tauruses (Cleave was born only hours before I was on that May morning of 1973).

In the weeks since meeting Cleave in Atlanta, his other books made it only my library reserve list. If you enjoyed his prior works, you will likely embrace "Gold" as well. And if you are new to Cleave's style, "Gold" is a good entry point to his works. Happy reading!

Photos and videos by Nicholas Wolaver

P.S. Driving away from the Cleave interview, my route took me past a pawn shop for which a man donned signs advertising "We Buy Gold!" With a straight face I rolled down the window and offered him an autographed copy of Cleave's book. Pregnant pause ... then the sign guy laughed as loud as anyone I've heard in a long time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Big Bird And Binders

Watching the debates prompted me to dust off my copy of Mitt Romney's book "Turnaround" and his work with the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic organizing committee. I met Romney in December 2001 when the Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay began in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. This book is a good read no matter one's political persuasion.

More on both the book and that brief meeting will follow on a later post. But for today, I just wanted to post a brief thought on last night's debate. See the photo I uploaded with this post -- in a word, "binder" was the blunder of the discussion (among many remarks I suspect Romney wishes he could do over).

I liked most President Obama's closing remarks. Sort of a K.O. Until the next debate ...

Image includes photo via PBS

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Running Across Russia

Just the other day, organizers unveiled the massive route for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay. It's impressive. By the numbers:
  • Begins Oct. 7, 2013
  • On the road 123 days
  • Visiting 2,900 communities
  • 14,000 torchbearers
  • 65,000 km
  • Within a one-hour drive of 130 million potential spectators (90 percent of Russian residents)
  • 30,000 volunteers
  • Three partners: Coca-Cola, Ingosstrakh Insurance Company and JSC Russian Railways Co.
  • This is Coke's ninth Olympic torch relay as presenting sponsor
  • According to published reports north of the border, the international space station is one stop on the 2014 Olympic torch relay route.
No word yet on the selection criteria to carry the Olympic torch, but I anticipate nomination process details will be unveiled very soon. Where will you be watching the 2014 Olympic flame?

Photo via Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roy Lichtenstein's "Girl With Ball" Bounces to ATL with 163 Other Works at High Museum of Art

During the summer of 2012, the Chicago Art Institute debuted the outstanding "Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective" exhibition set to open at the National Gallery of Art next week.

I'm guessing the curators of that exhibition were slightly miffed the Museum of Modern Art's iconic Lichtenstein canvas "Girl With Ball" was already booked for its High Museum of Art premiere in Midtown Atlanta.

Through some freelance P.R. work at the High these last few days, it was a privilege to experience "Girl With Ball" in the museum's new exhibition "Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913>>2013" through a media preview event held this week. What a treat!

Curated by Michael Rooks with co-curators Jodi Hauptman and Samantha Friedman of MoMA, "Fast Forward" features 164 works by 105 artists including some of my all-time favorites: Salvador Dali, Lichtenstein, Jenny Holzer among them. And there are some works easily recognized from past treks to MoMA, such as "Chief" by Franz Kline. The works including painting, sculpture, photography, film and other media appear centered around key historic dates of the last 100 years.

But what's to love most about "Fast Forward" are the surprises around several corners of the exhibition space. Upon exiting the museum elevators, the first right turn reveals "Unique Forms In Continuity," a gorgeous three-foot bronze statue of a figure in motion evocative of the lyrics to "Against The Wind" by Bob Seger. I love this Umberto Boccioni sculpture, and it's only made better positioned racing toward about a dozen Soviet propaganda posters that make it seem "the walls have eyes" (be sure to view the feature film from 1929 projected among these framed U.S.S.R. works).

Dali's miniature canvas "Illumined Pleasures" -- complete with a self-portrait of the artist's decapitated head, tiny insects and even tinier cyclists -- is displayed just steps from where Dali's "Persistence Of Memory" dazzled High visitors two years ago (also on loan from MoMA), and facing the currently displayed work is a beautiful canvas by Gerald Murphy showcasing an enormous wasp and sliced pear.

The next corner reveals the large and bug-like Kline work inspired by the artist's childhood memories of a locomotive. Moving fast forward another decade, the next corner brings the "Girl With Ball" into view flanked by an Andy Warhol canvas.

With stops in key years of the last century, wall texts describe how then-current events may have influenced the artists and their contemporaries. Another decade-to-decade action -- the evolution of transportation -- is subtly revealed as more vehicles, including a crushed car, take the stage. A three-dimensional untitled work by Lee Bentecou jumps out of the wall as though a fighter jet engine is backing into the museum. "The Chariot" by Alberto Giacometti is a must-see vehicular piece. Shapshots taken from within cars of the mid-century reveal modern moments of days gone by.

