Tuesday, May 16, 2017

LA2024 Dazzles on Days Two and Three of Evaluation Commission

Days two and three of the 2024 IOC Evaluation Commission visit to Los Angeles were as jam-packed for media as they were for the future Games selection team.

The combined LA2024 and U.S. Olympic Committee media relations crew treated attending reporters to a full Thursday of venue visits including two university campuses, a Metro station press conference and multiple photo opportunities or bid-centric press events.

May 9 began early at Staples Center, where IOC members took turns shooting hoops on the LA Lakers' home court. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman and IOC Member Anita DeFrantz also practiced layups and cheered when visiting delegates found "nothing but net" through informal basketball play.

Then two groups of Evaluation Commission members embarked on site visits in separate corteges, with media site visits on a parallel track to the IOC tour experience.

Stop one: The University of Southern California, home of the Trojans and the nation's No. 1 school in terms of total Olympians (451 since the early 1900's). Media heard from Olympic track champion and USC alum Allyson Felix before experiencing a walking tour of a soon-to-open modern dorms that would house the Olympic media village in 2024.

We also toured USC's Annenberg School of Communication, which would house the 2024 Olympic Media Village operations center close to new dorms which reporters visited.

A quick bus ride over to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lined up with the IOC's morning visit inside the stadium, which apparently included a foot race between Garcetti and at least one Olympic track champion from 1984.

We learned later in the day that more than 50 Olympians met with the Evaluation Commission, with the first women's Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson sharing a tearful reunion with a fellow LA84 gold medalist Nawal El Moutawakel, who is now an IOC member (both women achieved remarkable "firsts" as female competitors on the same track).

Brief sidebar: The coliseum photo opportunity marked my fourth visit to the venue, and not the first time the cauldron was aglow, but this was the first daytime and ignited flame combination and it was remarkable in that the morning sun and cloudless sky brightened the historic stadium's adobe-hued exterior.

More walking ensued, this time past USC's historic and wonderfully fragrant rose garden (we did, in fact, stop to smell them).

A few hundred meters later we were greeted by -- surprise -- local resident and longtime environmental champion Ed Begley, Jr., on site for an outdoor press conference to promote the fifth anniversary of the LA Metro Expo Line service between downtown Los Angeles and points west.

Our entourage boarded buses to arrive at the University of California at Los Angeles in time for a superior campus dining experience. Several inquisitive undergrads asked me about what our group was doing on site -- our objective, to experience a sample of an afternoon in the potential future Olympic Village.

LA2024's proposal to house the athletes in existing or new dorms is a key differentiator for the bid, saving piles of money while harnessing a fantastic, well-developed and mature tree-filled campus atmosphere. Our hosts pointed out several residences build when the school hosted one of LA84's villages.

We must have walked 5,000 steps on site, including peeks at student gyms, three student swimming pools, Pauley Pavilion (site of Mary Lou Retton's perfect score in 1984) and the school's sports hall of fame celebrating, among thousands of alumni athletes, the school's 420 Olympians.

LA2024 has a strong asset in that the UCLA Olympic Village existed even before the '84 Games, and as announced just after the IOC visit the same day, another batch of several hundred rooms are planned for the campus.

With slightly sore legs and definitely smarting feet, media departed for the beaches of Santa Monica for the IOC's and LA2024's Day Two media Q&A, this time framed by a perfect sunset and light ocean breeze.

The purple and pink skyline over nearby Malibu and Santa Monica Mountains gave attendees a dreamy "Follow The Sun" moment.

As an after-dinner sendoff from the press conference venue, the Annenberg Beach House, a troupe of six synchronized swimmers dove into a logo-ed swimming pool, reminding attendees of LA2024's fast-paced and precise timing executed consistently through the three-day Evaluation Commission process. The swimmers' smiles above the surface, all the while furiously kicking and positioning, may echo the hard work of LA2024's team to prepare and execute the key milestone in the IOC selection process.

Friday morning brought just two press conferences, one each for the IOC and LA2024 officials, again at Staples Center. At the latter Q&A I asked Garcetti and Wasserman to expand on their professional relationship and friendship through the bid process since the IOC had nicknamed them the "1984 boys" who were youthful Angelinos during that summer's Olympiad.

