Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whistle Stop At Whistler










On day 10 of this Olympic adventure, today felt right to bust out of the city and explore the mountains north of Vancouver.
Via motor coach round trip on the Sea To Sky Highway, I spent a few hours this afternoon in Whistler (disclosure: a client).

This was my second trek to Whistler, but the first during ski season (the previous journey to the mountainside resort took place in August 2009).
It was exciting to view Canadian snow en masse, the further north our bus travelled.

The Sea To Sky Highway is itself an adventure, with awe-inspiring overlooks of several island and miles of seawater juxtaposed with pine-covered, steep slopes of Canadian Rockies. Today was foggy, to the peaks were rarely visible -- fortunately in August it was clear and the pinnacles of stone with blue sky were gorgeous.

About half-way to Whistler, there is a (new?) visitor center at Squamish, definitely worth a look-see for the cultural experience and to snap shots of the Olympic red mittens-clad Paul Bunyan statue on the side of the road.

Whistler is positively buzzing with activity. Every restaurant was packed with diners, while the pedestrian walks were teeming with ski and snowboard traffic, media crews filming pre-Games b-roll, shoppers toting their new five-ringed purchases and construction workers were busy installing temporary staging around every corner.

Unlike Vancouver, which to date remains void of "Look of the Games" bunting, Whistler already has hundreds of feet of fencing in and around official Games areas, and the fences now don vivid Olympic decoration that really pops when it's next to mountain powder.

The biggest surprise of the day: Olympic tickets, by the hundreds, remain on sale at affordable prices. A couple dozen folks were in line at Whistler's official Olympic ticket booth, and I snapped up some Vancouver Medal Ceremony tickets while considering Closing Ceremony ticket options (lots of A level tickets remain available for purchase, apparently, in line daily or via Tickets.com).
No trip to Whistler is complete without a trip to the Boutique Olympique, the town's official VANOC store, but every storefront in town sells Olympic merchandise (a few shops even traded pins).

A note for travelers considering Whistler -- and this was news to me: Driving yourself to Whistler is not an option from now to March 1. There are several types of official vehicle passes, official shuttles/tickets and types of proof of accommodation/residency required to get near Whistler. Lots of traffic pattern changes are going into effect as well, so be sure to research options and requirements well in advance.

Gaga for GRAMMY Awards (and Olympics)

Around the office we've been placing our bets on which Canadian icons -- with or without GRAMMY Awards (set to air tonight) -- might pop up as performers at the 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremonies at B.C. Place.

Of course, Olympic vet Celine Dion, who performed "The Power of the Dream" (the official song of the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay) at Atlanta's Olympic Opening Ceremony, tops the list for Feb. 12 festivities. I'm betting on some other Grammy winners, like Avril Lavigne (who played at Torino's 2006 Olympic Closing Ceremony), or Alanis Morissette (whose music was EVERYWHERE leading up to the 1996 Games).

And then there's dark horse candidates like Canadian icon Leonard Cohen, or a return Olympic performance by k.d. lang, who Canada introduced to the world at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Lady Gaga does not yet have an Olympic connection, but she's hot these days (but not Canadian). Ke$ha is on the charts, too, but again is sans Canadian roots.

My personal hope is that U2 will perform, given their worldwide appeal. But even if Bono eats Canadian bacon, it would be a stretch (my personal hope for 1996 was the R.E.M. of Georgia would perform in Atlanta, and it still is shocking and disappointing they didn't).

Who else should be on the short list for Feb. 12 appearances, song-wise? Who is going to sing the Canadian national anthem? Please share your thoughts as I need to learn more Canada stars while in town.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Devo Will Whip It, Usher Says "YEAH!" To Whistler Olympic Celebration Shows

So, last August, at the tail end of a work sabbatical, travels brought me to Vancouver for the third time.

The week in British Columbia afforded this Atlantan a couple of days in Whistler, site of Olympic alpine skiing, Nordic combined, ski jump, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton competitions. (disclosure: Whistler is a client)

Downtown Whistler surprised and impressed me -- fantastic food options, plenty of shopping, a decent movie theatre, clubs, outstanding hotels and those gorgeous Canadian slopes.

In the summer, lots to do. Come winter, even more. It was cool to see the Whistler Medals Plaza under construction.

Here's hoping I may make it to Whistler again this weekend for an update peek, complete with snow.

