Monday, September 25, 2017

Wintry Mix At Team USA Media Summit

It's fun to be back in Utah for the first time in four years. 

As in 2013, the U.S. Olympic Committee organized its Team USA Media Summit -- now underway through Wednesday in Park City -- to introduce reporters to more than 100 Olympians and Olympic hopefuls looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Games at PyeongChang

Flying into SLC International Airport brought back five-ringed anticipation for a some fun days of networking and gathering story ideas. Driving into the mountains brought a rush of memories from my first visit here in 1997 and, of course, 10 days here during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. 

It's always fun to pull off Interstate 80 and spot the ski jumps, then pull into downtown Park City, the village that in some ways remains as decked out for the Games as it was 15 years ago.

The biggest surprise so far: SNOW in September! 

A few miles up the slopes from Salt Lake City, a blizzard welcomed my rental Toyota, and most of the evergreens in and around the city have a great coating of fresh powder. 

Only two weeks ago I was taking sun at Sandy Hook's beaches in New Jersey, juxtaposed with a snow and fog gondola ride up one of the Rocky Mountain's greatest ski resorts.

Day one's press conferences and athlete or official interview opportunities included (as of early Monday afternoon) the U.S.O.C.'s top brass and announcements, a briefing by the PyeongChang committee's media operations team, a star-filled stage featuring top U.S. female ski and snowboard champions, and roundtables with athletes from biathlon, bobsled, speedskating and Para nordic disciplines. 

Enjoyed getting reacquainted briefly with Elana Meyers Taylor, a fellow Georgian and Olympic silver and bronze medalist who got married since her trip to Sochi. She also provided the welcoming remarks at a Sunday evening mountainside party to kick off the Media Summit. 

Also enjoyed a follow up conversation with Mikaela Shiffrin, first interviewed at the last Winter Olympic Media Summit before she went on to win gold in Sochi. We talked briefly about how her P.R. savvy and ability to speak "on message" evolved in recent years. 

I'll post more specifics from these and other athlete interviews in the days and weeks ahead on the road to PyeongChang. For now, it's time for some USA Hockey and USA Luge Q&A.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Lost & Found In Summer 2017

Like Hillary Rodham Clinton in her new and excellent autobiography, as autumn 2017 begins, I'm still sorting out "What Happened" in recent months.

With the Team USA Media Summit starting Monday in Park City, Utah, and a last-minute flight booked from Atlanta to Salt Lake City confirmed Saturday night, it's time to get back in the saddle and write up the Olympic Rings again. 

But first, some Other Things.

Any friend who would listen during recent months knows that last October, after a New York film screening at which Michael Moore spoke to the audience, I met a smaaaart, funny, politically-motivated, curious, kind and beautiful woman while crossing a rainy 56th Street in Manhattan. This younger polyhistor knocked my socks off!

Long story short, we kept in touch through the wires, shared a couple of winter-spring reunion visits (including one upon my return from Paris in May), and eventually traveled together to Chicago, Washington, Long Island and Connecticut while also visiting each other's home bases in Brooklyn, Atlanta and northern New Jersey. 

I could have and should have written many more experiences of summer 2017 -- some Olympic, most not -- had my attention and energy remained on task. 

It didn't. And out of respect for another's privacy and my own, folks won't be reading why (at least not on this blog ... let's just say a potential doozie of a screenplay and book are on the table -- suggestions for a literary agent are welcome as only one comes to mind).

I went little crazy, and got lost. With the help of family and my closest of friends, things are getting back on track. Here's a guy with issues. The array of summer experiences, for better or worse (well, mostly for the better) shed some new light on how to fix them. 

The imagined but unwritten posts June to now include more about Paris, reviews of Glenn Close in "Sunset Boulevard" on Broadway and "Hamilton" at last experienced in The Windy City, a U2 concert at Soldier Field, museum visits to The Met, MoMA, Chicago Art Institute, Cincinnati Museum of Art and the High, sunburn in East Hampton and a D.C. hotel rooftop on the Fourth of July, an all-time Top Five meal at CafĂ© Spiaggia, and experiencing world-class tennis and the solar eclipse in Ohio.

A nice surprise in June was the invitation to attend Intel's Olympic sponsorship announcement at Rockefeller Center. 

Discovering a love of exercise, improved diet, weight loss (14 lbs. and counting since July 6) and the joy of cycling also made the summer list. Just no posts.

And the recent five-ringed wins by Paris and Los Angeles for the 2024 and 2028 Olympiads, respectively, were welcome news on which I dwelt but did not scribe except for this post mentioning the IOC's initial announcement finally made official last week.

