Thursday, November 7, 2019

Upended Lives at Olympics Provide Drama and Richard Jewell Revelations in "The Suspect"

In the next few weeks, Atlantans and media will be buzzing about the new nonfiction book "The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, The FBI, The Media, And Richard Jewell, The Man Caught In The Middle" by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen.

This page-turning volume, a triumphant feat of journalism, research and writing 23 years in the making, encapsulates thorough, at times revealing, details about Jewell, the hero security guard who moved hundreds of concertgoers out of harm's way before a hidden bomb he found detonated at the Atlanta Olympic Games. If contributors from Jewell's inner circle achieve their goal, folks everywhere will at last proclaim the praises of Atlanta's least celebrated hero.

The book also puts a magnifying glass on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting team, notably Kathy Scruggs, as well as a specific FBI agent, Don Johnson and his colleagues, whose work in their respective fields forever impacted Jewell's and his mother Bobi's lives.

Monday afternoon a review copy finally landed on my Midtown front porch, and I delighted in devouring its 368 pages that are equal parts crime drama and unflinching critique of Federal investigations and investigative journalism.

An enclosed press release affirmed my hunch the book was optioned by Warner Bros. for the upcoming Clint Eastwood film "Richard Jewell" set for a world premiere at AFI Fest in Los Angeles on Nov. 20 (with Dec. 13 as the national release day).

One "reveal" of Alexander and Salwen's work is that the film's screenplay, at least in the movie trailer, is close to verbatim from their research of the FBI's interrogation of Jewell.

Juxtaposed with this fact, the book also reveals that Eastwood's screenwriter Billy Ray took at least one major liberty in the script: Jewell's attorneys aptly never allowed the hero guard to record the bomber's 9-1-1 call script, "There's a bomb in Centennial Park ... you have thirty minutes!" (I've previously taken Eastwood and his screenwriter for "American Sniper" to task for playing fast an loose with Olympic facts, the all-time most-read posts of this website).

"The Suspect" is a great read with relevance for anyone passionate about or in law enforcement, news media, Olympic organization, historians (of Atlanta, the USA, true crime or the Games) and the millions of people who experienced or have interest in the Centennial Olympics of 1996.

Make that a must read.

All of the one-time Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) staff and volunteers will appreciate and remember scores of long-forgotten Games-time intricacies.

Between the book's end pages -- noticeably featuring a hand-drawn bomb site map by Jewell and a Miranda rights form he reluctantly signed during his sideways interrogation (cue the "Richard Jewell" film trailer with John Hamm's stern voiceover) -- readers may be mesmerized about "The Suspect" by the numbers.

Following their 1996 roles that introduced them to their subjects, Alexander and Salwen spent more than five recent years pouring over "tens of thousands" of legal documents, 170,000 ACOG archive pages and reports, thousands of photos, dozens of cases of personal effects, 1,200+ news articles and hundreds of video clips.

They also conducted "187 original-source interviews" and read dozens of books or other materials, initially logging 2,139 footnote entries later converted to narrative source notes on their ABRAMS Books editor's suggestion. The years-long FBI investigation of Jewell and other dead-end leads exponentially adds to the mind-bending facets of the research.

The book project unfolded at a venue the authors dubbed "the cottage," which I envision resembled a "war room" like those seen on any crime drama investigation.

Notable details uncovered and documented include:
  • How Jewell's parents named him after auto racing legend Richard Petty, while nicknames the FBI adopted for too-blurry images of the actual bomber included "Blob Man" and "Goatee Man" (only one of them proved to be the man, Eric Rudolph). Beer-chugging witnesses earned the sobriquet "Speedo Boys"
  • Richard Jewell's secret lasagna recipe he cooked and served to a law enforcement peer from Centennial Olympic Park, only to later learn his invited dinner guest was wearing a wire for federal investigators
  • Which national TV reporters initially proclaimed Jewell a hero then later apologized in months-later follow-up interviews intended to rightfully exonerate him in the public eye (I had no idea Jay Leno apologized after his initial monologue quips comparing the guard to Nancy Kerrigan's attacker)
  • The Atlanta Magazine reporter who agreed to a date with Richard, only to later embarrass a crestfallen Jewell with an unflattering cover story
  • Which local radio station paid a $50,000 settlement after using Jewell's likeness in an unsanctioned outdoor billboard campaign around the song "Freebird"
  • Summaries of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Games-time "Peach Buzz" columns including the time Donald Trump lost his wallet at The Cheesecake Factory in Buckhead, and AJC non-Olympic reporters including Scruggs, who proudly reported on "distinctively non-sports coverage areas of Security, Neighborhoods and Olympic Transportation" in their "SNOT Pod" newsroom space
  • The downward spiral Scruggs endured years after her Games reporting, including shocking outdoor incidents involving a taxi she commandeered in the buff. 
Several Olympians provided interviews for the authors, including Michael Johnson, who recalled a hospital visit to injured bomb survivors before competing in second gold medal sprint.