There aren't too many Atlantans in the Olympic City yet, so it was thrilling to learn that a fellow hometown resident is among the confirmed performers set to rock Whistler next month: Usher will perform on Feb. 27, the final weekend show of the Games.

Some other top single-name acts are on deck, too, including Devo, Feist, Estelle and OneRepublic. The mountain, it will be rockin'!
Photo via this site

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cultural Olympiad 4-1-1




A national reporter who contributes to a few broadcast shows in the U.S. today asked for story suggestions related to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. "What are some of the Olympic stories that aren't being told but should?" was one question posed.

For a P.R. person, talk about a dream conversation!

In tandem with a client-news-infused response, and donning an objective Olympic enthusiast hat, the first thing that came to mind was the lack of attention for the Cultural Olympiad, too often the red-headed step child of the Olympic Games.

The Cultural Olympiad was a significant element of the Centennial Olympic Games of Atlanta, including four years of major arts, music, literature and film events such as a Nobel Laureate gathering, pre-Games film festival, an Avon-sponsored exhibition on women in culture, Annie Liebovitz photography and the outstanding High Museum of Art exhibition "RINGS: Five Passions In World Art" which brought Rodin's "The Kiss" sculpture and Edvard Munch's "The Scream" to Atlanta.

But at each Games attended since, it's been difficult to impossible to find elements of the Cultural Olympiad for each host city.

I went out of my way to locate programs for Games-related arts events in Sydney to no avail. At Salt Lake, the first Olympics after 9/11, there were a few elements (like the Dale Chihuly installation downtown, which was gorgeous) but the Cultural Olympiad was likely scaled back as funds shifted to security.

Athens had an actual published program for the Cultural events, but most seemed too far afield. And in Torino and Beijing, I found programs but sparse time to experience the arts and music offerings due to timing and work duties.

So it was exciting to find tonight an official "2010 Cultural Olympiad Program Guide" magazine-style free program including almost 90 pages of Vancouver events now through the Paralympics. Get your copy at the Vancouver Public Library. Interested parties should also "know the C.O.D.E." (the Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition) to Connect. Create. Collaborate.

Some of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad events that jumped off the page include Destination Art, Laugh It Out!, KAMP, a Feist concert, the world premiere of "Laurie Anderson: Delusion," "Out From Under: Disability, History and Things To Remember," and the public poster project titled "Endlessly Traversed Landscapes."

Further afield, the celebration sites Whistler Live!, Richmond O Zone and Surrey 2010 Celebration Site are enticing. And in the city, the LiveCity Yaletown and LiveCity Downtown venues (disclosure: Edelman clients) will be hopping, as wil the 2010 Aboriginal Pavillion.

Vancouver has some interesting options for arts at the Games. In the future, it would be cool to see the Cultural Olympiad gain event more attention at the Olympics.

Photos via VANOC's C.O.D.E. site

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Notes On Nancy Kerrigan

It is sad news to read the headlines about Olympic silver and bronze medalist Nancy Kerrigan and her family.

This woman has had more than her share of public scrutiny caused by family and friends in and out of the Olympic figure skating world. The latest news is really a shame.

I found Kerrigan to be likeable and interesting to work with when shen visited a client pavilion in Torino at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Kerrigan was a correspondent for one of the unaccredited media outlets' nightly entertainment shows, and she had some fun working with a professional chef and learning about authentic Italian cooking.

A good sport, Kerrigan made time to talk with fans and guests who recognized her during the TV taping.
Here's hoping things will ease up for Kerrigan in the future.
Photos by Nicholas Wolaver 2006 at Torino

Monday, January 25, 2010

USA Luge Blows Through San Diego


Some of the Team USA national governing bodies are sending regular updates about athlete, coach and equipment news in these final days before Vancouver 2010.

One such update arrived today from USA Luge, informing readers that Olympic lugers will test three bodysuits at a San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel, which may help Team USA shave thousandths of a second off their times in Winter Olympic and other competitions.

According to the press release ...

The Low Speed Wind Tunnel (LSWT) is considered to be the best facility of its kind in the world. The testing methodology and expert staff draw both world-class athletes and top aerospace companies. To date, the LSWT has conducted nearly 100,000 hours of testing and has been used extensively in numerous military and civil aerospace development programs, including those of the F-106, B-58, F-111, F-16, Global Hawk UAV, Tomahawk Cruise Missile, and Advanced Cruise Missile.

Turning USA Luge sleds into cruise missiles in time for their Whistler runs sounds like a good plan to me.

