Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tale of Two Perry's (Olympic Perry's)

Just over three months ago, the U.S. Olympic Committee hosted a special "100 Days Out" Road To Rio tour stop in Times Square.

The daylong event featured dozens of Rio-bound Olympians and cameos by medalists of earlier Games. 

The occasion also coincided with NBC's countdown to Rio coverage featuring an appearance by The Band Perry. The group announced their new release "Live Forever" was selected as "official song" for Team USA.

Happily in the right place a the right time, I captured The Band Perry's first Olympic-related interview a couple of hours after their appearance on "The TODAY Show" and they seemed very excited to share details of their new five-ringed status. 

Check out and please share the Olympic Rings And Other Things interview with The Band Perry at Times Square here:

By mid-July, it turned out The Band Perry is not the only official "Perry" at the Games.

NBC announced the network's selection of pop superstar Katy Perry and her fresh song "Rise" as their official Olympic anthem, moving the solo artist into an elite group of Olympic performers including Whitney "One Moment In Time" Houston, Celine "The Power of the Dream" Dion, Aretha "Carry The Flame" Franklin, LeAnn "Light The Fire Within" Rimes, and Gloria "Reach" Estefan. 

Personally, this blogger LOVES (with googly eyes) Katy Perry. Her hit "Dark Horse" ranks among the top songs of my Sochi 2014 travel playlist. I must have listened to that song 100+ times while working in Russia. 

It will be interesting and fun to see if Ms. Hudson brings her "Firework" showcase to Brazil and USA House during the next three weeks (fingers crossed she does). 

After all, I met her ex husband Russell Brand a day after his appearance in London's Olympic closing ceremony and chatting up the Games with Perry would provide a nice bookend to the earlier Mr. Katy conversation. Check out the official video for "Rise" below (and enjoy!). 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Olympic Blogger: 3 ... Zika: 0

Happy Accidents and NBC Awash at Copacabana

Saturday in the Olympic city presented several happy accidents.

The day started with a stroll to USA House, the USOC's remote office and hospitality suite for the Games, to meet with a public relations colleague.

The house -- in a Rio school that Team USA is renovating -- remains an active construction site with painting, banner installation and other hard hat activities underway.

I did not yet go inside, but it will be exciting to see how the location is transformed from now to volunteer training on Aug. 2.

Bidding adieu to my colleague, I headed across the street to the east end of Ipanema Beach, eventually walking to the rocky peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. One of the remote Rio Media Center locations -- perhaps the most scenic of them all -- has a balcony and TV studios overlooking the most spectacular beach on earth.

Donning a media credential I was afforded a few minutes to soak in the media center views before climbing what the house manager described as "Rio's ant hill" where thousands of locals and tourists gather to applaud the sunset on clear evenings.

Something tells me these moments and views will remain all-time personal favorites from the 2016 Olympic experience as a wave of calm and peace of mind washed over me -- I will stress about Rio's five-ringed challenges no more!

Heading past Fort Copacabana and through the peninsula neighborhood, several billboards for what may be the Russia House came into view.

I could not help but wonder which athletes on the boards need to be painted over due to the Russia Olympic doping scandal -- the Russia House is typically a very popular venue -- wondering how it may be different in 2016.

Moving on to Copacabana Beach, a large, blue box on the beach proved to be a television viewing stand with a bridge across Ave. Atlantica to connect it to a Rio 2016 Media Center.

It was no accident the Games' most prominent broadcaster, NBC, occupied most if not all of the temporary compound.

As I came around the side of the blue box, it was surprising to spot a bulldozer, yellow or red caution tape and a few additional security folks keeping an eye on a small crowd gathered to look at the building.

Jutting out of the ground/beach level of the structure there was an elaborate and colorful TV studio -- I thought perhaps this was one of the TODAY Show sets.

Flashing my Rio Media Center badge, I was permitted closer inspection alongside reporters from O Globo, APF and a few photographers. Stern faces on the NBC production team told the tale -- the entire set had moments earlier been drenched by a huge winter wave crashing onto Copacabana Beach.