Gold medalist Janet Evans, who witnessed the bomb explosion during an in-park TV interview, also garnered frequent mentions in the text (though it is not clear yet that she was interviewed for this book).

Personal revelations for this reader included notes on how Jewell attended the same Olympic baseball game (Cuba vs. Nicaragua) for which I held a ticket and cheered with friends. A day later, some of the federal agents of "The Suspect" watched over the India vs. Pakistan Olympic field hockey game at which I helped Pakistan fans hold aloft a giant green and white flag (my Minnesota State University-Mankato junior-year roommate spotted me on TV while watching at home with his family ... in Lahore).

I learned the most from the chapters about Rudolph -- his capture, prosecution and revelations about his post-Games movements were not on my radar in the early 2000s, though Rudolph's two other despicable attacks in Atlanta were. The book brought to mind vivid memories from news coverage of both events. The bomb he detonated in Birmingham was not "new" to me, but the authors' framing of the scene inspired chills.

Much of the Jewell narrative (until the final chapters) felt more like a fleshed-out version of previously seen reports, like a Titanic-sized version of Marie Brenner's extensive Vanity Fair article after she shadowed Jewell's legal team for months.

But I appreciated the details that at once revealed Jewell's relatable, jovial, every man nature while cracking me up, like this description from page one:
Hopping off the [MARTA] train, Jewell descended International Boulevard, the lime-green lanyard that held his credential swinging across his ample belly.
Been there, done that!

A much bigger revelation: the AJC assigned interns to interview Jewell or help report updates from his residence after Scruggs and colleagues broke their scoop under the screaming headline "FBI suspects 'hero' guard may have planted bomb."

I can't imagine receiving a federal subpoena to testify about either of my internships.

Readers also learn the less-reported aspects of the guard's later-career heroics, including touching stories of a CPR rescue and how he reflected on each anniversary of the night that changed his life. The love of his life provided some of the best heartfelt details, underscoring her own (and other Jewell inner circle members') "... hope that one day Richard Jewell would be remembered by all as a hero."

Writing of the book's biggest revelation -- which took my breath away -- would be an unforgivable spoiler (though I predict other book reviewers will not hold back).

It's fun to learn new vocabulary while reading, and the words bonhomie, putative, and lithe joined my lexicon thanks to Alexander and Salwen. And I was surprised that a book touted as a "gripping story of ... the advent of the 24/7 news cycle" did not include more mid-'90s context from the trials and tribulations of Tonya Harding and O.J. Simpson (especially the former's five-ringed connections).

Meanwhile, I found just two glaring errors and one minor one in "The Suspect."

First, the authors referred to the "seven-building Olympic Village complex" President Bill Clinton and the First Family visited. Come again?

In the "Blue Zone" of Georgia Tech's west campus -- where I was an ACOG-employed Village housing manager adjacent to the Olympic Aquatic Center -- we had more than 20 buildings including the dorms built to eventually house Team USA and delegations from Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Germany, the U.K. and dozens of other national Olympic Committees including the heavily-fortified Israeli team quarters.

My sister worked in the distant "Red Zone" north of 10th Street, which had several buildings visited by Spain's Royal Family. And over in the "Green Zone" was my Games-time housing in a frat house (one of about 20 used by NOCs).

I don't recall what the brand new towers along the Downtown Connector were named ("Blue Zone?") but it was fun attending the opening press conference with ACOG in spring 1996.

Maybe the authors only considered the "International Zone" around Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts to be the "Village complex" they described. As Hillary Clinton has proven many times, forgiveness is key, and perhaps it takes a village to get these Georgia Tech and former Georgia State University towers counted. I forgave the miscount.

An even less intrusive-to-my-eyes flub was the writers' mention of a James Brown concert at a bar named "Tabernacle."