You can meet USA Luge athletes here, and be sure to check out their recent photos and videos or general history of luge and Vancouver 2010 Olympic luge details.

New Friends and Friendly Reunions


The Olympic scene makes it possible to establish new friendships while renewing contact with Games buddies of past Olympiads. During these first few days and nights in Vancouver, it's been fun to meet some new characters and connect with old friends.

On the work front, Paul -- my colleague/office-mate from 2006 client B.C. Canada Place (several dozen of us P.R. types shared one little room in the Province of British Columbia's little log cabin in the piazza) and Beijing roommate/partner-in-crime -- has been a great host while leading Edelman 2010's range of client projects. It's been tremendous fun to learn more about several Canadian colleagues, and everyone has been very welcoming and collaborative for the newbie from the South (they haven't yet seen the giant Stars & Stripes flag about to go up in my office).

One of the other B.C. Canada Place office-mates, Brian, was host for a fun night at Robson Square last Thursday, and I appreciate the new B.C. Province pins from the occasion (also looking forward to visiting the B.C. hospitality areas open in the Vancouver Art Gallery come Games time).

Around town, this week afforded me some time to check out The Bay (disclosure: a client) and the Coca-Cola Pin Trading Centre within its walls (anything Coke feels like back home in Atlanta). In the pin trading scene, some of "the regulars" trading there include some friendly members of the Pacific Pin Club, which will host a pin "Pre-Games Extravaganza" event this Saturday (thank you, several members, for the invitation!).

Thanks are also due to Alex, the B.C. university student (see photo -- she's wearing a red jacket made of a cotton:recycled Coke bottle blend) majoring in performing arts (think "Glee") who, as a recent new hire for Coca-Cola pin hospitality duties, hooked me up with a free pin (when you visit the Pin Center, be sure to bring a pin to get a pin at their worldwide pin map shown in photos with this post) and a table for trading one weekend afternoon.
The pin centre also offers visitors a daily free drawing (as shown in photo) as well as the option to hold up a real Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch for photos (eventually they will also snap photos and place them onto custom pins -- sounds like chocolate and peanut butter perfect combo to me).

As a few fellow collectors asked questions about my blog, they went out of their way to be sure I met Andrea, creator of the outstanding 2010vanfan.ca blog (so far, she is the only fellow Olympic blogger in town with a custom-designed blog Olympic media pin similar to mine). I'm only starting to read her excellent blog posts, and find the interactive map of Olympic venues to be of great interest (a must read/must view for anyone heading to Vancouver).

My old friend and former ACOG colleague, Nippy, arrived today, and we reconnected for the first time since scaling the Great Wall in China. Welcome to Vancouver!

This coming week will be busy-busy at the office, so time to explore may become scarce. Glad to make new connections and renew contact with familiar friends around town.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Setting Up Shop







These last few days were all about setting up shop at my temporary Olympic home in Vancouver.
For the first 17 days in town, I'm roosting on the 14th floor of a Granville Street hotel room nicknamed "the penthouse" facing the skyline and mountain range to the north.
Within a few blocks, everything one could need for Olympic residence and living is steps away -- feels very much like Manhattan sans grit and grime.

Down the hill to the east is our Edelman Vancouver office and the trendy Yaletown neighborhood. If you're heading to the Olympic City, be sure to stop by the Opus Bar for a drink, and get some sushi or a arugula/beet/candied walnut salad at Earl's.

Along Granville Street, the best dining option explored thus far was Taf's Cafe and Gallery, where they offer a tasty open-face Cajun chicken sandwich, fresh sangria and other delicious appetizers with great dance music (their chocolate mousse and coffee dessert special hit the spot, too).

There are two movie theatres within four blocks, as is The Bay (disclosure: a client), the upscale shops of Pacific Centre, as well as Robson Square, access to the Skytrain and Nesters Market. CTV's Olympic Studio is up and running.

I'm on the hunt for a decent taco shop and margarita, and will appreciate any local suggestions.
From this 14th Floor perch, it's cool to gaze upon the building-size banners going up in every direction, including all four sides of one tower to the north (now covered with a Welcome to Vancouver greeting from the Olympic mascots -- see photos). And the weather report tonight brought some welcome news for VANOC as a few flakes of snow fell on the Vancouver area slopes.
Spotted a truckload of NBC Sports technical team unloading gear from a truck into their apartment tower around the corner.
It is so on!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sorry, Sasha

It was thrilling tonight to see Olympic Figure Skating silver medalist Sasha Cohen give it a shot for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Team. It would have really been something for her to be a three-peat Olympian after skating at Salt Lake in 2002 and Torino in 2006.

