Thursday, April 25, 2013

Register This

When snowboarding entered the Winter Olympic roster in 1998 at Nagano, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat video on "Wide World of Sports" seemed destined to receive new footage to replace the famous ski jumper gone wild.

I remember watching Japan's snowboarding broadcasts -- crazy feats, crashes and all -- but admit none of the athlete names stuck with me (I was too busy chatting online with two of Iceland's female ski team members via the IBM Olympic Village athlete email system).

The same is true for 2002 and 2006 -- no snowboarder names come to mind now (though Phoebe Mills' transition from gymnastics to snowboarding, and Shaun White's name, "stuck" with regards to the snow sport after 2010).

And it was interesting to learn about the earliest days of snowboarding when the guy who started it all sadly died last year.

With snowboarding curiosity on the brain, yesterday I seized the opportunity to speak with Chris Klug, the three-time Olympian who, I learned, was the first Team USA snowboarder announced for Nagano in '98. Klug went on to win bronze on Valentine's Day in 2002 at the Salt Lake Games (though I attended women's snowboarding on the first Sunday of the Games, travels took me to downtown Salt Lake most of the day that Feb. 14, missing Klug's medal-winning competition -- come to think of it, I spent that evening at Iceland's special pavilion in the Olympic city, but not a single female ski team member showed up).

Back to the call with Chris ...

"Winning bronze [in front of] 25,000 fans, 100 close friends and family," ranks among Klug's favorite Olympic memories.

By phone, Klug also said being the first to qualify in 1998, and walking in to the Nagano Olympic opening ceremony with his coach in awe, exclaiming, "Can you believe how far our sport has come?!" also topped the list of five-ringed recollections.

Arriving as the team's elder statesman, at age 37, in Vancouver also came to mind, said Klug. He said in 2006 he did some broadcasting work during the Torino Games.

But all Olympic glory and memories pale in comparison to what Klug expressed as the biggest moment in his sports career and life: Learning he needed a new liver, and then receiving it through organ donation after a tense waiting game that spanned most of the 1990s.

"I remember getting the call," said Klug.

That call came in 2000, nine years after the diagnosed need for a liver. Klug added that although he was healthier post-transplant, it was a "scary process."

So, in this post, I buried the lede until now: Chris Klug is the only Olympian, summer Games or winter, to compete as an organ transplant recipient.

According to his website, and paraphrasing from our conversation, "The hardest part of the process was the waiting game leading up to my transplant," according to Klug.

Now a real estate agent, part-time snowboard coach and hands-on contributor to the charity he founded, Klug spends a lot of time and energy expressing gratitude for the second chance at life provided by an organ donor.

Klug wants people to know the facts about organ donation, and on the call the G. David Fleming, president and CEO of Donate Life America, shared many important stats everyone should read.

"We want people to realize organ transplants only happen as a result of a family decision to donate," said Fleming.

Taking the steps to register for donation is key.

Organ donation is a topic my mom and I discussed in 1989 in the final days before earning my first driver's license in Oklahoma (at the time and likely now still, parental consent was a requirement). By the time my adult Georgia license paperwork got completed, checking the organ donor box was quick and easy, the right decision for this blogger.

But it was not until recent months that the power of organ donation hit closest to home, as my good friends the Taylor family welcomed their first son into the world. The family learned their baby boy needed a new liver only days after his birth, and young Aaron eventually received the miracle of two liver transplants thanks to the kindness of strangers (read their story of bravery and perserverance via CaringBridge with some Kleenex). I know the Taylors share infinite gratitude similar to the thanks expressed by Klug.

April is national Donate Life month, and I hope this post will inspire many to take a few minutes to learn more and discuss organ donation with those they love most, then if it's right for them, make time to register.

Sharing Klug's inspirational tag line: "Enjoy the ride -- don't take a single turn for granted."

Photo by Dennis Schroeder via ChrisKlug.com

315 and Counting

With just 315 days until the Opening Ceremony for Sochi 2014, today's New York Times featured a full-page photo essay by Moscow-based photographer James Hill.

The online gallery gives a good overview of the upcoming Winter Olympic host city, so sharing it here.

The palm trees remind me of New Orleans.

Photo by James Hill via NYTimes.com

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Laurels for Sports Art


 
In Greek mythology, Daphne's demise inspired creation of laurels.

If there are laurels for Olympic and sports art, it's appropriate Daphne, Ala., is the U.S. hometown for such honors.

The other day I stumbled upon a news item about the Daphne-based American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA). According to the Al.com story, ASAMA recently received a five-ringed donation of numerous (and very valuable) Official Reports for several Olympic Games. Score!

They also unveiled a large statue honoring Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin.