No doubt, they meant the festive church-turned-concert hall that's still rockin' and rollin' next to the Atlanta Ferris wheel installed years later.

I'm less forgiving and not forgetting the page on which the authors recounted memories of the host committee's COO, who famously slept in his office at The INFORUM, the ACOG headquarters building which overlooks Centennial Olympic Park, some nights of the Games.

According to Alexander's and Salwen's interviews, when the bomb exploded just after the A.D. Frazier conked out in his office,
He leapt from bed ... [and] ran to his balcony barefoot and stared at the chaos and emergency lights below. Bodies were strewn across the bricks of the park. His mind flashed to the movie Saving Private Ryan, with its vivid, brutal scenes of battle. Rattled, Frazier spun and hurried back inside his darkened office, switched on the desk lamp and dialed Payne. 'Billy, we've got a problem.
I know Frazier to be wicked smart, but not clairvoyant nor one who could predict future film scripts -- the problem with this recollection, as documented in "The Suspect," is that Steven Spielberg's epic war picture did not debut until 1998.

Sidebar: I also know A.D. did not sleep on the couch by his office 24 hours after the bomb, because I tearfully fell asleep on that sofa during my own visit to overlook the park in the early hours of July 28, 1996. The sodas in his mini-fridge provided comfort as well.

Atlantans have the opportunity to meet "The Suspect" authors at the Atlanta History Center on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

They'll be joined on stage by former AJC Senior Managing Editor Bert Roughton, a book source who wrote this Sunday AJC opinion piece about his colleague Scruggs, as well as event moderator John Pruitt, formerly of WSB-TV. Tickets are $5 for members and $10 for non-members. For more information visit this link.

On the invitation of the ABRAMS Books publicist, I delivered questions tailored for each author and will follow-up this post with their Q&A responses. What questions do you have for this remarkable writing duo? Please post them in comments and I will try to ask at the AHC event.

Book and author images via ABRAMS. Book cover photo via Bobi Jewell with jacket design by Devin Grosz. Author photo by Allison Shirreffs. Other photos via Associated Press, DP/AFP/Getty, ESPN and 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

BMX and Blue-Topped Bro-Tagonist Command Stage in Cirque du Soleil's VOLTA at Atlantic Station

During media night for VOLTA -- Cirque du Soleil's latest big top showcase visiting Atlanta -- the stage action kept prompting memories of my ninth birthday.

That year brought resolution to a long-sought upgrade from red "kid" Schwinn to a more rugged, Huffy-style bike with knobby tires.

When we reenacted scenes from "CHiPs" or "The Dukes of Hazzard" riding in the neighborhood, I just knew my fourth-grade air time was epic, even though most of my jumps were more like Napoleon Dynamite's.

Packed with freestyle BMX tricks and other extreme moves, VOLTA left me thinking "Tony Hawk meets the Sun Circus." 

And thanks to some sweet hooks in the show's excellent soundtrack -- masterfully composed by M83's Anthony Gonzalez and performed live -- a guitar-riff ear worm brought to mind a slight nod to Cirque's fellow-Canadian artist, Avril LaVigne, and some of the strings in her hit "Sk8er Boi."

To be clear, VOLTA does not include skateboarding.

The production does, however, showcase more amazing BMX moves than I could count, and elements of at least two other Olympic sports: trampoline and gymnastics (specifically, rings). 

I asked the tour publicist whether VOLTA features Olympians (it doesn't), and learned the production includes a six-time Artistic Skating World Champion of senior women's solo skating (as close to Olympic-level as a roller skater can get). 

VOLTA also features many elements traditional to a Cirque du Soleil experience: modern dance, juggling and jumping, and vivid costumes -- in this case by three-time Emmy Award winning designer Zaldy. A clown-like character for comic relief, and many high-flying or gravity-defying elements each get their due. Only a high wire act seemed noticeably absent in this production, but VOLTA is grounded in other strengths.  

It took me longer than in other tours to catch on to the story line, which goes something like this:

The performance opens on the set of a game show with a live studio audience greeted by an aptly-named, gold-sequined host "Mr. Wow." 

His contestant du jour is a blue-topped sportsman crowned with feathers (about 1,500 hundred of them), and the show's press kit outlines the dilemma for VOLTA's pro-, er, bro-tagonist. 

WAZ is a game show contestant who lost touch with himself. He's ashamed of who is is because of his difference, and he enters the show in search of fame, thinking this will bring him love and acceptance. 