Watching Cohen skate this evening -- during the AT&T 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash. -- brought back memories of last March, when Cohen was skating on tour in Atlanta and she took time for a blogger interview rink side at Philips Arena (was it really only 10 months ago when it was uncertain whether she'd be competitively skating now?).

Sorry to see Cohen won't be in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympic figure skating as a returning Olympian, but I have a feeling she'll be spotted around town doing paid appearances to adoring fans.

Best of luck to the U.S. Figure Skaters who apparently will be coming to Vancouver, including Rachel Flatt and Mirai Nagasu (is it just me, or is it too weird to see another U.S. ladies figure skater, Nagasu, head to a Canada Olympiad with music from "Carmen" in her main routine? Not another Debi Thomas, please -- if Nagasu is to skate to Bizet, she better keep her Witts about her).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Touchdown At Vancouver






After years of work and planning, and months of anticipation, I woke up this morning jazzed about the "travel day" notation in my work calendar.

Two flights and two taxi rides later, tonight it is great fun to write from Vancouver, the Olympic City, from the 14th floor of a downtown high rise hotel, a.k.a. "home" at the Olympics for the next three weeks (Edelman, the P.R. firm where I work, has an apartment arranged for the three weeks following this hotel arrangement -- looking forward to living without a car for several consecutive weeks).

Flying into Vancouver for the third time in as many years, this evening marked my first night-time arrival to Canada, and it was cool to disembark from United Airlines Flight 97 to enter the newly-decked-out YVR airport, with colorful "Look of the Games" banners, billboards and other decor on just about every surface.

For those arriving at Vancouver via air, you may anticipate a short green walk (most of the carpet is forest green) to an enormous First Nations carving and gorgeous fountain that surrounds the escalators to Passport Control. Luggage retrieval is a breeze, and just outside the baggage claim area I was happy to complete my first Olympic pin trade of 2010 with two friendly Information Kiosk volunteer workers (look for them, donning lime green jackets, under the big "?" question mark sign before grabbing a taxi or the train into the city).

If you deplane hungry at Vancouver International Airport, from the arrivals area head upstairs to the food court (excellent selection of Asian cuisine) and one of the Olympic Stores operates across the atrium from an enormous emerald-colored First National sculpture that is reminiscent of George Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Heading to this area is worth the trip also for a peek at the giant touch-screen Samsung "official phones of the Vancouver Olympics" with what appeared to be plasma touch screens with real working (and over sized) phone apps for fun (I watched some kids send a text message "Brian You Suck" handwritten on screen - LOL).

I was pleased the taxi ride to downtown was only $28 (last time I found the new city train to be fantastic and easy, but tonight there were too many bags to brave the rails). It was cool and memorable to cross the waterfront via Granville Street Bridge (is that what it's called?) and find all the city's neon lights fired up, much like the gargantuan million-dollar Olympic Rings lighting up the airport road (tonight in all-blue, but according to the cabbie, they change colors daily) -- it's going to be a remarkable Olympiad here!

The buzz so far regarding the Games (including feedback from the airport volunteers to the cab driver, hotel staff and Yaletown neighborhood grocery clerk) is that the weather is of concern as it's been a bit warmer than a typical January for the last several days (tonight typing this post I have my balcony doors open as it feels like it's about 65 degrees Fahrenheit outside -- gorgeous!).

The local TV weather reporters predict continued rain this week, and sustained warmth (hallelujah!), which leads me to the following weather prediction (you read it here first): It will snow in downtown Vancouver on Feb. 12 just in time for Opening Ceremonies!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tom Green Comedy Tour Atlanta Debut & Review

About a week ago, I was excited to learn that Canadian comedian Tom Green planned a return to Georgia.

The "Freddy Got Fingered" and "Road Trip" star tonight launched the U.S. leg of a "World Standup Comedy Tour" at Atlanta's Funny Farm Comedy Club in suburban Atlanta (just north of B.F.E., er, in Alpharetta, Ga., to be exact).

I've always enjoyed Green's off-beat humor, particularly his "Tom Green Show" bits, occasional appearances on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" (in particular, one segment he filmed at then-client B.C. Canada Place in Torino during February 2006, and, of course, this scene from one of his films (sorry, this YouTube link does not set up the scene with its tearful father-son goodbye).