But I do want to write about one shared experience since its inclusion of filmmaker Moore sort of bookends the summer October 2016 and spring/summer 2017 experiences. It was definitely not "the end" but "the beginning of the end" in my mind with regards to my Garden State-born buddy. 

Opening night of previews for Moore's stage performance of "The Terms of My Surrender" on Broadway took place on Friday, July 28, a lovely pre-serotinal evening that proved to be, at once, extremely frustrating and the launch of a concatenation that still perplexes me two months later. 

I bought a pair of tickets to "Terms" after reading an early report on its inspiration and creative process. It sounded like a fun way to experience Moore again, only this time -- as a gift to my friend -- accompanied by the fellow fan who walked into my life on the October evening that included Moore last year (you see, in our first conversation my friend and I talked about Moore, Hillary, the Obamas, activism and other left-leaning topics in some detail, and it delighted me to find a kindred spirit in politics and our brands of collecting experiences). 

In spite of her strengths, my friend's on-time track record proved to be lousy. I was lucky if she showed up less than two hours late to any one outing we shared.

So on the approach to July 28, we discussed the importance of an early arrival, theater attire and the like. And it was reassuring to read texts with her promises there'd be "no chance" and "no way [she'd] be late for Moore" and the like. 

Optimism reigned. Not only for her pending arrival on the big night, but also for Moore's writing and performance. The New York Times published a piece on preview eve with some encouraging words that suggested a good time might be had by all in attendance. 

Fuck. It wasn't. And, goddamn it, my friend showed up 75 minutes late -- with a bundle of lame and never-confirmed excuses (launching many hunches). I had even built-in an extra pre-curtain hour for a cushion of time, only to be ... foiled again! UGH!

Save a late night meal down the street from the theater, and Moore signing autographs after the show, things were mostly a bust. I spent most of the stage presentation simply fuming in my seat.

Moore posted a video with a bit of his own take after the first night (blogger and guest cameo at the 1:50 mark).

For Michael's part, the show provided a few early moments of promise. When his opening albeit awkward stand-up set shifted to a scene of the filmmaker "unpacking" an array of Trump-inspired airport security troubles, the biggest laughs and audible gasps came when a banned Middle Eastern immigrant popped up out of this suitcase as the visual punchline.

It also was interesting, but not particularly big on laughs, to learn some of Moore's early career achievements in activism. And a positive takeaway -- that any individual may inspire change for the better -- was a message received. There just wasn't much later in the show that proved memorable nor worth writing about further. The evening's celebrity cameo, whom Moore interviewed about current events, was a dud.

The Times' critical review nailed it on other aspects of the show. For a die-hard Moore fan, this could be your bag, baby. For anyone looking to drop $100 or more for a night out on Broadway, take time to find "Book of Mormon" as an alternative (this particular Tony winning show is top of mind writing from a hotel room near "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" in "Oo-tahh").

It took the rest of that late July weekend and the dog days of summer for other relationship particulars to unfurl. Incomplete or simply false information, and plenty of little things, made for some unraveling, revelations and lessons learned. I acknowledge and accept responsibility for my part. Not sure that's going on at the other end of the line.

Blah, blah, blah. Done.

The optimist in me believes the friend mentioned in this post is out there working as hard on her self-improvement projects as this guy is.

The realist in me believes it more likely there's just been "more of the same" running around and procrastination as in June through August. She's better than that and knows it. Get busy working and living is my wish -- I'm not the first to suggest this. And in spite of all that rolled out on our penultimate and last visits, envisioning I'd willingly still offer an ear and support, amics para siempre-style, after a much needed breather. Missing the good parts.

The romantic in me hopes time heals all wounds and something just like this may be possible again, if not with this nuked friendship then with someone with a similar potential for joie de vivre.

The writer and PR pro in me says extensive uphill road work is ahead with a smoother ride and blue skies further down the road.

More to follow from the summit.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Future Looks Great Now Through 2028!

Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Monday afternoon (July 31), about five big alerts or texts popped up within a two-minute period, with one potential life-influencing message akin to a day in September 1990 when Atlanta won its Olympic bid for 1996.

In the moments of these inbound missives, I was navigating westbound 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan with a friend, the two of us urgently searching for a gas station to replenish a near-empty rental car fuel tank (technically, the first in the series of "alerts" arrived as my travel companion pointed out the illuminated "fuel low" light on the dashboard, and the second urgency-inducing element was the then-imminent conclusion to our interesting weekend of Long Island sightseeing and conversation).

