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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kerri Walsh: "Mission Accomplished!"

It's the middle of the night in London. I'm in my hotel near Paddington Station while across town in the Olympic Village, I suspect Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are still celebrating.

Paraphrasing Lionel Richie, they are once, twice, three time a lady's gold medalist in Olympic beach volleyball. Kudos to this Team USA duo -- Olympic champions for the third consecutive Games -- and to their teammates April Ross and Jennifer Kessy, winners of the silver medal.

Congratulations are also in order for the Brazilian medal winners Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Da Silva who earned da bronze.

This was my third consecutive Olympics to witness Walsh and May-Treanor take home the gold. In Athens 2004, on a beach beside the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. duo brought home their first Olympic victory. Four years later, in the pouring rain at a theme park venue in Beijing, they won again. In both cities, it took until the next day to interact with the Olympic champions (in Athens, a the TODAY Show set, repeated in Beijing).

Tonight I enjoyed the competition from section 109, stayed for the medal ceremony (captured on video from behind the U.S. flag raising during the national anthem for Team USA), then hung out until most of the purple-clad venue volunteers exited the building. With a combination USA House badge and London Media Centre badge in tow, and a couple of Olympic pin trades later, I found myself outside the Horse Guard's Parade venue media centre in which the medalists were interviewed by the world's media.

Outside a small group of teenage fans awaiting the medalists for a chance photo or autograph, and I captured video of all four U.S. medal winners as they exited the media tent. Check out Kerri Walsh sporting her three-peat Olympic medal, which she describes as a "mission accomplished" feat that made her say "... it's like I don't have a head on my shoulders!" and stating of the gold medal "she's beautiful."

I will post each of the videos to YouTube (but tonight just doing the best of them -- it's awfully late).

As in Athens, Walsh proved to be a class act taking time to inspire a generation (the theme of the London 2012 Olympic Games) by signing autographs and posing for photos with young fans (it was nice to see all of Team USA do this after their press conference).

Congratulations to the three-time Olympic Champions in women's beach volleyball.

Video and photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Prince Albert In The Social Network (USA House Visit); Countdown to Olympic Beach Volleyball

Last couple of days = blur.

Sort of hit the wall on Monday, with some in-hotel media pitching and rest on Tuesday.

But last night brought some early evening time to trade pins at the London Olympic Super Store (nothing "super" about it if you ask me -- considerably smaller than even the Torino Olympic store in 2006) and neighbouring Coca-Cola Pin Trading Center (considerably smaller and much more quiet than in Olympic Park).

Scored a London Bridge pin featuring the Olympic rings and a few Cobi and Petra (Barcelona 1992 mascot) pins, then strolled over to USA House in the rain. Oh, what a night!

USA House was hopping with Olympians -- Edwin Moses, Bob Beamon, some gymnasts and volleyball players (the tallest Olympian yet met), Rowdy Gaines, Donna De Varona and Prince Albert of Monaco (bobsleigh Olympian of winter Games fame).

This was my third opportunity to interact with Mr. Grimaldi. As readers of this blog may recall from 2010, Prince Albert was part of a blog post from a Visa event in Vancouver. And also, in 2002, I was part of his motorcade and press team when he visited Atlanta for the opening of the DeKalb International Training Center (DITC) for which he is a board member.

How fun it was to interact with HSH for the third time -- this time, with an important question: What was Prince Albert's reaction to his portrayal in the Oscar-nominated film "The Social Network"?

Why was this question on my mind?

Well, blog readers may also recall that when the movie premiered I posted a critical review including my reaction to the portrayal of Prince Albert in "The Social Network."

Readers may also recall that the actor who played Albert, James Shanklin, wrote in a response in the comments section of this blog (on one hand, very cool he took the time to post a comment; on the other hand, interesting that a Hollywood actor has time to personally troll the Internet for blog posts about his work -- either way, I respect and appreciate Shanklin's readership and response).

When I posed the question to HSH, "What is your reaction to your portrayal in 'The Social Network'?" and "[when] did he see the film?" Mr. Grimaldi responded directly that he had not viewed the entire movie, but that when he did see HSH's likeness on screen it was played "a bit dry" or a bit to stiff.

Because Mr. Grimaldi endured a long line of fans and Olympians to pose for photographs, and HSH stated the person before me was "the absolute final photo" of the evening, I opted for the brief conversation in lieu of a grip and grin image.

I greatly appreciated the courtesy of his response, thanking him by presenting a hot off the press 2012 Olympic Rings And Other Things media pin featuring Wenlock. Prince Albert returned the favour with a brand new Comite Olimpique Monegasque (Monaco Olympic Committee) lapel pin.