Unfortunately, for the $25 ticket price, plus standard comedy club two-item/drink minimum, and the loathsome drive "Outside The Perimeter" ("O.T.P." for local Atlantans who reside in town), Green did not deliver the goods in his live comedy tour debut.

Though Green's live show has some potential to be great, it needs a lot of work before Comedy Central or any other network is going to come knocking for a TV special. (By the way, Chris Rock's most recent tour is now in rotation on Comedy Central and worth a look -- hilarious!).

On the plus side, the biggest laughs for Green were some you might expect. First the Drew Barrymore jokes. Then the testicular cancer/one-nut jokes. And then Green rolled out some of the script from "Freddy Got Fingered" and "Road Trip" -- all mostly fun and funny. His facial expressions do induce hearty chuckles on their own.

Things finally got funnier when Green launched into a few digs about reality TV, his own recent antics on "The Apprentice" and apt observations on American TV watching habits -- mostly bad habits and TMZ drivel (I happen to agree with Tom's remarks on this front, and hungered for more swings at paparazzi). My favorite was Green's take on the fate he wishes for "American Idol" flash-in-the-pan stars versus icons of rock'n'roll like The Rolling Stones (bravo, Tom!).

Probably the most original lines of the show were Green's descriptions of male adolescent anticipation, circa 1985 (pre-Internet), of the arrival of the Sears Catalog, and how in the same era the only way to find porn (other than the "PG-rated" stuff via Sears lingerie and swimsuit pages) was to discover discarded adult magazines in the woods "with sunlight shining down through the leaves lighting the way" (a lot of the mostly-Thirtysomething male audience members were nodding and nervously laughing in agreement).

But you could tell Green was struggling when only half-way through the performance he succumbed to audience pleas to "sing the 'Bum Bum' song" or "say the line about [fill in the blank from any of Green's films]." Of course, he did, briefly, pick up a guitar and start to play, but only the one recycled tune (well, at least a line or two from it).

It was disappointing that every time Green seemed to be on to something new and funny, the train of thought pulled back to (especially by 2/3 through the show) overused lines from past works.

When Green lamented, guitar in-hand, that for his big screen films, he only came up with the "Bum Bum" song, he seemed to be perceiving his own missed opportunity. On stage tonight felt right to debut an original tune for the tour, but missed opportunity again prevailed as Green put away the guitar after only a few bars.

The same thing happened when he feigned launching into a rap tune -- first time, something from the past. Second rap-song cued, Green held back sans delivery of new material. Near the end, Green asked the bartenders for a real drink, which he pounded; it was difficult to tell whether this was a panic move to buy some time and regroup versus a planned part of the act.

The appalling final lines and prop for the show, though not entirely predictable, retreated again to the past -- regrettably the intended shock and awe actions only seemed to resonate with part of the crowd (with some polishing this could be a huge crowd pleaser for future shows).

To his credit, Green and his opening act (a Dallas-born stand-up comedian with some potential that may be realized via this tour) took time after the show to shake hands or pose for photos with audience members and sign autographs. Green even made time for a quick backstage video interview (unfortunately, batteries kaput -- yours truly sucks at remembering to install new batteries), during which I got in three questions:
  1. Where will the "Tom Green Comedy Tour" go next? (this part made it on video before the batteries died)

  2. What is Green's take on the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien actions of late, considering Green used to appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" as a correspondent? (Green took the high road on this question, stating only he "loves those guys")

  3. What was Green's favorite memory or experience related to the Olympics, considering his aforementioned work for "The Tonight Show" in at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics? (Green answered "meeting you" before giving me the most patronizing high five and disappearing into the kitchen of The Funny Farm -- lame).

Should you see Tom Green's Comedy Tour? If you're a hardcore fan who wants to hear Green retread old material, knock yourself out. Here's hoping tonight's lackluster debut was just a warm up for better things to come -- Green has the goods. Just needs to deliver them better.

Image via Tom Green



Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Streetcar Named FLEXITY

Too bad Marlon Brando isn't around for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, as the Olympic City apparently has a new streetcar named "FLEXITY" set to open -- and operate free for several weeks -- connecting downtown Vancouver visitors with just about everything on the waterfront.