"We met in our 20's," said Garcetti, answering whether they knew each other as kids or teens.

Garcetti went on to explain that his very first official action as LA's newly-elected mayor was to deliver a letter confirming his interest, support and passion for a bid. Now many months later, he confidently summed up the collective efforts of the combined LA2024/City of Los Angeles team.

"We keep looking for a hole in this bid, and we can't find it," said Garcetti.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Games-Minded Media Explored Potential Olympic Venues While IOC Evaluation Commission Quizzed LA2024 Leadership on Wednesday

The official first day of the 2024 IOC Evaluation Commission on Wednesday included more than a half-day of Q&A for LA2024 bid executives and simultaneous venue tours for media during the closed selection process.

May 10 began early with International Olympic Committee officials greeting LA2024's bid team to their 35 hot seats facing two rows of about 20 Evaluation Commission desks in a large downtown conference room. 

Media enjoyed access to opening remarks by IOC Member and Commission Chair Patrick Baumann before the Los Angeles team leaders -- including the city's Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman flanked by the IOC's three delegates to the United States Anita DeFrantz, Angela Ruggiero and Larry Probst -- took turns sharing personal stories of their past Los Angeles Olympic experiences. 

Citing her review of 74 Olympic bid campaigns and her work on eight previous USA bids, DeFrantz put into context the task at hand for her fellow IOC members across the table.

"One of the biggest responsibilities of IOC membership is selecting host cities," DeFrantz said, adding her colleagues at LA2024 are the "finest [she had] ever seen."

Wasserman and Garcetti earned the nickname "boys of the Olympics" of 1984 as both were kids when Los Angeles last hosted the summer Games. DeFrantz spoke of the many legacies of LA84 while Probst and Ruggiero spoke of their passion for a future legacy should the IOC's decision favor California when the Commission votes in September.

Paris, which also hosted two summer Olympiads and presented bids for 1992 and 2012 is LA's lone candidate, with the IOC and media embarking to France this Friday.

I snapped a few photos from the media platform and spotted many faces of LA2024 staff who appeared relaxed and eager to share their part of the city's bid presentation. Calm, cool and collected are each apt descriptors for everyone with the bid team, and though many must have felt a degree of relief after Wednesday's most intense of the three-day Commission visit, guarded confidence seems to reign with this group. 

After the opening session, media boarded buses to the day's first tour stop, Pasadena's iconic Rose Bowl. Olympic medalist and world champion Brandi Chastain spoke with reporters outside the stadium before joining the entourage of reporters and cameras on the field that made her a world icon of female strength. 

In her prepared remarks, Chastain mentioned her first Olympic experience came as a teenage volunteer during LA84. During some 1x1 Q&A on the way into the stadium, I asked her to expand on that story of the first experience, and Chastain explained she vividly recalled "waiting hours and hours for her uniform and credential" and how that experience became "... just a preview, and I didn't know it, of what it would be like to be part of the Olympic Family." 

After on-the-field photos and a few more questions, media trekked south an oceanside rooftop experience atop the Long Beach Hyatt Place Hotel overlooking the harbor, Queen Mary cruise ship, shipping cranes and the sands that would welcome spectators for water polo, triathon. sailing, BMX cycling, open water swimming and handball. 

Southern California-based Olympians Tony Azevedo and Haley Anderson spoke briefly and answered questions on their roles with LA2024's Athlete's Advisory Team. 

The high rise media stop also afforded me a few minutes to speak with Olympic gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin, who joined the media tours most of the day to photograph and post several social media items in real time. We chatted about the bid team experience and a few mutual connections to Olympic gymnastics in Oklahoma.

Then the group was off again to Stubhub Center at which media enjoyed lunch and more venue peeks before LA2024's press conference announcing a detailed Sustainability Plan. Slightly exhausted and sunburned in spite of an overcast sky, media returned downtown in time for a pair of end-of-Day-One press conferences hosted by the IOC and LA2024, respectively, at Staples Center. 

