Wednesday, February 27, 2013

McKayla Maroney Hangs Ten at Penn Station






My birthday in 2012 included an introduction to a young woman who impressed me.

At the U.S.O.C. Media Summit for London, reporters and bloggers in Dallas last May 14 met the pre-Games, pre-meme, pre-medal-winning McKayla Maroney.

Maroney impressed not only for her athletic accomplishments, but also for her poise as a media-ready Olympian. Here was a young woman with her sights on Olympic gold and savvy eye on post-Games endorsement opportunities. Interviewing her briefly as her media Q&A wrapped, I walked away thinking, "Here's an athlete who not only studied, say, Mary Lou Retton's field of play prowess but also how the perfect 10 gymnast managed the glory beyond the Wheaties box."

Watching reruns of Retton interviews at LA84 XXVth Gala affirmed this.

So instead of blogging about Maroney last summer, I kept these observations on the back burner waiting to see how she'd fulfill her potential.

It was thrilling to see Maroney and the team in person as they captured team gold in London, and exciting to see the "not impressed" phenomenon across social media and the Oval Office.

That was just the preamble. The Maroney marketing machine is launching officially this week.

As reported by the New York Times, Maroney landed a major (and likely lucrative) endorsement deal tied to several soda brand names and a new 10 calorie line that builds on the Dr. Pepper 10 calorie beverage. Maroney will greet Penn Station visitors and fans on Thursday in a temporary "Ten Station" arrangement to encourage sampling and social media photo sharing of consumers who are "impressed" with new low-cal flavors of 7Up, RC Cola, A&W Root Beer and other flavors with "TEN" branding.

I'm impressed. It will be even more impressive if Maroney arrives at Penn Station in a gold singlet, jogging like Bo Derek on a beach. That would be a "Ten" move. Though not what Dr. Pepper inTENds.

Speaking of Bo Derek, why isn't she on board for the 10 calorie drink campaign?

Though much credit is due for the successful negotiation of this post-London Maroney endorsement, folks in the five-ringed scene have got to wonder as I do why the gymnast went with a non-Olympic beverage brand for her debut deal. Everyone knows Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympic Movement (all the way back to 1928, the same year women's gymnastics entered the Olympic program in Amsterdam).

Is McKayla consciously signaling to big red, make 7Up Yours?

The press release announcing the deal and Thursday's festivities gives no decisive clues.

This week one of Maroney's "Fierce Five" teammates, Aly Raisman, secured a spot on the next "Dancing With The Stars" season, following Shawn Johnson's footsteps. It will be impressive to learn Maroney's next move on the endorsement front.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver, the White House and Reuters/Brian Snyder. Photo illustration of "10" movie poster via IMDB, Reuters/Brian Snyder and this blog


 


 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

USOC Asks America About 2024 Olympic Bid


A couple of nights ago, Chicago Tribune Olympic reporter Philip Hersh posted Chicago's curt "no thanks" to the United States Olympic Committee's letters asking several large city mayors a question: Can we talk?

Severing tradition to set the stage for an Olympic bid battle on home soil, the U.S.O.C. is surveying the landscape for cities interested in hosting the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Hersh posted the text of the U.S.O.C. letter.

Five minutes later I had an email in to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's office asking for his response. Atlanta interested?

Around The Rings was on this story quickly. It took 24 hours for Atlanta media to finally jump into the discussion. And though it took 36 hours for Mayor Reed's office to get back to me, they did, with the following statement:

Atlanta was thrilled to host the Centennial Olympic Games and welcome the world to our great city in 1996. The games fueled the city’s economic and population growth, enhanced our international reputation as a leading global city, and continues to be a source of pride after more than a decade. We are pleased to be on the short list of cities with which the U.S. Olympic Committee will have initial conversations. This opportunity is worthy of thoughtful consideration, and I plan to discuss it with the city’s civic and business community in the weeks and months ahead. -- Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

I'll take that as a cautious "maybe" on Atlanta's interest.