According to the city's website and fact sheet, this spanking new Bombardier vehicle will quietly and cleanly wisk winter sports fans (and everyone) along the Olympic Line at no charge from January 21 to March 21 -- 60 days of not taking the bus.

This is good news for the thousands of likely carless-in-Vancouver visitors descending on B.C. Loving that the Olympic Line treks right up Cambie Street (site of my office). Bravo!

Hey, Stella -- see you at the FLEXITY station!

Help For Haiti

It's tough to watch/read/hear the headlines streaming in from Haiti.

On the Olympic front, Around The Rings reported yesterday that contact with the Haiti Olympic Committee is not yet re-established following the Haiti earthquake.

A few years ago, a friend told me about Shelterbox, the international relief organization that delivers portable shelters and supplies to disaster regions worldwide. It was good to see that CNN included Shelterbox among many options to send help for Haiti.

Same day update: Around The Rings reported afternoon Jan. 14 that the Haiti Olympic Committee leadership is safe.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vancouver Bound

Excitement is growing as there are just 29 days to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies.

Closer to home, it's less than a week before my own relocation to British Columbia for a six-week assignment via Edelman, the P.R. firm where I work.

Edelman's roster of Vancouver Olympic clients includes two Worldwide Partners, the leadership of the global Paralympic movement, top global and Canadian brands, nonprofits tied to Vancouver's organizers and one of Canada's national heroes.

I can hardly wait to hit the town and get to work!

My colleagues to the north set up Edelman2010.ca, accessible from January 12 to March 31 for information regarding clients:

  • 2010 Legacies Now, the first of its kind nonprofit organization within the Olympic movement, focused on creating social legacies for all of British Columbia

  • GE, Worldwide Partner of the Vancouver 2010 Games

  • Hudson’s Bay Company, National Premier Partner and Official Outfitter of the Vancouver 2010 Games

  • International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement

  • LiveCity Vancouver, THE destinations to capture the colour and spectator experience of the Vancouver 2010 Games, including free family entertainment and performances from headline artists

  • Oakley, supporting almost 300 athletes worldwide by providing customized eyewear for competition

  • Panasonic, Worldwide Partner of the Vancouver 2010 Games

  • Petro-Canada, National Premier Partner of the Vancouver 2010 Games

  • Rick Hansen Foundation, Rick is a true Canadian hero, having wheeled 40,000 km around the world; he’s co-mayor of the Olympic and Paralympic Athletes’ Villages and will host "The Difference Makers," a 17-part program on CTV during the 2010 Winter Games

And the good word from Vancouver is that there are at least two more "to be announced" projects/partners on deck, while my colleagues in New York are working on sharing details about client Zagat, which just published its Vancouver 2010 Pocket Guide (I'm picking up a copy for my Olympic packing list).

This is my third Olympiad via Edelman, and the first where I won't be working at a B.C. Canada Pavilion (as in Beijing) or B.C. Canada Place (as in Torino), enriching experiences of 2008 and 2006, respectively.

Each Games, with then-client The Province of British Columbia, taught countless lessons about Vancouver, Richmond, Whistler and all the Olympic host province locales and offerings. It's very cool to approach the eve of actually residing in B.C., and to soon experience the region in detail, if only for 40-or-so days. Looking forward to creating new Games experiences and stories (and blog posts!) very soon.

Photo via Flickr user www.claytonperryphotography.com

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival Scores w/ "Berlin 36"


While on sabbatical in Munich last summer, it was fun to stumble upon a new Olympic film with the title "Berlin 36."

Of course, at the time it seemed there was no hope of screening this film any time soon (trailer here) -- I speak/read no German, and the art-house "look" to the preview did not hint of mainstream release (it was later revealed the film opened in Germany in September 2009).

So it was delightful news to learn the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) landed "Berlin 36" as its premiere showcase film for the 2010 event, the festival's 10th year in Georgia.

With thanks to the P.R. team for AJFF, I viewed "Berlin 36" at home and look forward to viewing the big screen version at the Festival Premiere event tomorrow evening.

The festival's other films, including some sports-themed titles (especially the sumo-scale "A Matter Of Size" regarding the Japanese sport), are on my to-do list for the final days before heading to Vancouver (be sure to check out the AJFF's complete schedule).

But back to a review of "Berlin 36" ...

"Berlin 36" portrays the true story of Gretel Bergmann, a Jewish high jumper from Laupheim, Germany, who was on track to win the gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games until a range of political moves involving the Nazi Party, German track officials, the I.O.C., U.S. Olympic Committee and others led to Bergmann's undeserved dismissal from the German track team only weeks before the XIth Olympiad Opening Ceremony.