Then, in rapid succession ... 

Alert: "The Mooch" out at White House (whew!)

Text: Family member in hospital (recovering, sort of OK, whew!)

The initial alerts all sort of got blurry after that biggie ... Los Angeles is likely gonna host the 2028 summer Olympics. Amazing! Not entirely surprising given recent news, but an astounding headline that will certainly influence the trajectory of my life and countless others' lives during the next 11 years. 

Congratulations, LA28!

Here's the bid team's refreshed video highlighting so much of what Los Angeles offers as a three-time Olympic host:

Kudos are also due to Paris 2024 -- which will present Les Jeux Magnifique! -- for the city's eminent selection as the Games host on the city's centennial of presenting the 1924 summer Olympiad.

Favorite headline du jour may be from the French Olympic news site

With thanks to the screenwriters for "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for 21 years ago teaching me the phrase-turned-headline, Les Jeux Sont Fais -- The Game Is Up! (In this case, for Paris' five-tries-for-the-win bidding efforts.)

Here's a peek at Paris 2024's team video showcasing how the City of Lights is, to their bid motto, Made For Sharing:

The International Olympic Committee also deserves a high-five as the organization got creative and rewrote the books to accommodate two outstanding candidate cities found in LA and the French capital. In the words of IOC President Thomas Bach, a "win-win-win" indeed. Now the upcoming IOC Session in Lima, Peru, will be more of a formality to bestow two Games for the world to enjoy during this century's third decade. 

Several friends later wrote to ask my take on the news.

In a word: HAPPY!

The next three Olympic cities starting with Tokyo in 2020 are going to bring some overdue stability to the Olympic Movement not seen since the LA84 to Seoul '88 to Barcelona '92 era. Atlanta '96 delivered many ups and downs, Sydney 2000 was amazing, then the rive-ringed migraines of Athens '04, Beijing '08 and Rio 2016 shook things to the core. Even London 2012 struggled with world economic challenges. 

In three years, I believe Tokyo will deliver the most technically advanced modern Games, with Paris set to celebrate history and potentially restore traditions of the Cultural Olympiad, an element of the Games experience that once rivaled the sports competition.

Los Angeles will innovate things further with more than a decade to prepare. I, for one, can hardly wait to see things take shape over the next 10+ years, not only in the Olympic scene but also personally as I envision relocating professionally at some point, marriage and starting a family, preparing for retirement and other milestone events along the roads and flights to Japan, France and Los Angeles (not to mention future winter Olympic destinations). 

So many surprises occurred in my world in recent months. Who'da thunk Paris and LA would both prove victorious in their bids? Who'da thunk this would be the biggest year in client work for my growing public relations enterprise? Or finding new friends who've proven to be close quality companions? 

I am so optimistic on many fronts, and the creative and unexpected solutions that led to LA28 is inspiring to me. Some very creative and open minds collaborated through flexibility and patience -- the results will be dramatic and fresh.

Now, some have already found ways to poke holes in the future Games sites, like late night TV hosts (all in good fun, LOL). It will be interesting to see how the world's grizzled Olympic reporters rake up crud on which to hang some headlines now that they don't have Rio 2016 to kick around anymore.

As with that September day in 1990, when I returned home from a day of high school senior year classes to learn from my mother "some great news on NBC" that Atlanta won its bid to host the Centennial Games, I will always remember the person I was with and the place at which the LA28 news arrived. Big smiles. Happy. Very happy.

Where will you be in 11 years? Let's all meet in the City of Angels for some fun. Bravo!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Feeling Great (-ish) RE: IOC Vote for '24 and '28

Around noon July 11 word arrived (in the form of back-to-back media advisories from the International Olympic Committee, LA2024 and Paris 2024 and a live stream) that an unanimous vote in Switzerland will change the game for summer Olympic Games bids and hosting.

And now the world officially knows, for the first time in a single IOC Session, Olympic leadership will award both the 2024 and 2028 summer Olympics through a vote set to take place in Lima, Peru, two months from now. 

If IOC President Thomas Bach has his druthers, the dates for the next Games of Los Angeles and Paris will be known as early as August, with the September decision a mere formality. During his remarks with the mayors of Paris and L.A., the notion of "everyone wins" came up repeatedly, and this is apt. 

I applaud change and innovation. It also was good to see the official (and outstanding/flawless) presentations by Los Angeles and Paris earlier today. See the base of this post for the YouTube versions.

During the joint press conference featuring Bach and the mayors of both bid cities flanked by the bid leadership, I was trying to get a read on Casey Wasserman. 