About this time the AFP reporter introduced himself asking my news outlet, and I explained the Olympic blogger status.

"Well, here is your story today!" he said.

A story, indeed.

I spoke with a couple of the NBC personnel who confirmed one oversized wave came up over their custom-installed mini-sea wall facing the ocean side of their temporary set. The swell was intense enough to lift and leave behind about an inch of sand on the decorative tile flooring that some team members were starting to sweep or clean with shovels and mops. The wave's watermark extended almost all the way to the main road.

Other producers -- perhaps more senior NBC personnel -- exchanged hushed conversations while gazing upon the scene. About this time the O Globo reporter named Gabriella chatted up the cause of the surprise mayhem.

"It is the ressaca -- the winter tides like the one that crashed the new bike path a few weeks ago," she said.

As reported earlier this year, a new beachfront cycling structure was destroyed by a large wave, killing two riders. Apparently these winter tides bring a handful of larger waves which are impossible to predict.

Thank goodness folks were only soaked by Saturday's wave!

Most of the NBC folks started clamming up when they realized AFP, O Globo and bloggers were on the scene, but we did also confirm the furnished outdoor set is intended as the man NBC News, NBC Sports and Late Night programming with Carson Daly.

Seems like the perfect time to fly in Ryan Seacrest.

Get it? Seacrest.

With no more set-drenching waves upon us during my hour around the set, I moved on to visit the Olympic Mega-Store across the street from the Copacabana Marriott (my 2005 Rio holiday accommodations).

While staying at the hotel years ago, my then-girlfriend, her sister and I made friends with one of the masseuses employed by Marriott, but I learned he had long-since moved on from tourist muscle treatments.

In the Mega-Store, a few key items and details were revealed:

There are few items available for XXL (locally, size GG) male Olympic fan.

The organizing committee was noticeably conservative with regards to Olympic pin designs (far fewer than in Athens, Beijing or London).

Inflatable fan gear apparently is popular -- people were snapping up oversized "mascot hands" for clapping and blow-up Rio Olympic torches (could these become this Olympiad's "red mittens" must-have souvenir?).

Much of the beach gear and shirts is very colorful and festive. Just wish they had more of it in my size.

I bumped into some of the students from Ball State University (first met at Rio Media Center on Friday) as they enjoyed the scene.

The next happy accident was spotting Samsung's pavilion adjacent to the Olympic store. It is sort of nondescript, mostly glass and marked with only subtle logos for the Worldwide Olympic partner brand. 

With the help of a translator, I interviewed the Samsung manager on site, and she shared a few details on which collectors may pin their hopes:
  • There are 30 Samsung pins, all in the shape of the latest Galaxy mobile device
  • Most of the designs (20 of them) feature a sports pictogram from archery to weightlifting
  • The other eight designs feature icons of Rio from Havianas and beach umbrellas to Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ The Redeemer statue
  • A black felt presentation board is free for mounting the pins
  • As visitors redeem their passport stamps (two stamps = one pin) they draw the pins out of a mystery box to provide a random element to the promotion
  • If you pull out of the box a design you already have, you are encouraged to exchange it with fellow collectors ("no returns" to the box for a another draw).
  • Eight of the designs are only available at the Barra location for Samsung, with another eight exclusive to Copacabana, but the manager and translator smiled and said they would not reveal which eight are specific to the two pavilions.
I managed to earn or trade for 11 of the designs, and all were for sports, leading me to believe the eight local icon designs are either Barra-specific or they will be blended into the giveaways during the Games (akin to the U.K. icons suddenly appearing later in the London 2012 Samsung pin program).

Let the Samsung pin games commence!

My final three serendipitous moments of Saturday: Arriving at Co-Sport to collect my tickets two days before their ticketing center opens (oh, well); crossing paths with a U.S.O.C. friend while ordering pizza near the hotel (fun albeit brief visit); and stumbling in to a late-night dinner at the Veloso bar-cafe, now the Garota de Ipanema Cafe, the actual location where the world's second-most recorded pop song was written as inspired by a passerby teenage Girl from Ipanema

It was only after two caipirinhas that I noticed the writing on the wall (large, framed images of the hand-written music). 