During his IOC press conference remarks, Baumann briefly described LA2024's "excellent proposal" while citing the bid's innovative "two-ceremonies" plan which would double the seating capacity for the opening and closing of 2024's Games by filling Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the new LA Rams' stadium set to open in 2019.

At the LA2024 press conference held courtside (with the mayor and Wasserman standing on the LA Lakers' free throw line) "the boys" described many aspects of the day's Q&A and anticipation of Thursday's venue visits for the IOC. Several reporters asked questions that were on my brain (see here and here for a few responses) while I asked about how the bid might serve as a reboot for the Cultural Olympiad (the mayor responded on point, describing involvement of Getty Trust leadership rallying the arts community for programs spanning several Southern California museums and arts organizations. 

LA2024 capped the evening with a media night in the BMW box at LA Dodgers Stadium (great fun). In the suite, fellow-Atlantan Stan Kasten -- a former client of sorts (in his leadership role for the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, we worked on a few photo opps with him to open Philips Arena in 1999) -- showed up to say hello.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dozens of Media Follow The Sun and LA2024 to IOC Evaluation Commission Meetings May 10-12

More than 150 media from at least five continents descended on Los Angeles in recent days for the International Olympic Committee's 2024 Evaluation Commission meetings opening today and continuing through Friday.

The IOC will hear presentations and pose questions to guide the selection of the 2024 summer Games host city, with their vote set to take place in Lima, Peru, this September.

Unofficial media hospitality events kicked off Tuesday as the LA2024 Olympic bid team signed in arriving media at the press room at LA Live, the downtown entertainment district inclusive of Staples Center and the GRAMMY Museum.

About two dozen early arrivals joined LA2024's media relations team and other officials for an "authentic Angelino commute" including a short downtown walk and ride on the city's expanding Metro system.

Disembarking at the Hollywood station, attendees enjoyed a green room experience and mini-concert during the taping of the May 9 episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Kimmel took time between segments to visit with media and answer a few questions about his take on Los Angeles' bid to host the city's third Olympiad following 1932 and 1984.

When asked whether and which Olympiads he had personally experiences, Kimmel answered that he attended the Games in Atlanta and London and enjoyed both tremendously.

The late night comedian also joked with international reporters from Inside The Games regarding the outlet's neon green and hot pink colors on a staff writer's necktie.

The media entourage returned to downtown for a walk beside the iconic LA City Hall, Los Angeles Times offices, Disney Theater and The Broad museum, each lit up in the soft pink and purple colors of the LA2024 "Follow The Sun" logo.

Dinner at one of the city's newest and highly rated restaurants -- Otium -- included eight exquisite courses served from an open kitchen reminiscent of the prep area in Peter Greenaway's film "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" (I even spotted a young and blonde sous chef grating carrots to top the evening's dessert, much like movie's young cook's assistant).

Olympic gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin spoke briefly to provide a five-ringed welcome.

Today media will attend an opening session before a full day of venue tours. I'll post photos and updates later today as the bus is loading.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Monday, May 8, 2017

Discover LA Rolls Out #EveryoneIsWelcome Mat On Eve of LA2024 IOC Evaluation Commission Visit

This week the good folks at LA2024 will host the IOC Evaluation Commission official visit to check out the Olympic bid city.

Upon receipt of "blogger Nick" media credentials for the festivities a few weeks ago, I booked passage to LAX for a week blending work and fun, family time (relatives in Thousand Oaks) and visits with a few longtime friends.

As a far away LA2024 registered volunteer, I was also mindful of potential options to donate hours while in town, and a fun opportunity -- via LA2024 partner Discover Los Angeles (the City of Angels' tourism authority) -- proved to provide a fun kind of card game at a park just north of the airport.

On Saturday morning it was fun to join hundreds of local Angelinos as stood in assigned spots on a field and followed instructions from an Israeli-American filmmaker engaged to create several "Everyone Is Welcome" human signs that greeting inbound flights to LAX.

On site, volunteers received a designated spot on a grid, a giant two-sided card (about five-feet square), sunscreen, shades and a loaner headset that at first seemed like a noise-cancelling device but proved to be the transmitter for our special instructions and cues to hold aloft our cards.

It was not easy to snap photos with hands full of card!