This morning I spoke with Atlanta attorney Charles H. Battle, Jr. ("Charlie"), of counsel at Miller & Martin PLLC. After serving on the Atlanta Olympic Committee (AOC) for Atlanta's successful Olympic bid in 1990, Battle was managing director at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG), later counseling Beijing, Vancouver, Sochi and PyeongChang through winning bids (he also worked on New York's 2012 and Chicago's 2016 bids).

In other words, Battle knows a thing or two about Olympic bids. But what of Atlanta's prospects for 2024?

Battle quickly pointed out Atlanta would have serious work cut out for it to make a case for a bid. Paraphrasing Ambassador Andrew Young in an Around The Rings article, Battle said there's a "been there, done that" perception that would be tough to crack.

"The IOC is looking to go to new places," said Battle.  "So [for Atlanta], it's not realistic. There's not a new story to tell to come back to Atlanta."

Not even with a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.

I asked Battle about the trend in IOC selection of host cities that bid multiple times (Salt Lake, Athens, Beijing, Vancouver, Sochi and PyeongChang each one after multiple bids), and Chicago's prospects as a repeat bidder that already politely declined the option.

"Chicago had a very outstanding technical bid and might have had a great opportunity," said Battle. "But sadly Chicago and New York got tied up in the IOC/USOC revenue issue."

For Battle, New York (a.k.a. "the capital of the world") is the most compelling city -- stateside and worldwide -- yet to host the Olympics.
"New York could have a great story," said Battle.

Battle also mentioned some other players on the USOC's mayoral mailing list, including Olympic bid enthusiasts from Tulsa, Okla., and cities in western New York.

"The thing that is tough is that bidding is very expensive, and hosting is even more expensive," said Battle. "Atlanta, or any city, would be hard pressed with questions in the decision they make (to bid)."

And if Mayor Reed calls Battle to chat?

"I'd be happy to talk to them," said Battle when asked if Reed was in touch (as of 11 a.m. today, no calls received). "I just don't think this is something Atlanta would seriously consider."

For this Olympic blogger, I tend to agree that New York is the world's most prominent city missing from pantheon of Olympic host cities. Mapping out the potential Olympic host cities in my lifetime (the next 40 to 60 years), from my view, the USA may only host the summer Games one or maybe two more times now through 2072. New York and Chicago are, to me, the greatest prospects. And with Chicago already removing itself from consideration for 2024, well, that's disappointing.

Not yet sure how I'd feel about Atlanta giving it a go. But I do think the USOC should bid for 2024. Definitely. I heard somewhere that the important thing is not to win, but to take part.

Photo via this link

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dealing Cards


Over the years I lost count the number of times Netflix almost lost my business with fee changes, delivery issues and the like.

But the video service recently redeemed itself with the twisted characters and addictive story line on the original series "House of Cards," which blends some long-time favorite performers (Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright) and interesting newcomers (Kate Mara, Kristen Connolly) with excellent and biting scripts. Just when you think it's going down a familiar political thriller path, BAM!

Welcome to the D.C. political/journalism sleaze Olympics! (the U.K. version is now in queue, too).

"House of Cards" deals out the "R" rated (and upgraded) answer to "The West Wing" with a dose of "All The President's Men." When will they please shoot a scene at the Newseum?

The series features great writing, and they've got their work cut out for them to develop season two's follow up to the current (and outstanding) season one cliff hanger.

Since I don't want to spoil the fun for those still catching up on "House of Cards," let's just say one of the most memorable (and shocking for TV) scenes takes place mid-season with a Happy Father's Day sequence that inspired my contribution to the "House of Cards" shared images (see above). I'm curious where this illustration card will go -- a Nick original.

Kevin Spacey/House of Cards image via Netflix at this link; other image is a collage I created from House of Cards promotional images.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm Not Making This Up

 

In 1990 my good friend Meghan gave me the book "Dave Barry Talks Back" by the Pulitzer Prize winning author and humorist for the Miami Herald. I still laugh about Barry's text describing a dead beached whale and small town law enforcement's botched attempts to remove it with dynamite.