What he finds is something else -- fame is not the answer -- and if fame doesn't provide freedom and acceptance, then what does? And will WAZ reconnect with his true self, standing up for all that makes him truly unique?

Each of the acts that follows introduces events or choices from WAZ's past with a dollop of social commentary in the form of The GREYS, a marching representation of the masses too self-absorbed to look up from their glowing mobile screens. 

I loved the energy VOLTA brings right out of the gate, and its earnest introduction of other characters, including the free-spirited ELA (the aforementioned Italian roller skating gold medalist) and a Canadian duo who emerged as show-starting favorites performing hand to hand on a unicycle.

Some may recognize these performers, Phillippe Bélanger and Marie-Lee Guilbert, from appearances on "America's Got Talent."

The part when Guilbert stands atop her pedaling partner's head -- WHOA!

Many in the audience also gasped during the "Mirage" segment also known as the "hair suspension" act, in which Brazilian aerialist Vanessa Ferreira Calado opens her segment in a seated yoga position only to levitate and perform the remainder of her solo while suspended by a single pony tail braided to a simple chord and silver ring. 



And breathtaking.

I mentioned VOLTA's comic relief, performed in this tour with great timing and a slight Russian accent by Andrey Kislitsin, who shares a battle royale with a trio of laundry machines. 

Watch closely for a climbing act reminiscent of Georgia O'Keeffe's painting "Ladder to the Moon," and a wake up call via the "Rise & Shine" trampo-wall performance. 

And the bikes. Many, many bikes.

VOLTA is a different kind of Cirque du Soleil show, and I recommend it for anyone looking to reunite with the Sk8er Boi or Gal inside each of us. Check it out at Atlantic Station now through Jan. 5.

Photos via Cirque du Soleil. All costumes by Zaldy Goco. Image credits include work by Matt Beard (WAZ, Mr. Wow, Unicycle, Trampowall), Michael Kass (The GREYS), Patrice Lamoureaux (BMX, ELA) and Benoit Z. Leroux (Mirage). 

Monday, October 21, 2019

With Simplicity & Class, New Paris 2024 Logo Fuses Flame, Style, Gold Medals and French Symbolism

An email from the Paris 2024 media relations team arrived today like a batch of fresh cookies.

It seems the organizing committee baked up a sweet and golden macaron in the form of a new logo for the post-Tokyo Olympiad.

And like the delightful French confections savored around the world, the new Paris 2024 emblem relies on four simple ingredients, according to the official announcement.

In place of egg whites, sugar, almond powder and food color, the "new face" of the French Olympic Games relies on three emblems and a dash of style, almost perfect in its simplicity at once bursting with multiple flavors of symbolism.

The icons in this case, as described in press materials, include:

-- The medal: a symbol of sport and victory

-- The flame: a symbol of the Olympic Movement

-- Marianne, a.k.a. Liberté: a symbol for all of France. You know, the topless banner-bearing beauty in the Louvre's famous painting by Eugène Delacroix (see below)

When assembled the trio yields a face, embodying the idea of a friendly, people's Games (see above left).

Add to this an original Art Deco-inspired typeface drawn from "a complete artistic movement which reached its height at the 1924 Games in Paris" and you have "an emblem that pays tribute to Paris."

Organizers also point out that, for the first time, the golden visage represents both the Olympics and Paralympics. For this writer, that's the jam or ganache that makes this cookie of a logo even sweeter.

Here's a video the Paris 2024 press team shared with other logo-related materials:

Digging the visuals that tell the story of the logo. The lone hiccup of the day's announcement may be the selection of a male narrator to describe a logo otherwise of feminine physique.

The press materials did not state the venue at which the Paris 2024 Olympic emblem unveiling took place, but photos from the event included the city's mayor, several Olympians and Paralympians, and media. Looks like a fun time was enjoyed by all. I'm guessing they feasted on macarons en masse. 

Can you see the lips of Liberty blowing a kiss in the new logo? What do you think of the design? Is there anything you love about it or would love to change? Please post a comment and let's discuss!

Olympic photo, video and logo via Paris 2024. Image of Liberty Leading the People via this link

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Richard Jewell Trailer From Eastwood Looks Good

The trailer to the upcoming film "Richard Jewell" hit the Internet last week, and in just a few days the two-minute clip from Warner Bros. racked up a half-million views via official channels and movie fan sites. Check out the tension-building intro here:

This first glimpse at Clint Eastwood's 38th directing gig is void of many surprises, but it does reveal a few details not yet widely reported for the film.