I loved locating two matching Jenny Holzer pieces (rubbings from her carved marble benches?) as "Fast Forward" rolled into the 1980s.

And this was the first time my eyes met a Jeff Koons work, a life-sized porcelain of a topless blond woman embracing the Pink Panther. Interesting.

Then the cavalcade of modern moments moves again, one last time to 2012-13 with an immersive floor-to-ceiling, half-room-sized new commission by artist Sarah Sze that must be seen to be believed (sort of a twist on Damien Hirst's creations featuring hundreds or thousands of the similar items on display in a single work). If you're into seek-and-find, try to locate Sze's plane ticket to Atlanta as part of this space-specific creation.

"Fast Forward" is on display at the High now through January 2013, by which time we will all fast forward to the highly anticipated exhibition "Frida & Diego" bringing together the Mexico artists/spouses Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Until, then, "Fast Forward" is an excellent option for an afternoon of art exploration in Midtown Atlanta.

Photos via the High, MoMA and select exhibition photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Forty Years Since Munich 1972

Today (Sept. 5) marks the 40th anniversary of the Olympic Movement's darkest day. And today in Germany survivors of the Black September attack on the Munich Olympic Village gathered for a day of remembrance and contemplation.

I've studied the events of Sept. 5, 1972, several times, starting with a college journalism term paper reviewing The New York Times' coverage of the Munich Massacre the following day. Also read the many books, reports and commentaries on the attack, screened "One Day In September" (the Oscar-winning documentary film), and recall vividly Bob Costas' commentary in 1992 in an NBC Sports special (aired during the Barcelona 1992 Games) for the 20th anniversary.

Of course there's also Steven Spielberg's "Munich" remake of the film "Sword of Gidion" about Israel's response to Munich.

Also, a couple of years ago through a work sabbatical, I spent several days living in a hotel at the Munich Olympic Park, just steps away from ground zero from that day in the Olympic Village. I've walked in the steps of the victims and their attackers, filmed the monuments built to commemorate those lost, and given a bit of thought to the recent brouhaha during London 2012 and the decision of the International Olympic Committee to share a moment of silence at an Olympic Village ceremony in lieu of a moment during the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. Here's my take on things.

Prior to the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, I agreed with the IOC -- rather than Bob Costas and the victims' families -- that the Opening Ceremony did not seem an appropriate time nor place for a moment of silence.

But then the LOCOG organizers did something I did not expect. During the 2012 Opening, they aired with IOC approval a video commemorating Olympic Family members lost in recent months (as I understand it, the video featured head shots of some folks lost in the Sept. 7, 2005, attacks in London). The video was brief, tasteful, easy to understand. In the stadium that night, I remember thinking "Why didn't they just put the Munich victims in this video, too?" Sort of like a moment of silence by a family around the table at a Thanksgiving meal -- a toast to those worthy of being remembered.

And I think LOCOG stumbled onto a potential 2012 Olympic legacy that could also help the IOC appease the Munich family survivors.

My mind was changed. I think every future Olympic Opening Ceremony should include a moment of silence for Olympic Family members lost during the Olympiad preceding the Games (or any Olympic Family member lost any time for any reason). Had this been accomplished for London 2012, the IOC could have commemorated Juan Antonio Samaranch (who died during the current Olympiad) in a brief, tasteful manner, and they could have included the Munich victims.

By permanently adding the "Olympic Family Moment of Remembrance" to each Opening Ceremony, it would air much like the Academy Awards video tribute to Oscar winners lost in the prior year leading to the broadcast.

A new tradition? A new legacy of 2012? Only time will tell. I know in all my future Olympiads the events of Munich will remain on the brain for myself and for millions who will always remember that one day in September.

Photo via this link

Friday, August 24, 2012

Celeste & Jesse Forever Includes Olympic Laughs

"Space Olympics" remains one of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live spoofs. Andy Samburg nailed it as an otherworldly IOC member (that's intergalactic Olympic committee) welcoming Michael Phelps and others to the Games of the future.

Back on earth this weekend, I enjoyed screening the new romantic comedy "Celeste & Jesse Forever" which features Samburg opposite Rashida Jones (of "The Social Network" and "Parks & Recreation" fame), who wrote this clever little picture.