Great fun to learn the back-story for the song while enjoying a wonderful meal.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Friday, July 29, 2016

Getting Around Rio On Day Two

Day two in the Olympic city provided an eye-opening look at new-to-me corners of Rio.

After sleeping in a bit and taste-testing fresh juices from the hotel kitchen (first time for honeydew, strawberry and fresh lychee breakfast juice blends), I made my way up the road to Ipanema's main Metro station, the southern-most subway stop in town. 

Before entering the Metro to begin wrestling with their ticketing machines, a small City of Rio tent caught my eye -- was that a microscope on view?

It was! Turns out the city deployed not only 80,000 security personnel (more noticeable today), but a mosquito-bourne illness awareness campaign -- including microscope slides through which to see, I don't know, mosquito larvae or other insect parts -- is underway to help people prevent all sorts of fun health issues. 

Though I speak no Portuguese and the municipal health volunteers had no English skills, we did manage to clear up one thing: It's winter in Rio and mosquitoes are not common when it's windy and in the 70s -- weather-wise, this town is like Miami Beach at Christmas (gorgeous, mild temps).

Rio's subway map is straightforward and easy to navigate, but the distances and travel times were longer than anticipated. I wish the same was true of the Metro ticket options, which offer the lesser of two evils: 1) use exact change only after enduring a line 20-passengers deep, or 2) endure a similar line to purchase a single ticket. 

This is to say that today provided a big reality check for getting to my volunteer shifts or ticketed events next month. I think it may take 2-3 hours just to get to Opening Ceremonies (let alone the jam-packed after-midnight ride home)!

Today's first stop was Rio Media Center, also known as the "unaccredited media" alternative to the official Rio 2016 Main Press Center or International Broadcast Center. Like its predecessors in Torino, Beijing, Vancouver, London and Sochi, the RMC should prove to be a helpful option for the Olympic Movement's handful of bloggers like me, as well as reporters from non-rights TV stations or other outlets who missed the accreditation deadlines (applications due two years ago). 

Inside the RMC I found three notable items:

-- Coca-Cola's display of an official Rio 2016 Olympic Torch, which is a real beauty (first time to one of the pearly-white torches in person)

-- Schedules for upcoming tours across the state of Rio de Janeiro, including some tempting day trips and excursions or even a hang-gliding experience

-- Outdoor backyard relaxation station provided by Havianas, which claims to be "Brazil's most famous brand." 

In the Havianas display area, I learned the company started making beach sandals during the 1960s. Based on a common Japanese shoe design, Brazil's used rubber soles as a new base for their footwear, initially selling pairs out of mobile VW vans from beach to beach. Tens of millions of flip-flops later, Havianas now offers rubber galoshes and eyewear to complete one's beach ensemble.   

Also key to the RMC: a media credential (well, the unofficial kind). Just like Dean Martin famously sang, at the Olympics "you're nobody till somebody credentials you" and it was a relief to pick up my first of three Rio creds. 

Bonus: RMC issued a Metro card valid for 20 free subway rides (whew, no more lines for fares). 

Before heading out to the day's second destination, it was fun to scope out lunch from one of the RMC's local food trucks. My selection: Curry wurst from a mother-daughter duo of Brazilian-born Germans who were not shy to share their life story with a Fox Sports anchor from Mexico and myself while we waited. 

"My grandmother was one German and she came to Brazil but she married one Italian and then we all became one German-Brazilian-Italians but I think of myself as one Brazilian who can cook," said our new chef friend, who had the best laugh of anyone met in Rio so far. 

That fraulein grills one fine curry wurst, about the most authentic I've tasted since a 2009 holiday in Munich. Wunderbar!

Their foot truck likeness of Homer Simpson morphed into a frankfurter cracks me up!

Walking from the RMC back to the Metro I stumbled upon the Rio 2016 Olympic headquarters and took a peek inside. The low-rise modern office building had the street address 2016 and featured a cool ceiling art display of hundreds of sports balls -- ranging from basketballs and footballs to volleyballs and baseballs -- suspended over the lobby. 