First, it appears the score to "Richard Jewell" may be composed by Arturo Sandoval, the jazz musician who provided original works for Eastwood's most recent feature "The Mule." Sounds good.

Second, the narrative -- at least as presented by "Richard Jewell Official Trailer" No. 1 -- seems to remain in step with its source material, the Marie Brenner article for Vanity Fair magazine. Potential props to screenwriter Billy Ray for resisting a fictionalized drama as seen in other Eastwood "based on a true story" narratives. The explosion filmed at Centennial Olympic Park this summer is convincing!

Third, Kathy Bates, Olivia Wilde, John Hamm and Sam Rockwell each brought their A-game to their roles. I can hardly wait to see how they deliver the goods as Jewell's mother, reporter, investigator and attorney, respectively.

And finally, it seems the actor in the title role, Paul Walter Hauser, is made for the part, more so than Jonah Hill, the Oscar nominee originally slated to don Jewell's security gear (Hill is now a producer). Though convincing in "Moneyball" and other dramatic roles, he's perhaps too good looking for this one!

Audiences will recognize Hauser for two prior roles, including one as heavy on the Olympic relevance, starting with 2017's "I, Tonya," in which he portrayed Tonya Harding's bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt.

More recently he effectively portrayed a witless Colorado Springs hater in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman."

Hauser's close-up mug appears repeatedly in the "Richard Jewell" trailer and he is convincing as the real-life Jewell who appeared on "SNL" and many other TV broadcasts of 1996 to the early 2000s, when he was finally exonerated.

The trailer also gives prominence to an off-screen villain, Eric Rudolph, who on July 27, 1996, uttered the eerie phrase to a 9-1-1 operator from a downtown Atlanta payphone:

"There's a bomb in Centennial Park ... you have thirty minutes!" 

In the video, Hamm as FBI investigator and Hauser as Jewell state this sentence a combined eight times, with an ascending intensity that crescendos to match Rudolph's actual recorded creepiness.

Punctuating the trailer, I like the tag line presented before the film's credit list:
Which brings me to a curiosity of the trailer: portrayal of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newsroom.

In addition to a fictional news editor with a made-up name plate (verified in an email I exchanged with the real AJC Olympic editor of the day), there's a made-up version of the iconic "It's Atlanta!" front page dated September 18, 1990.

Why the Eastwood prop team included a 2019 photo of Midtown Atlanta in their mocked-up news page baffles me. The other headlines on the dummy newspaper also have no resemblance to the actual page announcing when Atlanta won its Olympic bid.

These are minor details. Big picture, one hopes the film otherwise sticks to the facts when it hits theatres on December 13.

Photos via this report, which credits the images to Claire Folger/Warner Bros., except for the image of the clip board, which appeared on CineReflex without photo credit (possibly a still grabbed from the trailer). The image of Olivia Wilde with framed newspaper is a screen grab from the "Richard Jewell" Official Trailer on YouTube via Warner Bros. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Clint Eastwood Crew Films Family Jewell In Atlanta

Olympic park/Eastwood mash up image via

For film buffs and Atlanta residents, summer headlines about Warner Bros. casting a new feature based on Richard Jewell may be old news.

For those further afield, the following roundup includes updates and photos from the set of the upcoming movie centered on the hero of the July 1996 Olympic Park bombing.

Hopefully a detail or two may also serve as informative updates for local readers.

I enjoy Clint Eastwood, a longtime favorite of this writer, equally for his behind-the-camera work and for original characters he created as an actor.

His film career spanning seven decades seldom includes five-ringed themes, but that's quickly changing with Eastwood directing a new picture based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner titled "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell," about which I first posted details in 2015.

At that time, Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio were set to star as the 1996 Olympic park security guard hero-turned-bombing suspect and one of his attorneys, respectively.

Consider me anxious -- for nearly four years and counting -- to experience this film.

For context: Getty Images photo of bomb investigation site taken July 27, 1996

Thanks to an online post by a fellow writer, earlier this month while my girlfriend visited from Russia, we enjoyed an extended peek at one of the Atlanta sets created for the film. For almost a week, Centennial Olympic Park's north end served as a closed set for Eastwood's team.

We snapped two night photos and several daytime images, sprinkled about this post (though not one is worth a thousand words in this case).