Some of my favorite Barry columns ran nationally during the 1994 Winter Olympics of Lillehammer (my personal favorite referenced "Mr. Suave" offering a bronze medal winner some lutefisk), and during my Olympic days working at Edelman I spoke with Barry's sports reporter wife to invite her to client events.

So it was great fun to attend the Valentine's Day breakfast and book signing event hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, at which Barry shared selected details from his new book "Insane City." He said the book takes place in Miami, the city he moved to from the United States, the city with the tag line "Come back ... we weren't shooting at you!"

I found it interesting Barry's son is now a Wall Street Journal reporter and recent newlywed whose nuptials may have factored for the new book. Barry said his mother's "tell it like it is" attitude also influenced his upbringing (Example: On a bad day mom might respond to "how's your day going?" with a straightforward reply "just shitty"). Less surprising, Barry's other literary influences varied from writers in The New Yorker to MAD magazine.

During the audience Q&A session I asked Barry two questions:

1. Since another best-selling author (Tom Wolfe) recently wrote about Miami in detail, was there any collaboration or a meeting of the minds?

Answer: No. (This surprised me since Wolfe typically networks with prominent residents while researching local color for his novels.)

2. Given the many Olympic travels Barry experienced, is there a particular Olympic memory that stands out?

Answer: Getting hit by a taxi in Athens!

Barry said during the Athens 2004 Olympics, while dining at a sidewalk cafe with his wife and another sports reporter, his chair was toppled by a Greek taxi driver who was inclined to drive on said sidewalk (a memory affirmed by his Oct. 2004 column). Ouch! He also relayed a preference for the summer versus winter competitions.

I added "Insane City" to my reading list, just a title or two after Wolfe's latest, "Back To Blood." And I'll be looking for Barry in Rio's taxi stands and sidewalk cafes in 2016.

Photo by Nicholas Wolaver; book covers via Amazon.com


 
 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting opens at Atlanta's High Museum of Art

Celebrity encounters provide interesting and fun moments for the public relations executive. Crossing paths with musicians, authors, actors, prize winners and presidents -- it's all good, and something to tell the kids and grand kids down the road.

In the pantheon of fine art rock stars, Mexico's Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are among the most recognized and revered, and through a freelance P.R. client assignment at the High Museum of Art, during the last 10 days I enjoyed the pleasure of green room-like access to some of the artists' best known and rarely seen works.

Until recently, my only familiarization with Kahlo was via the feature film "Frida" starring Salma Hayek. Rivera's work was something seen only in books, or maybe in a museum (The Metropolitan or MoMA, perhaps).

Atlanta residents and visitors may now enjoy the rare opportunity to experience dozens of paintings, drawings, lithographs and photographs of and created by Kalho and Rivera as this month the High mounted the largest gathering of their works in a single exhibition.

Rare indeed. The High is the only U.S. museum for the exhibition "Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting," featuring more than 25 percent of Kahlo's works for the first time in the Southeast. The exhibition runs through May 12.

Promoting the exhibition, I learned more of the Frida & Diego story. As a teenager, Kahlo nearly died when she was impaled in a bus and trolley crash. Following this bone breaking accident, Kahlo met and admired Rivera, lovingly or longingly stating to her friends (insert voice of Ferris Bueller's girlfriend) that he was the man she would marry.

After years of painful recovery and evolving as a self-taught artist, Kahlo did marry Rivera, several years her senior, embarking on a loving yet rocky relationship during which the heights of their mutual admiration remained tethered and dragged down by their cheating one-upmanship. Both artists enjoyed the peaks of fame and remarkable career milestones infused with dark valleys including failed pregnancies and the revelations of their infidelities (Rivera slept with Kahlo's sister, and Frida returned the favor hooking up with one of Diego's political heroes).

The High exhibition begins with smaller works juxtaposed by massive floor to ceiling photographs of the couple -- one of these images is a new acquisition by the museum (don't miss the original photo in the final exhibition gallery).

"Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting" quickly turns to explore giant canvases from Rivera's early career. I enjoyed most the large cowboy portrait, a smaller cubist work (referencing a flea market) and an other-worldly painting filled with curious shapes and faces.

Rounding the corner, visitors are treated to the first of two reproduced Rivera murals, and several more giant paintings featuring workers harvesting peace lilies. This is the Diego I recognize from books and museums (upon entering this third gallery, a 180 degree turn yielded an image of a farmer carrying a huge sack of cabbages, reminiscent of the flower carrier on a mural I once visited).

The cheery floral paintings by Rivera are followed by several "dark days for Frida" captured on canvas. Guests learn of her lost pregnancies, her forced-feeding of liquefied meat, and the brutal knife killing of a Mexican woman whose murder Frida read about in the news. Viewers also get a glimpse of the bus in which young Kahlo rode before the trolley accident left her broken and isolated in recovery.

Though the topics of her paintings in this section are not for the faint of heart, their attention to detail reveals Kahlo's skill and craftsmanship. How did this self-taught artists perfect so many little elements reminiscent of Salvador Dali's tiny and detailed oil paintings? Her most surreal images, such as a star-headed plant growing arms, or Buddha-like eyes gazing at the viewer -- are now among my favorites.

I learned through this exhibition that Kahlo often painted while confined to a recovery bed. A photograph of Kahlo painting her own body cast chest plate appears beside the actual cast. And across the room, the High installed a reading room area with a bright red bunk bed inviting visitors to explore the exhibition catalog while reclining to reflect on Kahlo's often bedridden status.

There's another "yellow" reading room with an enormous and functional seating area -- a couple of chairs enshrined in several dozen more chairs stacked 20 feet high. Have a seat!

Two side galleries -- located by the reading rooms -- should not be missed. Check out the reproduced "Rockefeller" mural, and some of the Rivera's late career landscape paintings. I learned in this room the other nation Rivera visited while suffering penile cancer (ouch!), spotting a portrait of a woman shoveling snow much like the aforementioned cabbage carrier.

Though a great artist, Rivera shamelessly slept with a lot of women. The biggest revelation of this exhibition for me (other than the leg-crossing, wince-inducing thought of penile cancer) was an introduction to one of Rivera's muses turned patrons -- many of the works in the exhibition came from this woman's collection.

It was also interesting to spot Kahlo's drawings, including one elaborate ink on paper work she scribed on the back of air mail stationery.

Six remarkable self-portraits serve as the climax of "Frida & Diego." I loved witnessing the uncrating of "Self-Portrait With Monkeys" about a week before the exhibition opening. The other works on this wall -- notably Kahlo's oil painting after cutting her own hair (a retaliation toward Rivera) and her broken back portrayed as a shattered Greek column -- require a long study to appreciate their detail.

More must-see works accompany dozens of photographs in the final gallery. Be sure to explore the Mother Earth-infused self-portrait of Kahlo cuddling an infant-like Rivera, and Kahlo's answer to Willie Nelson's "You Were Always On My Mind" on another large self-portrait (to the right of this painting, nestled in the gallery corner, is a photograph of Rivera watching Kahlo paint it). I also loved Kahlo's anniversary gift painting of the dynamic duo as a two-face single person melding their features.

"Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting" features several special events, including a Mexican cinema film series, lectures and family events. I plan to finally watch "Frida" and attend Friday Jazz.

Inspired by the exhibition I also began study of other Rivera and Kahlo works, recently finding that Rivera created a mural in the Olympic Stadium of Mexico City (site of the 1968 Olympic opening, closing and athletics competition). I'm also on the hunt for details about both artists' inclusion in Cultural Olympiad events in Mexico and elsewhere.

May the exhibition "Frida & Diego" inspire you.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver




















Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blade Runner Blues

Troubling headlines out of South Africa today as Paralympic champion and London Olympian Oscar Pistorius (a.k.a. "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic legs) was apparently detained after girlfriend and model Reeva Steenkamp died of gunshot wounds in his Pretoria residence.

