Sunday, August 21, 2016

Meet Some Olympic Medalists

The morning of my most recent post, I exited my Ipanema apartment pumped to see Kim Rhode compete in Olympic shooting.

My friends who've seen me since that afternoon will tell you the toll that commute took on me.

Sadly, getting to the most remote venue in the Deodoro Olympic area northwest of Rio forever tarnished my to-that-point positive impressions of 2016 Games execution.

I am convinced the Rio 2016 planners who created the spectator pathways are either complete morons, heroin addicts, masochists or some combination of the three. More about these observations will be shared later. 

Meanwhile, the last 16 days provided many positive interactions with Olympic medalists from around the world.

Since I am dog tired and prepping for the final day of the Games including tonight's closing ceremony, presented here is a partial roundup of Olympic champions and silver or bronze medalists encountered in Brazil, some as recent as last night at basketball and the track.


All photos by Nicholas Wolaver may not be used without permission.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Days Blurring, Long Walks Recurring

Monday to Thursday brought an array of astounding moments at Rio 2016.

Trading a pin to get in for Michael Phelps' first of several new Olympic gold medal swims probably tops the list.

Witnessing follow up medals for other USA swimmers and Hungary's "Iron Lady" also proved remarkable. 

I'm finding the combination of my Carioca 3 Press Mixed Zone credential, Rio Media Center badge and a pin with a smile usually does the trick to get most anywhere. 

Case in point, yesterday afternoon at the women's gymnastics individual all around finals, I arrived with a new Canadian friend from USA House and in lieu of heading to my section 40 seat it was easy to stroll in to the NBC executive seating area (just outside the Olympic Family lounge) and sit a row or two from Nastia Liukin and her colleagues providing live commentary from the event. 

SNL cast member and "Ghostbuster" Leslie Jones was there as well (see woman in white hat) cheering on Team USA. 

As she climbed the steep stairs in our section I loaned Jones a hand and told her my love and admiration of her comedy work (she was very friendly). 

We arrived for the third and fourth rotations, and it was very satisfying to watch Simone Biles and Aly Raisman on the balance beam and floor exercise before their medal ceremony. Raisman wept with joy upon completing what may be one of her final Olympic performances. Biles was simply beaming from the end of her routines to the medal presentation.

Here's a video interview with Raisman filmed at the Team USA Media Summit in March:

In the press mixed zone at fencing (personal photos not permitted), it was great fun to see Daryl Homer make Olympic history while earning a silver medal. Standing on the athlete side of the fencing, I offered to hold the mobile phone mic of USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who used the recording for quotes in this report filed from the venue's media center. 

Chatting with Brennan after the Homer interviews, we compared notes on sharing May 14 as a birthday. She showed me a beautiful diamond and emerald ring she was given on her sixteenth birthday (my first birthday) and we talked about memories from the Los Angeles 1984 Games (her first as reporter and my first as fifth grade fan). 

In general the volunteer assignments at Carioca 3 (for Rio 2016) and at USA House (for U.S. Olympic Committee) proved very rewarding so far. In addition to the in-venue access, I'm earning a better understanding of the press selection process and the immense planning behind each media zone.

My confidentiality agreement for the USA House gig prevents me from detailing much about what I've seen and who I met inside, but it is fair to say more than five top American Olympians have come up to me to ask "Nick, what are you doing here?" leaving me beaming that this blogging is gaining more recognition after eight years of chipping away. 

The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid presentation there is magnificent, and I hope they will grant permission to film it later during the Games. 

Outside of USA House on Wednesday night, as a parade of International Olympic Committee members exited to await their ground transportation, it was easy to strike up conversations with Kevin Gosper (Australia), Sergei Bubka (Russia) and several of their colleagues -- walked away with significant National Olympic Committee (NOC) pins including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Chile and several small islands. Meeting the Japanese IOC members to talk about Tokyo 2020 was enriching. 

I feel pleased to have made several new friends each day. My flatmate Joanne, who is heading  back to the USA this afternoon, seems to have loved her first Games experience (she just texted from the Christ the Redeemer statue where she posed for a selfie with Olympic diving legend Greg Louganis). 

The long walks from transportation to the venues -- and the lack of in-venue food -- are my only complaints. But it's all good. Why Dr. Scholl's is not here peddling foot pads is beyond comprehension. 

Heading soon to watch Kim Rhode in her sixth Olympic skeet shooting match. More updates during the weekend. Thank you for reading and sharing the blog!

Photos and video by Nicholas Wolaver

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Opening Weekend Roundup

Days one to and three at the Rio Olympics were smooth, easy and loads of fun.

Saturday afternoon, my week-one travel buddy, Joanne, joined me at Olympic archery in the world-famous Sambadromo, where we witness the men's team competition including Korea and Team USA placing one-two as the sun set.

Later that evening we made our way to the first of three nights of Olympic swimming -- with each evening, our seating in the aquatic center improved, finding our way closer and closer to the action in the pool.

What a thrill it's been to witness several medalists for Team USA, including swimmers Murphy, Ledecky, King and, of course, Phelps & Co. for the 4 x 100 men's freestyle relay.

Sunday also brought time to see women's gymnastics preliminaries after my first full shift in the press mixed zone at Carioca 3 Arena, where Massialas won silver to an Italian fencer. In our media area, we queue to coaches and officials down the proper corridor while the athletes move from one batch of reporters to the next as they exit the field of play.

Very cool to see Massialas' medals up close (though photos are not permitted while on duty).

Geography continues to be the big bear at this Olympics ... one-, two- and three-hour commute times in each direction for events or volunteering tries one's patience, as does the 2-3 km hikes from the transport to the venues.