An hour later by subway then electric train, it was time to enter the Rio 2016 Accreditation and Uniform Distribution Center housed at Cidade do Samba or "Samba City." Walking into the warehouse district revealed numerous garages -- more like airplane hangars -- in which Rio's world-famous Carnivale floats are created and stored for the big event. 

So to the right was a queue for my "official" volunteer badge and to the left there were a half-dozen giant float components such as an oversized ant, a huge pink elephant, a crouching Iguazu native with a drawn bow and arrow, and far across the plaza an enormous eagle with talons spread in a manner reminiscent of "The Colbert Report" opening credits. 

Getting the Rio 2016 accreditation was a snap. Getting fitted for my volunteer uniform was a process, though a fun one. Let's just say Rio Olympic Yellow is not my favorite color, but I will proudly don the apparel when my first shift at Carioca 3 press row takes place on August 6.

Riding the electric train back to downtown Rio, which bustles like the blocks around Times Square in New York, the line shut down due to "technical issues" but it was OK as the one-mile walk afforded me time to see the wharf-side warehouses soon to house Coca-Cola, Nissan and other sponsor pavilions for Rio's main "live site" during the Games. 

I also gazed upon the most magnificent Santiago Calatrava building since ... ever: The newly opened Museu de Amanha is simply breathtaking. It may also be the largest Calatrava structure since the Spanish architect's Athens Olympic Stadium. The museum was closed for the evening, and I can hardly wait to get inside and explore. 

Dinner tonight was low-key in an Ipanema neighborhood Mexican restaurant. I'm anxious to visit the Olympic Store and Rio 2016 Ticketing Center tomorrow to pick up the last of my pre-Games purchases. 

So, through the chronological format of this post, I sort of buried the lede in that this evening at my hotel a big group of Team Australia Olympic officials -- yes, the ones with all the headaches at the Olympic Village (including a small fire in their building today) -- checked in for the week. Who knew the Aussies wanted to "Feel The Bern" at Brazil's Hotel Vermont? 

Looking forward to day three and beyond. 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver except the Metro station image via Rio 2016 and Rio Media Center.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Joyous Return To Rio

It's been nine years since my initial visit to Rio de Janeiro.

Reflecting on my first day back in Brazil's coastal metropolis, I sure hope summer 2016 will be only the second of many joyous returns to Rio.

The morning began on Delta Air Lines flight DL21 somewhere over the Amazon rain forest. Early rays of the dawn showcased the earth's curve and jungle-wrapped reservoirs 35,000 feet below our aircraft.

By our 8:30 a.m. landing, I was a little tired and anxious but overwhelmed with relief -- so happy to finally be in the Olympic City.

The five-ringed journey to Rio in some ways began in 2009. I was one of the stunned Chicago 2016 Olympic bid volunteers in Daley Plaza when the Windy City lost the first-round of voting, and had a lot invested in a Chicago win.

At the time, I did not think conversion to "Rio fan" status was possible.

But by 2010 and especially at Brazil House during the 2012 London Olympics -- where a showcase of Rio's plan was on view -- I could not help getting excited.

The deep pile of event tickets on my hotel desk proves I may have gotten too excited (yes, definitely over-spent on tickets).

As our plane pulled up to the gate, there was a subtle difference from the arrival at Beijing or London -- perhaps for austerity reasons, given Brazil's troubled national economy of recent months -- there were no "welcome to Rio" Olympic signs affixed to the terminal. And on what seemed to be a half-mile walk from the plane to the customs and baggage claim hall, only one floor-to-ceiling advertisement for Olympic sponsor Samsung came into view. No big deal, just one of those things.

Limited edition pins; only 300 made.
I was biting my nails as my carry-on bag full of pins (40 pounds of them) got special attention in the "nothing to declare" screening area. But with a smile and brief explanation of Olympic pin collecting history, not to mention luck the guard had seen enough with my top-most box of trading materials, I was free to go, breathing easy my 300 blogger pins made it through (whew!).