What drew me to view this film: An Atlanta Journal-Constitution-published reprint of a San Francisco Chronicle review, which gave "Celeste & Jesse Forever" an "A" grade. More importantly, the review briefly mentioned that Samburg's slacker character takes a few hits from overachiever Celeste since he spends a lot of his free time watching reruns of the Beijing Olympics -- specifically an emotional weightlifting competition -- in lieu of gainful employment.

Five-ringed connections aside, this film is quirky, fun, funny and touching ... one of the best-written films I've seen of late (though I did enjoy "Frenzy" on the big screen at an Alfred Hitchcock feature screening as part of the Cultural Olympiad in London last week).

Check out the trailer and more details here.

Photo via Sony Picture Classics

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lon-Done! -- 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony Critique

Writing about London's Olympic Closing Ceremony is not easy.

In the hours immediately after the August 12 event, I was too tired. Though the 2012 adventure never did quite push me to hit the Olympic wall as in Games gone by, going into the final day of the XXXth Olympiad I was still standing, but just barely.

In the days just after the Closing, there was also a lot to tend to ... consolidating Olympic swag to fit my luggage. Sightseeing across London to visit the many sites on hold during the Games. A day trip with friends to Stonehenge. Chasing down gifts and final pin trades for folks at home. My brain just was not ready to write.

Then there was the long flight home, the 24 hours layover in Atlanta before a fun weekend with my girlfriend in Milwaukee, and now 10 days since the big party, there seems to remain endless unpacking (I entered London with two bags and returned with four). Also prepped then attended a new client meeting in Washington, D.C., yesterday.

Timing and mental energy aside, writing about London's final Olympic bow is challenging because I wanted to like the Closing Ceremony. And there are plenty of spectacular moments that will always remain with me. But there could have, and I think should have, been even more.

First, the good stuff.

I love it that the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed John Barry's soundtrack themes from "Dances With Wolves" (a nod to the former British colony, as the film was an all-American epic?) -- they performed Barry works during the event's preamble and again as the Olympic flame flickered out just a few paces from my second row seat behind the Olympic and U.K. flags.

The music also wowed me with Annie Lennox (finally performing at the Games), Emeli Sande, Pet Shop Boys, Queen, Taio Cruz and George Michael, whose "Freedom" lit up the arena via 640,000 LED audience pixels. I appreciated The Who medley including "Pinball Wizard" (during which a giant pinball prop nearly broke my left arm in the stands).

The best musical surprise: "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush, a longtime favourite. Also enjoyed tunes by David Bowie, John Lennon and even the Spice Girls.

But this is where the questions and criticism kick in and my POV on the London Olympic closing ceremony gets negative.

Where was Kate Bush? Where was David Bowie? Nowhere to be seen, only heard (and larger than life Brazil icon Pele was never formally announced, so no one in the stadium knew of his arrival in the Rio 2012 handover as predicted).

If you're going to showcase deceased legends (Lennon, and Freddie Mercury of Queen), then why not also showcase LIVING legends of British rock such as Elton John, Sting, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and The Rolling Stones?

If you're going to have a reunion performance by the Spice Girls, whadayasay also inviting Genesis or The Police to the party?

Where was Adele? And Coldplay? And Sade? And what happened to Sarah Brightman? Not invited? Not available? We may only wonder. But thank goodness "Stomp!" was available (snicker).

It's kind of like the Atlanta Olympic closing ceremony which lacked obvious Georgia hit makers R.E.M. and the B-52's. But who remembers Olympic closing ceremonies anyway?

I did enjoy the athlete entry in London. The fireworks were amazing, albeit brief compared to Beijing. Loved the stadium-sized "canvas" by Damien Hirst, from one of his spin paintings. And "Read All About It" performed by Sande is now on my hit list. Cheers for Russell Brand cast as Willy Wonka (a nickname Brand earned months ago) singing "Pure Imagination." LOL for Eric Idle singing "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life."

But then, here we go again with moments to hate. A human cannonball. Really? A giant octopus as Fatboy Slim's stage? WTF!?! Supermodels = Approved! Supermodels on trucks and lost in a sea of thousands of athletes = Denied!

No other Monty Python performers? Boooooo!

End of a wonderful XXXth Olympiad ... boooooo. But it was a brilliant Olympics worthy of "best ever" status if such nomenclature still existed in the Olympic family. I think over time the London Olympic closing ceremony will settle better in my memory than in this critique. Until then I'll think of some of the music and also play some Genesis tunes while unpacking.