From the ground you could almost make out the faces of passengers on the jets overhead. No idea whether they could see our waving, but we were told a handful of planes included camera crews set to capture moving images. Two boom cameras and a small army of on-the-ground film crews also moved above and about our volunteer group.

For the morning shift, I was in spot Brown-157, about 10 spots from one side and three rows down from the top edge (the first "e" in the English sign "WELCOME" and also a part of the first "e" in the Spanish sign "BIENVENIDOS" (I hope that's not me who is the crooked part of the "e" in the Spanish image from the event.

After lunch I was more in the middle for a sign greeting Air China flights before we flipped for a two Middle Eastern jumbo jets on the approach to the airport's north runways.

It was fun making new friends including an aspiring actor, a preschool teacher, a special events coordinator for several top Hollywood awards events, and a woman who drove down from Oakland to volunteer (she would have had the record for longest distance traveled if this Atlanta-based blogger had not arrived). At least one LA television station filed a report from the stunt.

Also enjoyed brief visits with a few new friends from LA2024 including their media relations executive, volunteer coordinator and Anita DeFrantz of IOC, USOC, LA2024 and many other key organizations.

Check out the images and local Los Angeles TV coverage of Discover LA's work and recently-unveiled #EveryoneIsWelcome campaign.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver and/or Discover Los Angeles

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Don't Be Late! Hurry For Final Days of the High Museum's Informative 'Cross Country' Exhibition

Maynard Dixon "Tardy, Randsburg, California" on view in "Cross Country" at the High

Readers in Atlanta, there's still time!

Well, four days remain. Don't be late like me with this review post!

Now through Sunday, locals and visitors can still make it to the High Museum of Art for a look at the winter-spring exhibition "Cross Country: The Power of Place In American Art, 1915-1950."

The exhibition -- which I enjoyed during its media day but then failed to write-up until now -- is worth a special trip to Midtown.

Edward Hopper's "Light at Two Lights"
Guests embark on an artistic journey through rural America of the early 20th Century with peeks by region including the South, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West (the image atop this post features the westernmost point in the exhibition).

Artists captured the space between thriving American cities with insightful and often touching looks at farming, hunting, horsemanship and the sprawling landscapes on which countless "real life" or plain scenes unfolded.

As noted in an early 2016 post, and according to the High's press release, "['Cross Country'] builds upon an exhibition of 67 artworks organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art." Atlanta visitors are treated to more than 200 works including 70+ from the High's permanent collection. 

Exhibition catalog w/140+ images.
The galleries for this show include a mix of brand name American artists and several lesser known photographers and painters. In the months since spending a morning with the art, I've enjoyed learning more detail on each work and artist through the 208-page catalog that bears the title of the smaller Brandywine exhibition, "Rural Modern: American Art Beyond The City." 

Sidebar: I purchase/read many exhibition catalogs only to quickly sell them, but "Rural Modern" is one that will remain in my library for its 140+ glossy color illustrations and accompanying text. Great read!

Listed here, and dropped in as images for this post, are some of the "must see" artists and artworks from "Cross Country" on view through May 7:
  • N.C. Wyeth's In a Dream I Meet General Washington
  • Georgia O'Keeffe's vivid Lake George - Autumn and the wintry rural Barn With Snow
  • Edward Hopper's nautical Light at Two Lights 
  • Jacob Lawrence's Firewood #55 on loan from the Smithsonian 
    Andrew Wyeth's "Black Hunter"
  • Andrew Wyeth's tempera on panel portrait Black Hunter (right)
  • Patsy Santo's End of the Trail portraying a deer shot dead by a hunter
  • Paul Sample's Tardy, Randsburg, California with a young student running to his rural school (see top of this post)
  • Maynard Dixon's monumental Southwestern landscape Red Butte with Mountain Men (see below -- gorgeous!)
  • Thomas Hart Benton's Tobacco Sorters on loan from Crystal Bridges 
  • Grandma Moses' folksy and sweet Bringing in the Maple Sugar
  • Grant Wood's Appraisal which may provide one answer to the ageless riddle "why did the chicken cross the road?"
It was also fun getting reacquainted with Hale Woodruff's Talladega Murals now back in the High after a multi-year cross-country field trip of their own following the museum's restoration work (a project I was privileged to help publicize in 2012-13). These six massive canvases are themselves worth a special trip to the museum. 