The curious twist to the already sad story of Olympic-level anti-Semitism is that the German team replaced Bergmann with a "female" high jumper who was, um, "equiped" for competition.

Contrary to the review by The Sunday Paper in Atlanta, whose critic incorrectly identified the "female" athlete as "transvestite," the real-life competitor named Dora Ratjen was a hermaphrodite (distinctly different from transvestite in that s/he may have had both boy and girl parts under her/his track suit). Ratjen's 4th place finish at the Berlin Games went down in Olympic history among the first cases for the need for gender testing in sport.
UPDATE ADDED Jan. 13, 2010: I stand corrected -- in the previous paragraph I got it wrong. The correction: The Sunday Paper correctly reported that Dora Ratjen was transvestite, not hermaphrodite, according to comments made by Kaspar Heidelbach, the director of "Berlin 36," during the Q&A session on opening night of the AJFF. "I have seen the [Ratjen's] medical file," said Heidelbach, when responding to audience questions. At an AJFF post-premiere dessert event, Heidelbach further clarified that he tracked down Ratjen's medical records [confirming transvestite status, rather than hermaphrodite] via a former East German official who located the files in Moscow. Therefore, Ratjen apparently had boy parts under his track suit.

"Berlin 36" does a fairly good job at showcasing the behind-the-scenes workings of Germany's preparation for the 1936 Olympics. It was interesting to view the film maker's take of the Olympic City in the opening scenes and during the climactic buildup to the actual competition in the Berlin Olympic Stadium (these scenes were reminiscent of pre-Games/during-Games of Paris 1924 as portrayed in "Chariots Of Fire" and in the classic Olympic caper "Charlie Chan at the Olympics").

The special effects addition of airships to some outdoor scenes are intriguing, too, though almost but not quite on par with the works of George Lucas. The real story on Hindenburg at the 1936 Olympics is worth a look.

Where "Berlin 36" left me hanging was some of the obviously "made up facts" that turned the real-life drama faced by Bergmann into "historic fiction" and farce.

In a phone interview tonight with Ms. Bergmann -- a New York resident of more than 70 years, for decades using the name Margaret Lambert (now age 95) -- I asked her to clarify a few things in "Berlin 36" and learned a lot from the conversation.

"I first learned they were planning a film [about my life] about three years ago," said Lambert. She explained that the filmmakers asked for her input during the production, and she met several members of the "Berlin 36" cast and crew, including Karoline Herfurth, the actress who portrays Bergmann (some might recognize Herfurth from her part in "The Reader").

"There were some things [about "Berlin 36"] I felt should be changed," she added. "But we came to an agreement."

The elements Lambert mentioned for change included the recommendation that the filmmakers use a pseudonym for Ratjen, which they did. But in spite of Lambert's input, the script was not altered from fiction to fact when it came to the "friendship" between the Jew and she-male athlete.

"We were roommates -- that was fact," said Lambert. "But we were never that friendly [as portrayed later in the film]. We only ever talked about sports and high jump, but nothing personal whatsoever."

Certainly, by the conclusion of "Berlin 36" the Bergmann-Lambert story was completely off the tracks.

"We did think it was odd that she [Ratjen] was shy and would not shower with the other girls," said Lambert of the film's portrayal of her teammate and bathing. "But I did not learn that he, or she, was a man until I read about it in a magazine at the dentist office ... in 1968!

"I laughed out loud and thought 'oh, there she is, my roommate' and everyone else in the dentist's waiting room thought I was crazy!"

Lambert went on to state that overall she is very happy about how "Berlin 36" turned out, but she thought some of the made-for-big-screen drama was "stupid" or "silly" but she understood why the filmmakers had to do what they did "for effect" and she was "O.K. with it" because, Lambert said with a chuckle, "no one would watch an hour-and-a-half movie only about high jumping."

Lambert also mentioned she was impressed with Herfurth's preparation for the role of the Olympian-in-training Bergmann.
"That girl trained for three months," said Lambert.

I do recommend that anyone should see "Berlin 36" at its multiple screenings during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival or when it comes to a theatre near you. Though off-track from fact in later scenes, it does do justice to Lambert-Bergmann's place in Olympic track and field history while offering insight and answers to that often-asked question, "why do they have gender testing in the Olympics?"
Update Jan. 13, 2010: For another interview with Ms. Lambert, read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conversation written by Howard Pousner.