The image at right, for instance, offers a little taste of the set designers' take on Atlanta's "look of the Games" complete with an original Olympic torch logo created for the film.

More on what we learned around the site, where one overnight sequence involved detonating noisy pyrotechnics, follows later in this post, but first a bit more recent background.

During spring 2019, online sources said Eastwood reconfirmed involvement with the project in May, a cast was locked in within weeks, and shooting began in July. As of two weeks ago filming remained underway at multiple locations across Atlanta, with reported sightings of cast and crew both downtown and the city's upscale Buckhead district.

Paul Walter Hauser landed the title role. Some may recall his Olympic-tethered scenes in "I, Tonya" with pivotal action (sans Nancy Kerrigan knee-bashing gear) set inside Decatur's local favorite Asian restaurant, The Golden Buddha.

Paul Walter Hauser in "I, Tonya"
There's definitely a Hauser resemblance to Richard Jewell in other "I, Tonya" scenes as well.

Richard isn't the only Jewell family member who'll appear in Eastwood's project. Misery loves company as Kathy Bates signed on in (what I guess to be) a supporting role as Bobi Jewell, the security guard's mother with whom he resided, and endured throngs of media staked out at their apartment, when their lives were upended.

The film also stars Olivia Wilde as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter whose cover story about the bombing investigation put Jewell in a global spotlight, while Jon Hamm will don, er, drape the shoes and uniform of Tom Shaw, possibly a pseudonym for Georgia Bureau of Investigation officer Tom Davis, who helped Jewell to relocate bystanders before Eric Rudolph's pipe bomb detonated.

Sam Rockwell stars as Richard's criminal attorney Watson Bryant. It remains unclear whether Jewell's libel attorney, who made a name for himself by representing pariah clients, will be portrayed.

Now back to the local sets for the film.

In Centennial Olympic Park, Eastwood's crew built a replica of the AT&T stage, sound/lighting tower and concert area that operated in the summer of 1996. As a one-time Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games employee who watched the stage's original construction from the lunch room balcony of The INFORUM (ACOG's headquarters), no matter the angle the modern rebuild looked authentic.

From our western-edge vantage to view filming, we noted some of the finer details of the set, such as the mock Atlanta Olympic banners donning many stage elements.

In the rain, when some extras retreated to a staff tent and others stopped along the fence line to visit with non-cast friends, we noted their costumes included Olympic-branded gear with logos that matched the banners (both are of mock logos, not the actual AGOG trademarks and rings).

Nice touches, right down to the security guard pith helmets and baseball caps.

According to the Vanity Fair article, on the evening of July 26, 1996, a band named Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was playing just before the bomb exploded. We neither saw nor heard any music, as the evening of our scouting they were already filming post-explosion emergency response.

We also saw no EMT vehicles in scenes being filmed at night, but the following afternoon we spotted ambulances and police cruisers circa 1996 (or at least dressed to resemble the era) parked on the set as well. The blue pickup truck has a resemblance to Richard Jewell's personal vehicle, and the FBI investigations van (see photo) also looked "real" in broad daylight.

The centerpiece of the set was a recreation of the sound tower including a park bench like the one under which the original Jewell discovered Rudolph's backpack.

The set designers really nailed it (no pun intended) with "the look" of the damaged tower as it appeared during the 1996 investigation and as the park reopened with Ambassador Andrew Young leading the ceremony all those years ago.

A security guard hired for the film set informed us that the mock bombing, which took place in the middle of the night, brought at least one disgruntled hotel guest to the set to express her frustration for getting jarred out of bed without warning.

I am really curious who created the Olympic sport pictograms that decorated the set, and would love to know who was involved with the fictional XXVI Games banners. The color schemes are this close to authentic. Too bad, but the costume designer did not resurrect the brown skorts donned by summer of '96 female volunteers ... well, not "too bad," actually (they were terrible).

Our study of the set gave me hope Eastwood is committed to creating an authentic audience experience.

Reflecting on "The Ballad of Richard Jewell" article and its conversion for the screen, taken on by Billy Ray of "The Hunger Games" and "Flightplan" fame, I admit to biting my nails about the screenwriter taking liberties with Olympic facts as did the scribe for an earlier Eastwood film.

In 2014, Eastwood and Jason Hall -- screenwriter for "American Sniper" -- played fast and loose with five-ringed details, inspiring the most-read post on this blog (and the second-most read) in which the facts about an "Olympic sniper from Syria" are verified by the Arab state's national Olympic committee (there was no such character in real life).