Exiting customs into the main airport lobby, there was a sea of Brazilian media staked out to photograph and interview arriving athletes.

It was only later in the day I learned Usain Bolt and the Jamaica Olympic Team touched down about an hour after my flight.

Since my rolling suitcase is a Team Canada-branded bag from Beijing 2008, one curious reporter from Fox Sports started a Periscope interview, asking me about my Olympic plans and my take on Rio's preparations -- quite a welcome back to Brazil!

Swiss House under construction in Rio
The taxi ride through the city went right by the Mare favela neighborhood, graffiti, and school recently featured on Vox. Closer to our destination, the Hotel Vermont in Ipanema -- where we were "Feeling The Bern" and enjoying the Democratic National Convention via CNN International by evening -- our route took us by the incomplete Swiss House under construction.

I spent the afternoon strolling around the Ipanema neighborhood, eventually spotting a group of USA House volunteers donning badges -- everyone in the group was Brazilian, so my guess is that they had wrapped up a training session.

At dinner in a neighborhood steakhouse, another group of Team USA workers sat near me and they confirmed the venue for U.S. hospitality "is still a work in progress but will be ready soon."

The day's only frustration: My domestic mobile provider, Sprint, did not give me complete instructions to activate my phone in Rio (I have a 30-step list of actions to take, but the most critical -- the first step -- was left off their list). But I am optimistic tomorrow will yield a solution at the Rio Media Center or a nearby mobile phone shop. Fingers crossed.

My only regret of the day was being ill-prepared to trade pins with the handful of Rio 2016 volunteers who are highly visible in their bright yellow shirts.

But the best part of the day was meeting people who, in spite of my language barrier, were extremely friendly and accommodating.

I also ran into former U.S.O.C. communications director Bob Condron, a fellow member of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH, a client), who was at the airport to meet his wife.

Condron helped me learn about the U.S. Olympic Committee internship program WAY back in 1989, and it was so cool to share brief stories of our journeys since Oklahoma City to Rio.

Can hardly wait to learn which other old friends, and new ones, will cross paths in the Olympic city.

Funniest conversation was at at an Ipanema pharmacy (think Walgreen's of Brazil); as I hunted for Dr. Scholl's shoe inserts a friendly store employee asked to help, and our only means of communication was via hand-drawn illustrations of shoes.

We shared a good laugh about it, and my feet felt like dancing on the walk back from dinner.

It's going to be an amazing Olympics.

Images via the Rio 2016 homepage via, Brazil post office archive, with other photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Olympic Swimming Champ Shirley Babashoff Making Waves With New Autobiography

As posted in 2015, Montreal provided my first taste of the Olympics during my third year.

The 1976 Games' famous U.S. decathlete is my earliest connection to an iconic champion.

The second gold medalist in my personal Olympic lexicon? 

That would be swimming superstar Shirley Babashoff

Somewhere in the Wolaver archive there are mid-1970s photos of my sister and I in patriotic swimwear our mom stitched together with fabric inspired by Babashoff's and Team USA's Spirit of '76 uniforms. 

We pretended to be Olympic swimmers "like the ones on TV" in our plastic kiddie pool under the blazing Oklahoma summer sun.

It was fun to share this memory on a recent call with Babashoff, who just finished her first Olympic biography with Chris Epting. 

Titled "Making Waves: My Journey to Winning Olympic Gold and Defeating the East German Doping Program" (Santa Monica Press, $24,95), the eight-time Olympic medalist of 1972 and 1976 scribed about 250 pages of career stories and life observations.

Babashoff proved to be as frank by phone as in the book, sharing her own memories with little held back. While much of "Making Waves" delves into the two-time Olympian's first-hand frustration with organized doping -- now even more relevant in light of the Russian Olympic doping scandal of 2016 -- she also reveals the longtime family secret that her father molested her many times as a young girl. 

"The perception of media at the time was that we had this All-American family," said Babashoff during our call. "I wanted to put everything out there."