Get over to the High if you can and enjoy "Cross Country." You'll be glad you did!

Images via WikiArt and High.org

Maynard Dixon's "Red Butte with Mountain Men"

Jacob Lawrence's "Firewood #55"

Grandma Moses' "Bringing in the Maple Sugar"

Georgia O'Keeffe's "Lake George - Autumn"

Georgia O'Keeffe's "Barn with Snow"

Grant Wood's "Appraisal"

N.C. Wyeth's "In a Dream I Meet General Washington"

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Murray Olderman and The Draw of Sport

From a recent request for a review copy (thanks, Fantagraphics P.R.), I recently perused the new hardback book "The Draw of Sport" by Murray Olderman.

On its pages readers find nearly 120 illustrations Olderman created in the author's decades-spanning sports journalism career that started when the student newspaper at his undergrad alma matter Mizzou published one of his cartoons.

He went on to draw thousands of works of art inspired by countless experiences in the sports box on assignment from newspapers and the wire service for which he eventually managed sports coverage.

Readers learn Olderman's aspirations to write and illustrate sports began during his youth when his father brought home newspapers filled with sports cartoons in the days before photography and technology came to dominate athletic coverage.

I was intrigued by "The Draw of Sports" since it seemed if Olderman wrote and created images from the 1940s to recent years, he probably met an Olympian or two with some stories to share.

Jesse Owens appears in the cover art for this new book, and in the text describing the Owens portrait that Olderman sketched for a Games-centric magazine spread, readers learn Olderman perhaps also drew Olympians Jim Thorpe, Paavo Nurmi, Charley Paddock, Harrison Dillard and Bob Mathias on a special assignment tied to the 1952 Games.

The format for "The Draw of Sport" is consistent: Even pages feature a few paragraphs the author scribed from his memories of athlete encounters and interviews, with a matching cartoon on the facing odd page. Owens appears in the middle of Olderman's A to Z list book-ended by Atlanta Braves home run king Hank Aaron and 1932 Olympian Babe Zaharias.

"[In 1954] I actually met Jesse Owens at a luncheon at Toots Shor's on 52nd Street in Manhattan, the favorite sports hangout in the city," wrote Olderman on his Owens descriptor. "[He] was doing motivational speaking by then after varied ways trying to capitalize on his Olympic glory. I don't remember what company he was plugging, but do recall the staccato cadence of his speech."

Olderman described similar "I was in the room with ..." or "when I spoke to ..." Olympian encounters that pop up a few times in "The Draw of Sport" on narrative/illustration pairs for Muhammad Ali, Jean-Claude Killy, Jim Thorpe and Zaharias.

Olympic basketball's Ann Meyer (1976 -- appearing in a spread featuring her pro baseball husband Don Drysdale), Bill Russell (1956 in Melbourne) as well as 1960 team alternate John Havlicek also made the cut.

The Games appear in a handful of other narratives, but mostly to provide context on Olderman's reporting assignments rather than specific Olympians.

Kareem Abdul-Jabar, for instance, appears in "The Draw of Sport" for his basketball feats, but Olderman's illustration of the black boycott of the 1968 Games -- in which Abdul-Jabar participated before his NBA career -- did not show up on first glance (I found the rings illustration at left on MurrayOlderman.com and, later, on one of the section dividers in the new book).

Piecing together notes from the introduction and a few cartoon descriptions, it seems Olderman perhaps only touched the Games remotely in 1952, 1956 and 1960 but later traveled to the Olympics in 1968, which he described with some detail.

"Let's just say I had an edge on my American colleagues covering the Winter Games at Grenoble, where my focus was on Alpine events and a dashing young Frenchman who was swooping to a covey of gold medals," wrote Olderman of Killy. "[His] English was nil then [and] the interviews were conducted only in French.

"I was fairly fluent and could follow his explanations of navigating through the fog that embraced the slalom and downhill runs ... and passed them along to Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times, the only other scribe who bothered to come out to the Olympic site."