Details are fuzzy, including non-police theories concerning a Valentine's Day surprise gone terribly wrong. I first read the news online then heard a South African correspondent for The New York Times on NPR's Morning Edition.

It will likely be Friday before the release of more official details about this unfortunate series of events for two South African icons.

Photo via Reuters


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!

One of my favorite scenes in the Hitchcock classic "Vertigo" features Jimmy Stewart's on-screen girlfriend unveiling a comical self-portrait. He hates it -- does not think it's funny -- and walks out on her. And as she sits alone contemplating his reaction, the woman grafittis her own painting, screaming, "Stupid! Stupid ... Stupid!" 

To the International Olympic Committee, who today voted to exclude Olympic wrestling (both freestyle and Greco-Roman) from the 2020 summer Olympics, my thoughts echo those of Olympic historian David Wallechinsky quoted in The New York Times. STUPID!

FUCKING STUPID!

I think the IOC will regret this decision for many years. Today's vote is like painting grafitti on their own image.

According to Around The Rings, the aforementioned NYTimes.com story, and other sports news sites, the IOC is defending its choice as a vote for other sports (rather than a vote against wrestling). The IOC says it wants to be "hip" and "with-it" (insert Dr. Evil voice here) and go with sports that appeal to a younger audience.

HELLO! Wresting is an ancient sport with millions of fans worldwide! It's also a sport in which a diverse array of nations qualified and medalled! It's been on the Olympic competition schedule for every modern Olympiad and ancient Olympiad. Olympic wrestling exemplifies the "stronger" portion of the Olympic Motto.

It's as though the IOC pulled a wrestling move -- the "insert head into anus" technique -- to exclude wrestling for 2020.

Fortunately, the voting members do have the option to dislodge craniums from sphincters at a May 2013 meeting, during which their vote may be overturned. I hope FILA, USA Wrestling and other wrestling NOCs may rally and get this mistake vote quickly erased from IOC history. 

I don't mean to be luddite about the IOC's decision -- innovation is good. But nixing wrestling from the Olympic program is not innovative. It's ridiculous.

I want them to be lutte-ite.

Here's one way those who agree may help -- check out the Keep Wrestling In The Olympics page on Facebook, and send your thoughts to the IOC. What bone-head move will they think of next?

UPDATE ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2013: Thank heavens, the IOC corrected its mistake and reinstated Olympic Wrestling through a vote held in Buenos Aires. Whew! Congratulations to FILA, USA Wrestling and all the wrestling fans for their hard work to pin this inclusion of the ancient Olympic sport in future Olympiads. USA Today published a good summary of these developments for wrestling, softball/baseball and squash.

Photo via Associated Press at this link

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sochi 2014 in 365


Where will we be one year from today?

For this guy, there's hope of blogging near the banks of the Black Sea, as the waterfront city Sochi beckons for the 2014 Winter Games. The opening ceremony is set for Friday, February 7, 2014, and I will work toward acquiring a seat at Fisht Olympic Stadium.

This time yesterday I was confused -- why did the U.S. Olympic Committee, NBC and other Olympic Movement organizations eagerly declare today (Feb. 6) as the one year to go milestone?

At last, clarity arrived today via the New York Times report noting the XXIIth Winter Olympic Games include some pre-Opening Ceremony competitions that stretch the event to 18 not 16 days. Mark your calendars for NBC's Winter Olympic broadcast launching on this night (Feb. 6) in one year.

Though work hours prevented tuning in live this morning, a TODAY Show segment showcased a good array of Sochi facts and figures. It makes me smile that there are palm trees in Sochi (sort of looks like Savannah, Ga.); with that said, a quick spin of the globe shows Russia's seaside resort is as far north as past Winter Olympic sites Torino, Italy; Nagano, Japan; and even Lake Placid, N.Y. (a few clicks west of Vermont ski resorts). Rest assured, there will be snow.

The U.S.O.C. Road To Sochi site features an array of 2014 details and links to Team USA athletes on deck for next year.

Bring on the Games of Sochi!

Photo via Sochi2014.ru

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