It doesn't get more matter-of-fact than the fifth page of Chapter One, which is titled "Growing Up."

I don't know why my mom didn't hear me cry. When I was five years old, I said to her, 'Daddy comes into my room at night and touches me.' My father was right -- she called me a liar and told me to never say that again. Then she got the bible out and made me read the fifth commandment: Obey your mother and father.

More on this revelatory chapter later. 

Sharing our one-hour call from her home in Fountain Valley, Calif., Babashoff said a book was on her mind all of the 40 years since Montreal, but a chance meeting with Epting 10 years ago was the tipping point to get it started. 

Even after a positive introduction, they only really got going on the project in 2014.

"Writing a book had been rattling around in my head for awhile," she said, adding that "getting it on paper" was the biggest hurdle. 

For many years, raising her son was also a factor as was her post-swimming career with the U.S. Postal Service. 

"I was approached by authors and directors wanting to tell my story in a book on on film, but the timing never felt right."

Production of the recently released documentary film "Last Gold" also nudged the book project to completion. 

For Babashoff, the No. 1 reason to write "Making Waves" was to continue to shine a light on East Germany's athlete doping program, for which she was a vocal critic in 1976, garnering an unfortunate reputation and nickname among sports reporters of the era. 

"I should have been more gracious," said Babashoff, who explained in the book and by phone that for the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, athletes did not receive media training they way they do now. In fact, her hunch (with which I concur) is that Olympian media training is common U.S.O.C. practice now because of Babashoff.

On the written page, Babashoff' vividly describes her first-person Munich and Montreal Olympic experiences, from her interactions with famous teammates to pin trading to a day or night with friends in the Olympic Village. 

In a section detailing her initial medal-winning event at Olympia Schwimmhalle (her 100-meter freestyle silver), I smiled at her description of youthful innocence and curiosity. 

"I was taken into that little room, [where] they directed me to a small refrigerator and told me to find something to drink. Inside there were a few cans of soda and a couple of bottles of beer."

For her first doping urine sample, 14-year-old Babashoff knocked back some Bavarian suds (priceless!).

This set-up puts into context the author's observations that at Munich there was a relaxed stance on doping for its absence of obvious side-effects among the competitors.

Readers later learn of the arrestive transformation East Germany's female swimmers endured on the road to Montreal.

On her first locker room visit to test the waters of the Olympic pool in Canada, Babashoff and other disrobed teammates were distraught to hear "men talking in another language just on the other side of our lockers!"

Of course, the masculine-sounding conversation was among their female competitors for the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.

After shaking off the locker room encounter, Babashoff and teammates went on to earn a frustrating batch of silver medals, eventually regrouping and achieving redemption with a relay gold in the Games' final women's swimming event (this video includes the play-by-play by Donna de Varona, who wrote the book's foreword). 

Babashoff explained the main goal of the book was to bring attention to the doping issues which resonate as much today as they did 40 years ago. She would like to see even more change to make sports clean. In her open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach, a fellow Montreal Olympian, Babashoff also presents a case for updating the medal records for 1976 Olympic swimming. 

"I'm not asking that the East Germans be stripped of their medals," Babashoff wrote. "Those girls were tools of their country ... they never knew what was happening to them ... and they themselves were cheated by their own government." 

"So, simply slide everyone up" on the medals record, she suggests. "Give those swimmers the medals they deserve, and let the East Germans keep theirs."

The book was released on July 12 -- no word from Bach so far, said Babashoff. My plan is to ask him about it in Rio if given the opportunity.

For this reader, the early chapter revelations about Babashoff's parental abuse jumped off the page. I was taken aback that an Olympic champion previously known for perseverance over a blinding media spotlight did so -- at two Olympiads -- during and after enduring sexual abuse from her father and emotional abuse from her mother, who is portrayed in the book as a woman who was her husband's main enabler. 