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It's not every day one gets to interview a 1936 should-have-been Olympian, so in addition to discussing "Berlin 36" I also asked Lambert her perspective on other Olympic topics.

I had seen in biographies of Lambert that she moved to the U.S. in 1937, and she proclaimed she would never return to Germany but later did. So I asked for some more specifics on her decision to go home in recent years.

"The first time I went back it was to Frankfurt, and then a couple of days in my hometown," said Lambert. "I was very nervous. But I'm glad I went. I learned that people there still feel very guilty about what happened, and you could not blame them for what their parents and grandparents did."
When asked her perspective on the tragic events at the Munich 1972 Olympics, and the extent to which she may have drawn a connection to Berlin 1936, Lambert said, "I was very upset during Munich and thought they should have immediately closed the Games. But I don't think I drew any connection between Berlin and Munich -- what happened in Munich was just horrible."

I also asked Lambert about her trek to the USA in 1937, and whether she made the journey in an era when Zeppelins were the common Germany-to-North America Trans-Atlantic option.

"I came over on a ship later in 1937, after the Hindenburg," said Lambert, correctly noting that lighter-than-air travel quickly ended after the May 1937 explosion in New Jersey ended the Zeppelin travel era. Of the Hindenburg tragedy, Lambert added, "I was sorry people died but very happy the Nazi symbol [the Hindenburg] was destroyed."

On the topic of "did you go on to compete in other sports after the high jump?" Lambert explained, that when she left Germany, she was only allowed to take $4 with her to America, so it was a tough start upon arriving in the USA.

"I played tennis and golf working at a summer camp," Lambert said. "And I hit a home run the first time I was up to bat in baseball."

Of the Fosbury Flop that now dominates high jump, Lambert said, "I would never have learned to do that."

Our conversation also touched on the South African woman who won gold at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, which took place at the Berlin Olympic Stadium. Though neither Lambert nor I could recall Ms. Caster Semenya's name, we both remembered the gender issues brought up during the Berlin track event.

Both Lambert and I wondered the extent to which Semenya's future competitions may inspire interest in "Berlin 36" and the extent to which the film might inspire further conversation about Semenya.

"When I saw her [Semenya] on TV, I instantly thought she was a man," said Lambert (and so did I, frankly). But Lambert did not draw parallels to the 1936 gender issues. Instead, Lambert noted her take on modern Olympians.

"I don't think the Olympics are what they used to be," said Lambert. "We did it for the love of sport, and now they do it for the money."
Photos via AJFF and Berlin 36 official site

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Borderline

An article on the USA Today online travel section just started me whistling that Madonna tune "Borderline."

It's been about three years since my lone drive from Seattle to Vancouver via the Washington:British Columbia border crossing. According to today's report, if I'm to repeat that transnational trek again next month there may be a longer wait and more detailed search of the vehicle.

So in case you're planning to drive from anywhere in the USA to the 2010 Winter Olympic metropolis, be sure you plan ahead and bring your required documents.

If only I could drive one of those T-top Datsun Z cars (as featured in the "Borderline" video) ...

New CEO for USOC

According to several national media reports (first with the news was the Chicago Tribune), the U.S. Olympic Committee will today announce its new CEO Scott Blackmun.

Here's a link to the U.S.O.C. press release.

This appears to be good news for the Olympic Movement stateside, and it will be interesting to monitor Blackmun's progress and the USOC's changes with his leadership.

Here's hoping in future press releases, the committee will get rid of the overused-in-press releases (and old-fashioned) canned-quote intros "we are pleased ..." and "I am thrilled ..." for their executive statements (to their credit, the quotes that appear without these intros are informative and interesting).

While on the USOC site, also found a handy link to "Support A Sport" connecting Winter sports fans with the National Governing Body (NGB) for easy contributions to the Vancouver 2010 cause. Good stuff.

Photo via USOC

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back to Blogging

The last few weeks were a bit insane.

Holiday treks to Oklahoma and Milwaukee, and some post-holiday catch-up work at the office kept me away from blogging, but with only a few weeks to go before the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremony, I'll endeavor to post daily or near-daily for the weeks to come.

Here's a random hodgepodge of Olympic topics, story suggestions and general stuff that piqued my interest in recent correspondence or trolling online:

See you in Vancouver! Only 37 days to go!

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