Photos and videos by Nicholas Wolaver

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Looking Forward To Seeing Betty

It's Day 16, and the Games are winding down. The last couple of days included a visit to the Olympic Village, interaction with Olympic gold medalists from the track, football pitch and swimming pool, and more pin trading than should be legal for any one person.

This morning included time for reflection on the London Olympic experience. I took at taxi to Parliament Square (where this Games officially began for me personally) for a morning meeting at the London Media Centre, then I spent an hour at church learning about the Unitarian Universalist congregation of London founded in the 1780s.

Oh, and picked up a Closing Ceremony ticket.

I look forward to the return to Olympic Stadium and seeing the cauldron in its end-of-field location.

The London Olympic cauldron designers and ceremony team nicknamed the mega-torch "Betty" as a codeword to keep its design, construction and installation a secret, so it will be fun to revisit "Betty" before the flame is extinguished.

The changeover ceremony for Rio 2016 is also highly anticipated -- I hope there are some fun surprises. My money is on a Pele cameo. I hope also to get another shot at photographing Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) like at synchronized swimming.

As my fingers type this post, for its money from Team Spain in the Olympic basketball. Go USA!

There are tons of photos and heaps of videos to upload and share, which should be good fodder for more post-Games updates to this Olympic blog. I appreciate everyone reading and sending nice notes of support via Facebook during the last 16 days, and look forward to sharing more of the London Olympic story, a look at Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 and more photos very soon.

Photo via The Guardian and Getty

Friday, August 10, 2012

Just Another Day In London -- Hot To Trott

Thursday was just another (extraordinary) day in London.

After trading pins at the Coca-Cola Olympic Pin Trading Centre at London Olympic Park, strolled over to synchronized swimming's team event. My expectations for the event were low, but my Olympic royal sighting wish list was completed when Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) popped up on the big screen cheering on Team GB in the pool (her husband Prince William was at women's beach volleyball on Wednesday).

Though I was not able to get a decent photo on my own (Christmas wish list: new camera), I did get to speak again with Prince Albert of Monaco, who was seated with Kate, as he exited the venue (good thing the pin he gave me at USA House remained on my lanyard).

"This is the most popular pin of the Games," I said, thanking him again for the prized pin.

As the sun set over Olympic Park, my attempt to enter Olympic Stadium was aborted by a queue volunteer, but even my rejection from the venue led to a serendipitous Olympic moment as I spotted a young blond woman who was recognizable but not quite known (she had on a distinctive "Aa" athlete credential).

Would she do an Olympic blog interview, I inquired.

"Sure," she said.

Stupid me, though -- my first question to her was, "As an Olympian, what was your favourite moment or experience of the Games?"

Instantly her eyes widened, shocked by the silly question.

"Winning a medal, of course!" she said.

Only then did it finally click -- the interview in progress was with Team GB Olympic gold medalist Laura Trott, winner of two medals in the Olympic Velodrome earlier this week!

"Duh!" I said, apologizing profusely.

Like me, Trott was attempting to enter the Olympic Stadium sans ticket. Trott and her boyfriend -- another medalist (I think) whose name I did not catch -- got stopped by the same purple-clad volunteer "bouncer" on the bridge to the venue.

Before others started to recognize her (I do not think the volunteer realized who she was), Trott shared that her Olympic medals remain in the Olympic Village, she was blow away by the public reaction and new celebrity for Olympic cycling, and she is loving every minute of the Olympic experience.

Trott's boyfriend is one lucky fellow. As the pair locked lips -- I mean, movie love scene liplock -- and they embraced while waiting for confirmed access to the venue, after a few private minutes (er, private if you don't count me gawking from 10 steps away), a small mob of U.K. fans started asking for autographs and photos while stunned volunteers. Finally hip to the Olympic champion in their midst, the Games volunteers worked to get security to help the Olympians access the venue.

Photo opp!

And still there was more to the evening -- taking in the Olympic Park after dark, Team USA won gold in women's water polo so I was able to chat with waiting fans including past Olympic water polo athletes and anxious family members.

And then there was the BBC broadcast booth at Olympic Park, in which Team GB Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis taped a victory interview before waving to thousands of mad (I mean, losing there sh*t over ther moon elated) British fans cheering up to the penthouse studio platform above.

And the Legend -- Usain Bolt -- won gold in the 200m final inside the stadium, yielding deafening cheers from Olympic Stadium. Bravo, Bolt. I hear folks in Jamaica are losing it!

Just another day in London.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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