On one hand, there must be some relief. The Olympics WILL RETURN to Los Angeles. Bravo!

On the other hand, there's gotta be a twinge of ... I don't know the right words ... a waft of sour grapes over the decision. Like two Olympians worthy of gold, two Olympic-level committees brought their A-Game, and the IOC is trying to divvy out two top-of-podium medals as if only a millisecond or micrometer separates the two champions from victory. Don't both "Olympians" in this fight deserve to know THE victor for posterity? 

I singled out Wasserman for a read on this because I believe it was his passion and communications savvy that kept LA in the race even with Boston's false start win early in the 2024 domestic race. Though I can only armchair quarterback on the Olympic bid front, I've been in a similar seat-- for comparison, I sat at PRSA and PR Week Award ceremonies awaiting word as to which client (mine or another agency's) would take home top honors, and tie wins kinda suck more than getting a silver! 

Wasserman's game face was all smiles, but I can't help wonder what he said behind closed doors with family or closest associates with less skin in the game. Was he beaming with glee or relief, or a little bit disappointed that his team will always have to wonder "who won, damnit!?"

But this is just speculation and Olympic armchair quarterbacking. I am thrilled that Los Angeles and Paris will follow Tokyo's 2020 Games in some order. The 2020's will be an outstanding and thrilling decade for summer Olympiads, period. Everyone wins, indeed!

Photo via LA2024

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's Olympic Day!

Happy worldwide Olympic Day to you!

As noted on past posts about the occasion to this site, June 23 celebrates the birth of the modern Olympic Movement in 1894. So, happy 123rd Birthday, Olympics!

For 2017, a series of events launched weeks ago with many culminating at special gatherings to encourage people to get out and get active.

I intend to celebrate with a brisk morning walk on the Atlanta Beltline near Piedmont Park (a friend and I recently walked it at 4 a.m. and it's a whole new park after dark).

The International Olympic Committee pages for Olympic Day share more history and current events tied to today. Here in the United States, the USOC also delves into Olympic Day participation options.

LA2024 and Paris2024 are also encouraging participation with a full roster of activities.

From a Los Angeles Olympic bid press release:

LA 2024, the LA84 Foundation, the USOC and The Foundation for Global Sports Development are hosting sports clinics for 500 young Angelenos at Will Rogers State Beach, hosting the American flagship Olympic Day Celebration. Young Angelenos will participate in eight Olympic and Paralympic sports including track and field, fencing, table tennis, volleyball, sitting volleyball, rugby, handball and gymnastics, joined by more than 30 Team USA Olympians and Paralympians.

The U.S. Olympic Committee interactive map of hundreds of Olympic Day events (about 2,400 of them) by state is available to show the coast-to-coast reach of this occasion.

Over in Paris, their Olympic Day press release details options:

In 2017, the whole of France will be decked out in the colours of Paris 2024 during this day, with some 100 activities offered over the whole country. In Paris, Olympic Day will become "Olympic Days" with the creation of a large sports field in the heard of the capital over two days, [creating] a full-scale preview of what the Olympic and Paralympic Games might be like in Paris in 2024. 

Public activities in the City of Light include a cross-city kayak, cycling and running event.

If time permits, here in Atlanta I may head downtown to Centennial Olympic Park to fist-bump the statue of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of all things modern Olympic, and wish his likeness a happy Olympic Day 2017 as well.

Photos via IOC

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Learning and Sharing Some Olympic Intel

About a week ago, the kind of "you've arrived" e-mail about which bloggers dream dropped in as a surprise inbox missive.

The P.R. firm (specifically, a public relations peer met on the Road to Rio last year) wrote to extend an official invitation to an Olympic press conference hosted by "Brand X" (embargoed) and the International Olympic Committee.

After sharing my enthusiastic reply ("Ummmmm, twist my arm!") and a bit more conversation on specifics, I found myself booking my first all expenses paid trip to anywhere (in this case, New York), arriving Tuesday night at the Omni Berkshire.

Part of this post (well, this sentence and most of what appears above it) was written at 3:45 a.m. as I could not sleep over the anticipated news on Wednesday.

Not long after my itinerary got locked and loaded, a handful of fellow Olympic-minded reporters and outlets started breaking the news and speculating on the reasons and timing.

However, it's now official, today in New York's 620 Loft & Garden venue, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and IOC President Thomas Bach joined fellow Intel staff on stage and live from Oregon and Utah to announce Intel is the newest IOC TOP Sponsor. Intel's new worldwide Olympic sponsorship will run from 2017 to 2024 and commence in time for the Games of PyeongChang this winter.