Babashoff's descriptions of her father's arrests and how media (and society) seemed to turn an intentionally blind eye to the dark side of the Babashoff household are gripping. Both parents and her siblings -- including a brother who won silver in Montreal -- are noticeably absent from the author's acknowledgements. The Olympic champion said she has not spoken with her older brother in 25 years, and it's been 14 years since connecting with her younger brother; she also mentioned her younger sister, and swimming pool contemporary of Janet Evans, is a Facebook contact.

Babashoff said many women who read the book commented on the descriptions of abuse and relate directly to these passages. I asked Babashoff if becoming an advocate for victims' rights was in the works, and she responded that was not her intent but she remained open to that possibility.

"I hope the book helps people," said Babashoff.

In the days since our phone conversation, I've often reflected on her perseverance on a new level only brought to light through the book. "Making Waves" is a good read for any swim fan, Olympic historian or person looking for inspiration, and it quickly joined the ranks of my favorite Olympic-related biographies.

Photos via Yahoo and Santa Monica Press.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Remembering July 19, 1996

As the sun set on July 19, 2016, many an Atlanta Olympic veteran likely spent time reminiscing.

On this evening 20 years ago, the Centennial Olympic Games opened with great music, Georgia luminaries, star athletes and even a parade of pickup trucks!

The anniversary may be bittersweet for some, considering the night's greatest surprise in 1996 -- Muhammad Ali, who greeted Janet Evans and the world with torch in hand -- died earlier this year, a month or so shy of again celebrating his favorite Games experience (Ali wrote in his autobiography how he could not sleep after lighting the cauldron).

During the last week or so, Atlanta media pulled out the stops for 20th anniversary coverage. 

Local NPR affiliate WABE-FM created a series reliving the 1996 Cultural Olympiad -- great reporting in collaboration with

The station also aired a one-hour special and even wrote up Nike's new for 2016 Atlanta '96-inspired sneakers 

It was fun to read about the Atlanta History Center's plans to update the Centennial Olympic exhibition, which will close in a few weeks and reopen next year -- visitors can enjoy one of the 1996 opening ceremony costumes (a giant fish puppet) now on view in the entrance lobby.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also created many column inches about Atlanta's Games, including a story about three couples who met and married while working at the Olympics (unmentioned with one couple's memories was my cameo role as neighbor encouraging a job application that led to their introduction).

The city and Centennial Olympic Park also pulled out many stops to host a 20th anniversary "Relive the Dream" celebration hosted by Billy Payne, Andrew Young and a cast of medal-winning athletes.

It was fun to spend Saturday catching up with old friends while meeting new contacts. 

Unfortunately, the "dream" evening on July 16 was not all fun and Games due to two lightning delays. Though they eventually got the party started and the content was fun, a handful of attendees took the organizers to task on Facebook with a few harsh but apt emoticons and comments. 

One of my public relations mentors, his wife, a longtime Olympic historian friend and I spent much of the event playing armchair quarterback to the organizers, ultimately deciding/lamenting the majority of the crowd enjoyed themselves but the event's disarray provided a snapshot of snafus parallel to the issues that played out in grand fashion during those 16 days and nights of 1996. 

The anniversary event scene came complete with crass street vendors, tents and credentials for the feted "haves" gazed upon by the excluded masses of "have nots" and other elements that frustrated many of the worker bees from two decades back. 

When I mentioned our observations to a prominent Olympic historian yesterday, he replied with his take that Atlanta was the "first Olympics at which most of the athletes were professionals and the organizers were all amateurs" -- hysterical! 

But, hey -- where would we be without the Atlanta Games experience? I am thankful Payne went to church and scribbled "Olympics" on his working list of community projects in 1988, and that the experiences afforded in 1996 put me on track to attend my 10th Games at Rio starting next week.

I also appreciate the hard work that went into the anniversary event.

This evening the Olympic news outlet Around The Rings hosted a fun party in honor of the Atlanta milestone, and some of my favorite memories of '96 came to mind:

-- Watching the Opening Ceremony live in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant with my sister, a fellow Olympic Village team member, before we returned to Georgia Tech for the late shift and athletes coming home for the evening

-- Getting acquainted with ACOG Communications Manager Dick Yarbrough and the organization's archivist during work hours (learned the most enriching and "real" Games stories from both of them)

-- Sharing many social gatherings with fellow 1995 USOC interns-turned-Atlantans during the pre-Games spring of '96

-- Following-up the ACOG experience with a bonus two months of Paralympic employment and an additional wave of fun times paired with hard work.