Some of this is to be expected, however, and we've paced ourselves in spite of four very late nights. Monday was a designated "recovery day" and this morning I am jazzed for a full day of volunteering up the street at USA House.

It is so ... on! Raked in about 140 new pins so far. Running into old friends while meeting many new ones everywhere.

More updates to follow soon. Thank you for reading!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Not A Gnat In Site

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Rio Olympic Cauldron = Poetry In Motion

I'm still learning about the new Rio Olympic Cauldron, which is on par with London's very original and creative design unveiled for years ago.

Local TV showed the designer's name and the public display of the cauldron now at Rio Olympic Boulevard, the astounding waterfront live site for the Games, but I was not yet able to capture the name to post here.

Wondering if the British design studio for 2012 (reported here) played a role for 2016 as well.

What I love most about the 2016 cauldron design is the first-ever mobile elements that, when leveraged theatrically last night, inspired a light show similar to the Lasershow Spectacular in Mountainvision at client Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta.

As the opening ceremony crowds poured out of Maracana stadium on Friday evening, I spotted an open gate from section 124 to the floor of the stadium.

So just like that Brazilian supermodel who crossed the stadium during "The Girl From Ipanema" segment, my friend Joanne and I transversed Maracana unfettered by security.

In fact, most of the security and volunteers were enjoying some exclusive "selfie time" with the Olympic flame (one joyous police officer even snapped a photo for me!).

Check out this video of the Rio Olympic Cauldron in motion and please share it with those you think may enjoy:

Photos and video by and copyright Nicholas Wolaver may not be reused without permission. 

Olympic Surprises All Day and Night

It felt like Christmas on August in Rio de Janiero on Friday.

Like waking up with anticipation to see what gifts Santa delivered, I rolled out of bed  unsure of what to expect from the Olympic opening ceremony. 

After spending most of the morning tending to light housekeeping in the apartment (i.e. more unpacking and organizing pins), I embarked to Copacabana to check out the daytime elements of the Olympic Torch Relay. 

It was fun to see the Nissan Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn pass the flame to a Brazilian celebrity only steps from the beach (disclosure, Nissan is a client of UEG Worldwide, which engaged me on some freelance work for Rio). 

It was astounding to share a pre-Games conversation with three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings! Hello! 

The surprise visit took place when I stopped by a colleague's hotel to drop off some Olympic tickets. 

Walsh-Jennings was finishing lunch with her parents and sister, and she graciously shared about five minutes with this fan looking to cheer her on at her fourth gold medal match. 

I mentioned to the beach volleyball icon my thanks for her answering my questions at past Team USA media events. One of my questions to her at the spring Media Summit -- asking about the extent to which parenting shifted career opportunities -- apparently appeared in the new documentary film "Kerri Walsh-Jennings: Gold Within" inspiring a bump in blog traffic.

Also thanks her for three Olympiads of memories as I attended all three of her gold medal Games. 

Walsh-Jennings is definitely in it to win it, bringing up her No. 1 goals and punctuating them with "when we win gold" multiple times. 

In response to the Rio 2016 blogger pins given to her relatives, she presented me with her personalized golden pin for this Olympiad (now a treasured keepsake of our chat). 

I headed back to Hotel Vermont to meet my inbound-from-Minneapolis long-time friend Joanne, who flew in to Rio on her 43rd birthday. Her arrival was surprisingly early, and we had just enough time to hit Ipanema Beach then grab coffee and a snack before heading to Maracana stadium. 

Back at the apartment to get dressed for the ceremony, Joanne entered our ninth floor open-air unit to find a stray pigeon in our bathroom. She ducked, I hollered, the bird fluttered out the panoramic window and we exhaled and exclaimed "that was awesome!" a la "Tommy Boy" Chris Farley.

Brazil's Olympic opening ceremony impressed me on many fronts. I loved most the portrayal of the city and favela construction, the aeroplane launch, amazing music and the energy is provided, and the magnificent and new mobile that encircles the Olympic cauldron (a new twist on cauldron design). 

Back in Atlanta, my mentor and friend Lee messaged me the hometown broadcast was "trippy" in his eyes, and I concur with his description. 

But for every psychedelic and colorful element, a more somber segment dropped in with interesting results. That cauldron stole the show with both conservative/simple design and thoughtful points of light reflection. 

From our twentieth row seats in section 124 -- steps away from the athlete parade entryway -- we snapped photos of Michael Phelps carrying the flag for Team USA, IOC President Thomas Bach's on-stage remarks, and one or two thong-wearing dancers before the Olympic flame's arrival. 

Very best surprise: The brilliant idea for the athletes to help plant an Olympic forest as a major Rio Games legacy. The poem read by Dame Judi Dench, the mirrored seed carts and their magical unveiling of fully-grown ferns was extremely creative. 

Immediately following the event's final fireworks, Joanne and I spent a few minutes on a "ticket walk" (retrieving left-behind tickets to sell and fund future Olympic travels). 

My tired eyes spotted an open door to the floor of the stadium, and without a single sideways glance from security, the two of us walked out across the entire Maracana floor to photograph selfies with the new Olympic cauldron. 

We stopped short of running up the steps where the final torchbearer took care of business only minutes before. But we learned and appreciated the three-dimensional golden spiral that spread the light of the Olympic flame across the venue. 

Our final surprise was discovery of access to a VIP dining area and views from the press tribunes, where we snagged some media guides to translate the opening ceremony's meaning. 

We discovered that children or volunteers meticulously wrote messages of good luck and other well-wishes on the individual pieces of confetti flown over the athletes, a nice touch!

I'm satisfied to post this summary without reading it, ready to dream about the next 16 days and get going to athletic events on Saturday. Will also post video tomorrow featuring the mobile cauldron in action on Friday night. 

Bravo, Brazil!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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