The complete press room for the event is online. Here's one of several videos Intel released.

The ceremony included additional executives from Intel and The Olympic Channel (specifically, the network's CEO Yiannis Exarchos, a veteran of the Games since they reached his hometown in Athens 2004, I learned).

Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings helped press a button at Intel's global headquarters to officially launch the sponsorship.

Back in New York with our media audience, Bach presented Krzanich with a 2018 Olympic torch and an invitation to join the upcoming torch relay.

"Through close collaboration with the Olympic family, we will accelerate the adoption of technology for the future of sports on the world's largest athletic stage," said Krzanich.

Paraphrasing Intel's press release, Intel's contributions to the Olympic Movement will include tech developments rolled out in sequence. Advancements include Intel's 5G platforms to be deployed during Korea's Games.

Intel drone light show technology will create new skyward images at Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Virtual Reality (VR), 3D and 360-degree content development is on deck, too (we tried out some VR headsets with live feed to Park City's ski jump training center and the views were amazing).

Here's another video with an aspiring Olympic snowboarder for Team USA.

On VR specifically, Krzanich and company explained there will be at least 16 live VR experiences from key competitions in PyeongChang.

Imagine the gold medal hockey game with a VR view from inside the net facing center ice, or 360 elements surrounding a luge athlete hurling toward the finish line. Intel's freeD sports technology (already in use with MLB and other network sports) is another emerging tech element demoed on site.

When I asked about the history of the Intel:IOC partnership, Krzanich responded that talks began during and after the most recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) only a few months ago. If a look at the punch list for today's flawless announcement looked daunting, imagine the massive effort commencing to meet deadlines for February 2018.

I, for one, am really excited about this sponsorship. Some really smart and forward-thinking minds collaborated in a pressure cooker of time, and the potential this sponsorship brings to the Olympic Family, other sponsors, the broadcasters, media, athletes and, of course, fans will forever change the Games in positive ways. I am so appreciative to have enjoyed a front seat at the launch.

After the formal Q&A, I spoke with Bach and his communications handler about the history of technology innovations at the Games, bringing up that when Bach competed in 1976, live broadcasts and improving color coverage may have been the "hot new thing" and whether he ever imagined the potential for such a big tech announcement on his watch at the IOC.

"I think nobody could expect that the [technology] development would move so fast," said Bach. "If you see the potential [of Intel's] 5Gs is offering, and how fast it's coming, if you asked people three years ago if would have said it may take maybe another decade but here we are already and it is fascinating to see."

Thank you very much to Intel and their Olympic P.R. team for the opportunity and support in the form of providing travel and accommodations for the journey to their announcement.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Paris 2024 -- Part One: The Arrival

About a month ago -- May 12, to be exact -- I boarded an Air France flight at LAX bound for Paris.

Ooh, la la -- what an amazing experience the trek to the Paris 2024 IOC Evaluation Commission events proved to be. 

Now, before diving in to the French connections made during six days in the City of Light, a quick note from the similar LA2024 experience the prior week.

For arriving media during that experience, the organizers and U.S. Olympic Committee were very generous in providing an Uber account for use in the City of Angels -- much appreciated. It was reassuring to know that upon arrival I could quickly get my own transportation to our downtown media hotel.

So on the approach to Charles de Gaulle airport, I took similar comfort in knowing -- via text from our Paris hosts -- that "someone will meet you at the airport to coordinate transportation."

I envisioned getting through customs, picking up my bag then searching for a welcome committee volunteer or similar to help me board a bus into Paris. 

You can imagine my surprise and delight to find my greeting smiling with his sign "Beinvenue, Monsieur Wolaver" only two steps off the plane and into the gateway. In moments, I was whisked through the diplomat line at customs, acquired my checked back (expedited) and invited to relax in the back of a Mercedes-Benz limousine-style sedan for the drive into the city.


ATR Reporter Kevin w/Mayor Hidalgo
Two hours later our international media entourage joined Paris 2024 communications team members on a floating restaurant on the Seine, later joined by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, who spoke with each of us 1x1 with a personal welcome.

We also shook hands with several Olympians including Paris 2024 Co-Chairman Tony Estanguet, the three-time Olympic champion in canoe/slalom.

We drank so much wine I don't recall much about the walk and ride to the hotel except the Saturday night riverbank crowds, the strobe and search lights atop the Eiffel Tower, and the warm glow of an exciting welcome to Paris on the eve of my 44th birthday. Welcomed, indeed!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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