For the Jewell feature, it's been reported the 2019 AT&T stage set included an actor portraying Kenny Rogers, the Georgia-based singer who did perform in the park in 1996 but, according to the Vanity Fair article, appeared in concert earlier in the week (not the bombing eve).

One wonders: when the final cut hits theatres, will Rogers show up in place of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack during the climactic bombing scene Eastwood & Co. recreated?

I am eager to see how and whether other International Olympic Committee, ACOG or USOPC (then USOC) players may show up in Eastwood's picture. For instance, an archived joint press conference hosted by the IOC, ACOG and FBI includes officials who are potentially quotable in Ray's screenplay, but only the FBI official is listed in IMDB.

Olympian Janet Evans appeared in explosion footage during a live interview that took place on the fateful night -- no listing for her portrayal in Eastwood's film, however.

And though the recreated AT&T stage includes several NBC affiliate studio spaces branded on the set, there are no IMDB-listed credits for cast members portraying NBC, CNN nor other national network reporters who covered the bombing and investigation.

As of this post, the only exception found in IMBD is a cast listing for an actor portraying Bryant Gumbel, who interviewed Jewell in the latter months of 1996, according to Vanity Fair.

It's my understanding "The Ballad of Richard Jewell" filming remains underway in Atlanta. I'll be on the lookout for signs with the production code "KIKI" and post updates as additional details emerge (please share via comments if you have them -- would love to hear from the extras selected for the film).

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver and Valentian Kucheriavenko except the movie still of Hauser from "I, Tonya" via Neon; top image of Eastwood via this site; Getty Images photo of bombing investigation at sunrise 7/27/1996 via this CNN archive link

Thursday, June 20, 2019

USOC Ups Its Game With New Name USOPC

The United States Olympic Committee is no more. And Team USA's longtime acronym USOC is now former. 

On Thursday the Colorado Springs nonprofit formally announced its new, more inclusive name: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

In short, that's USOPC.

Has a nice ring to it ... well, five rings.

The new nomenclature -- the result of a unanimous vote by the board of directors at a quarterly meeting held in Chicago -- was several months in the making, according to leadership interviewed on an afternoon media conference call.

Team USA joins Norway, South Africa and The Netherlands as the world's only national committees overseeing both Paralympic and Olympic sport domestically. It surprised me more nations, including the United Kingdom (where the Paralympics began), are not already on board with such a change.

International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons put the USOPC's announcement into perspective.

"To see the USOPC make this inclusive statement by changing its name demonstrates the true parallel nature of the Olympic and Paralympic movements," said Parsons. "This change lays a strong foundation to transform the Paralympic Movement as we look toward the Los Angeles Games in 2028 and beyond."

In a social media post sharing a news report about the announcement, Rio 2016 Paralympics shooting competitor Tricia Downing said it was "exciting news for Team USA" while Australia's five-time gold medalist Amy Winters, who competed in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, wrote, "Wow, this is big ... such an enormous shift from when the U.S. hosted both Games in 1996. A huge statement for inclusion."

The USOPC's CEO Sarah Hirshland said, "Paralympic athletes are integral to the makeup of Team USA, and our mission to inspire current and future generations of Americans."

"The new name represents a renewed commitment to that mission and the ideals that we seek to advance both at home and throughout the worldwide Olympic and Paralympic movements," Hirshland added.

On the media call, fellow May 14 birthday celebrant and USA Today Olympic reporter Christine Brennan "went there" asking if, in an era of rampant national divisiveness, the USOPC wished to send a broader message. Read the USOPC's answer in Brennan's column noting her 35 years and thousands of reports on the Olympic Movement.

Thursday's move pleased me -- it seems only a positive one. It will be interesting to see how new branding takes shape in the months leading up to Tokyo 2020. No word yet on new logo or pin designs, but Team USA's press release does shed some light on other updated uses.

The name change is effective immediately as seen through updated marks on social and digital platforms. Physical changes to signage at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Sites, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Headquarters in Colorado Springs and all associated properties will be made as soon as possible with a goal of completion by 2020. Additionally, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame will be renamed the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame. 

I'll bet Brennan will have to correct herself, as will I, of the multi-decade habit of typing the former acronym. But it's also a safe bet many are very happy like me to put the "P" in USOPC.

Images via Team USA

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