There are many Games-time friends with whom I've lost touch -- would love to reconnect with so many of these people. 

One person in particular is a Village volunteer who attended the University of Georgia. On the last night of the Atlanta Olympic Village, which was Aug. 6, 1996, the two of us visited 4,000 dorm rooms in search of Olympic pins, and I've missed the shared laughter over all the random stuff we discovered the athletes left behind. 

Here's hoping my long-lost friend Emily Sanders is out there and enjoying her Olympic memories as am I.

Photos via Yahoo, Nike, Atlanta History Center. Park photo copyright Nicholas Wolaver.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Surf's Up for New LA2024 Olympic Bid Pins

On the home stretch to Rio 2016, Olympic pin collectors may anticipate a wave of board-shaped pins designed in homage to the city's surfing culture

Earlier this year, the U.S. Olympic Committee released a series of longboard pins inspired by Rio surfing culture.

In the set, each pin matches an actual surf board created for a sponsor appreciation display planned at USA House.

On the Olympic bid pin front, so far only one or two generic logo designs emerged from Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome, and there are some pins out there for the defunct Boston 2024 organization.

Until now.

At last night's 20th anniversary celebration for Atlanta's 1996 Games -- held in Centennial Olympic park with a stage for prepared remarks by several Games-related leaders -- LA24 Chairman Casey Wasserman decided the time was right for taking the drop, delivering the first boxed-set of new surfboard-shaped Olympic bid pins.

The lucky recipient? Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games CEO turned Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne. 

Wasserman handed the gift box of four surfboard pins while encouraging Payne and the crowd of thousands to "Follow the Sun" (LA24's bid theme) in support of America's next Olympiad.

On stage Payne thanked Wasserman, stating he appreciated the surfing tutorial as, at least during Payne's first glance, the pins' shape was not as self-explanatory as intended. 

Standing in the photo pit at the conclusion of the event, I asked Payne for a peek at the boxed set, which he held up for a photo. It was fun to inspect the new pin treasures -- Payne would not let the box out of his hand, so he must have considered them "keepers."

I'm no surfing guru, but upon inspecting the designs, each of the four pins appear to be wider than the longboard surfing pins the USOC previously released -- more in the shape of Payne's or my thumbprints. 

To me, the LA24 Olympic bid pins are more like wakeboards, perhaps to provide a wider space for the LA24 angel logo and the Olympic rings. 

I consulted some surfboard infographics and the aptly-titled "Riptionary" of surfing lingo, but found no surfboard shape exactly matched.

But who cares? These pins are gorgeous!

Each of the pins would certainly stand out upon a sport coat lapel or as a broach adorning a blouse. From left to right, the designs are:
  • Soaring palm trees, like visitors might enjoy while driving through Beverly Hills
  • Silhouetted cresting wave reminiscent of Malibu at sunset
  • Barrel wave encircling the "angel" logo at the wrong angle for a body-surfing stance
  • Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains and LA skyline

A possible fifth pin -- sans logos or rings -- appears to be a white cloisonné plaque on which "Follow The Sun" is painted in purple enamel. The cardboard presentation box also features colors from the bid palette.

I asked the LA24 media relations team to confirm the quantity and potential availability of the new bid pin sets and so far this was their response.

"Pins are a limited set, no plans for now on wider distribution."

My guess is the pins may be a special VIP gift for visitors to USA House in Rio, where LA24 will have a special display or other "to be unveiled" elements.

With known quantities historically a factor for bid pin collectors, I'll keep an open eye and ear for details. A boxed set of LA24 surfboard pins is now in the top five most-sought designs to add to my personal Olympic bid pin collection.

Until such time, wishing everyone some glorious and smooth tube riding to the Games of the XXXIst Olympiad, and happy pin collecting to all. 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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