If there is another opportunity to speak with HSH, I want to ask him about the reports that the London Cultural Olympiad was searching for Monaco's national poet. Did they find an entrant, I wonder? But poetry was not on the brain last night -- too many Olympians!

After the interaction with HSH, I turned the corner to shake hands with Beamon and his wife, who were in USA House sharing information about Art of the Olympians, for which Beamon is CEO. I will visit their exhibit in London later this week to post from that location, which sounded very interesting.

Of course, in the last couple of days I lost my camera's USB cord, so photos of the USA House encounters will follow when a connection may be made. Please enjoy the Team USA Media Summit and 24 Hour Fitness press event photos until the Grimaldi interaction images may be added.

Heading soon from London Media Centre to the gold medal women's beach volleyball game featuring USA versus USA. Can hardly wait to see Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh play for a three-peat gold medal against Team USA's Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, who I spoke with at the Team USA Media Summit in Dallas earlier this year. Ross said in Dallas she hoped for an all-USA final game, and I expect Ross and Kessy will play hard to attempt to dethrone Walsh and May-Treanor.

Tonight marks my own Olympic three-peat as the gold medal women's beach volleyball match in Athens 2004 was among my tickets in Greece eight years ago, and in the pouring rain in Beijing, Walsh and May-Treanor emerged victorious again. My friend Brian (an ISOH member who writes and talks extensively about -peat feats in the Olympics) sadly could not three-peat with me tonight (we both attended women's beach volleyball finals previously), but we will be sure to RE-peat on Copacabana Beach during Rio 2016.

Please enjoy the video of Kerri Walsh with a special message about this blog.

Photos and video by Nicholas Wolaver, except for the 2012 Olympic beach volleyball photo by Petr David Josek/The Associated Press

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Michael Phelps: "I will say yes if Saturday Night Live calls"

Today at London Media Centre, Michael Phelps completed a press conference with hundreds of reporters. Moderated by TOP Olympic sponsor Visa, which has 26 years of Olympic affiliation (it's everywhere you want to be), Phelps took questions about his Games experience, medals and the future.

Called on to pose the first media gallery question of the press conference, I asked Phelps about his past appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and whether he'd make an encore appearance, or if he received any invitation from "SNL" in the 24 hours since he became history's most decorated Olympian with 22 Olympic medals.

"If I get invited back, would I do it? Sure!" said Phelps, "I was very nervous last time. Hopefully I will have more experiences like that. It was fun. I will definitely say 'yes' if they call."

He added that the live nature of the broadcast left no margin for error, adding to the nervousness.

In 2008, Phelps took part in the famed "Space Olympics" video short and other segments spoofing the Games and that year's political season during a fall 2008 Saturday Night Live broadcast that was the second-most-viewed SNL episode, according to this unconfirmed report.

Had there been an option for a follow up question, I would have asked for more detail about SNL's references to him since 2008.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Serena Williams = Super Slam (C'MON!)

The word of the day: "C'MON!"

Serena Williams blasted this four letter word -- as if to say "heck, yeah!" -- at Wimbledon at least three times today en route to her rare Super Slam victory with a gold medal at the London Olympics.

Maria Sharapova didn't seem to know what hit her -- by the time she got on the board, it was way too late. C'MON!

I loved learning Williams' trademark fist pump only steps from her place in the field of play. It is unreal to me that from the front two rows at Centre Court I captured the photos posted on this blog. Sharapova is as gorgeous in person as any magazine, (Serena is, too) and it was amazing and unbelievable to see her playing tennis where only weeks ago she won the Wimbledon title.

Viewing Williams' play, it really did seem like watching an Olympic goddess. Her serve is majestic. Her victory dance is entertaining. Though stoic with a hard core game face during match play, once she won Williams never stopped grinning and dancing, having the time of her life.

The Olympic tennis experience included other surprises, like all three women's medalists standing on the same patch of grass from which I grabbed a few blades for a longtime tennis friend back home.

Entering the venue, fellow Oklahomans Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci (married Olympic champions) walked beside me to the seating area (they were across Centre Court from the spot I found along one of the service lines). This was the third time in as many years to speak with Conner and Comaneci.

The most curious moment: During the national anthem, as the U.S. flag went up over the court, the flag flew off its hoist during the line "That our flag was still there" (see video). Williams handled the situation with grace, smiling to the crowd as if to say, "C'MON, it is all good" and "Come on, are you going to play our anthem again and get this right?" all at once (they did not start over, but it was all good).

I am too tired tonight to post about the other tennis feats from Team USA today, but there are/were more medals and a separate post will follow once sleep is achieved. There is also an interesting Olympic exhibit at the Wimbledon Museum about which to post. Today's women's triathlon experience also yielded amazement.

Congratulations, Serena Williams -- Super Slam Champion.

Photos copyright Nicholas Wolaver may not be used without written permission

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