While Olderman's work and collection are impressive, I was slightly let down that so few five-ringed athletes -- an only two female Olympians -- are in "The Draw of Sport."

With only a handful of Team USA athletes celebrated (and only one French gold medal skier), I was left wondering how Olderman reported on, say, Bruce Jenner in Montreal, or Olga Korbut and Nadia Comenici's gymnastic feats, or any of the legendary performances in Los Angeles 1984 (the only post-1960s Olympiad mentioned by Olderman was a vague reference to seeing Michael Jordan play for The Dream Team in 1992).

But then, by the 1970s fewer newspapers illustrated their sports coverage with hand-drawn art, perhaps explaining, if only indirectly, the absence of these later Olympic heroes.

In his editorial role, Olderman founded the Jim Thorpe Trophy presentation to top professional football players, paying homage to the 1912 Olympian who later excelled in multiple pro sports. The book's Thorpe tribute correctly references part of Thorpe's gold medal feats only to incorrectly state his "medal" (singular) was stripped (Thorpe won then lost then received again posthumously gold medals -- plural -- in decathlon and pentathlon).

But this is a forgivable error for a sports cartoon legend who was approaching his 95th birthday as "The Draw of Sport" was going to press.

I encourage sports fans old and young to get a dose of history through reading this Olderman collection. The cartoons provide a broad roundup of sports feats from the 20th century, and the author's stories bring them to life. A video from his grad school alma matter follows this post for more background on this sports writer and artist.

Images via Fantagraphics and MurrayOlderman.com

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

One Year To Find Passion. Connected.

A few of my Olympic buddies and I seem to be in similar boats with regards to the upcoming Winter Olympiad.

One year from now the world will gather in PyeongChang for the 2018 opening ceremony, and some of us are not yet sure we'll be there. 

Rio 2016 really did a number on me, an unexpected, unwelcome and unprecedented turn for my Olympic fandom of three decades. I know the passion is still in there, but for some reason the Brazil Games experience left that passion girding its loins, reluctant to return.

Fortunately, some online updates and a recent U.S. Olympic Committee media call, and a holiday peek at some Korean maps, proved there's still a five-ringed pulse in this blogger. 

Just after Christmas, at a destination bookstore in Oklahoma City, I spent some time studying Korea in the travel section. Driving in Asia seems daunting at first glance, but then since navigating the Italian alleys around Torino in 2006, a trek from Seoul to South Korea's eastern coast seems doable.

During the call with Olympians Mikaela Shiffrin, Elana Meyers Taylor and the 2018 Team USA Chief of Sports Performance Alan Ashley held Monday, it was good to hear the athletes' determination and passion as they described their personal journeys to PyeongChang in progress. Ashley described his recent visit to the Olympic host region and positive observations of the Korean staff and volunteers working hard to welcome visitors. 

On the call I asked the status of USA House planning, which remains in progress, and the extent to which the athletes on the call valued access to past house venues. Meyers Taylor's answer and talking about her experiences in the Sochi USA House with family members got me interested in the prospect of a future visit in Korea.

"It's huge to have a home away from home, a place to relax," said Meyers Taylor. "My father and husband had a great time there [in Sochi]." 

The scene with Meyers Taylor and her family rang a bell. She was kind enough to pose for a photo during the Russia Games experience three years ago. 

Today I glanced at several sections of the PyeongChang website and YouTube Channel for the first time in several months. The schedule is helpful. Some of the venues intrigue me -- I have yet to experience an Olympic biathlon finish line, and checking out Olympic ski jumping (as in 2014) could be fun. 

The "Coastal Cluster" in Gangneung looks like it may be in close proximity to some interesting waterfront architecture.

The theme of the host organizers -- "Passion. Connected." (with periods for emphasis) -- got me to thinking about connect the dots to revive my love of the Games. 

Only time will tell how and when I'll come around and commit to the Korean Olympic experience. Anyone else considering options? What's inspiring you, or holding you back? Please share. Additional connectedness for 2018 is certainly welcome. 

Top images via PyeongChang 2018 website and SI.com, respectively. 

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