A bit about ASAMA from their website:

Located on the campus of the U.S. Sports Academy ... the ASAMA collection is comprised of more than 1,000 pieces across all media including paintings, sculpture, prints, posters, photography and assemblage. The collection is believed to be the largest of sport art in North America and possibly the world. Also featured is the largest public art offering in the state of Alabama, the famed two-story tall mural by Maestro Cristóbal Gabarrón. “A Tribute to the Human Spirit” graces one wall of the main campus building and has become a landmark on the Eastern Shore [of Mobile Bay].

Scanning ASAMA's online details and virtual tour, it pleased me to learn the organization presents the annual Sports Artist of the Year Award, and I was doubly pleased to find family friend Bart Forbes among the first five recipients of these artsy laurels (his Seoul '88 Olympic stamps were paired with my Olympic Festival commemorative cancellations used by the U.S. Postal Service at U.S. Olympic Festival '89).

Neither Mobile, Ala., nor Daphne are destinations often on my radar, but I may just have to make a special trip to experience ASAMA in person. It's open weekdays and admission is free.

Anyone reading: Have you visited ASAMA and, if so, what did you enjoy most there?

Photos via ASAMA

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blast In Boston

Sad to learn yesterday's news of explosions on the home stretch to the Boston Marathon finish line.

As tragic it is that so many were injured (with three reported deaths as of this post), from my view things might have been a lot worse (thank goodness not) had the explosions detonated near grandstands filled with fans for the first-to-finish celebrity/international runners.

Not long after the Boston blasts, I noted many news outlets quickly drew comparisons to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Olympics, and NBC Nightly News pointed out how a lot of counter-terrorism measures kicked in after the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Associated Press compiled a list of U.S. bombings since the 1800s, with many bomb blasts with which I was not familiar.

Of course, sitting today in the Oklahoma City suburb Edmond, memories of April 19, 1995, are on the brain. So pleased it was not worse in Boston (those days/weeks just after the OKC bombing were rough).

Comparing notes with an Olympic friend last night, I shared my hunch is that the Boston attacks are the work of a domestic attacker, perhaps someone trying to copy the Centennial Olympic Park bomber in some way. The same friend suspects the attack is politically motivated given the international field of runners in the prestigious race. North Korea comes to mind but only as a result of recent headlines (seems highly unlikely they could pull off something in Boston and then sit on it without taking credit).

It's frustrating that only time and hard work by investigators will reveal the culprits. Here's hoping this one can get solved quickly with a lucky break (like investigators enjoyed in Oklahoma, leading to a quick arrest).

One has to wonder how the Boston Marathon attacks may guide the potential beantown Olympid bid for 2024, the city's third consideration of an Olympic bid. Security updates are already announced for the 2016 Games and the 2020 Olympic bid candidate cities in response to yesterday's events.

It's interesting to note Boston's many nicknames include The Athens of America. Be safe. Keep running!

Photos via this link

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Conan's Andy Richter: Dead Set On ATL Tourism





In case you missed it last night on TBS, "Conan" star Andy Richter shared his Atlanta travel log featuring stops at several top Atlanta attractions.

Richter ventured out of The Tabernacle, the downtown home of Conan O'Brien and company last week in The ATL for the warmup to the NCAA Final Four at the Georgia Dome. It's my understanding many from the show enjoyed Centennial Olympic Park across the street from the big old church.

After visiting The World of Coca-Cola, Richter donned a "Walker" zombie look from one of his favorite Atlanta-based TV shows, "The Walking Dead," for some in-costume visits to other tourist hotspots including the Georgia Aquarium and CNN Center.

Prior to meeting Richter at the High Museum of Art (a PR client -- our communications team hosted Richter for "Dead Head" filming), I was a fan of his work on NBC, TBS and elsewhere. He also appeared in a Chicago 2016 Olympic bid video a few years back.

After meeting Richter I'm an even bigger fan for his fun antics, polite interaction with the public, down to earth demeanor and his on camera professionalism.

Richter and a small army of TBS writers, camera and sound operators and an entourage of make-up and prop experts from "The Walking Dead" visited the High Museum of Art on March 29, first visiting some of the museum's permanent collection galleries before shooting an outdoor scene near the piazza of the Woodruff Arts Center. As they say on TBS, very funny.

The Conan sidekick and crew also shook hands and posed for photos with onlookers, and took time to visit briefly with the High's director (see photos with this post). When you watch the final bit from the April 8 "Conan" show, it might taste better with some red licorice (a key prop used for the concluding bite at the end of the clip). Enjoy!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Monday, April 8, 2013

Marion Jones On Choices, God and Stuff

Writing from Oklahoma, where disgraced Olympic champion runner Marion Jones spoke at four back-to-back mega church events on April 7.

I read about Jones' appearances, hosted by People's Church -- a Walmart-sized place of worship a few blocks east of The Daily Oklahoman headquarters -- in a newspaper article this week, and could not miss the opportunity to hear Jones' "testimony."

Jones is that Sydney 2000 track and field champion who once graced magazine covers, talk shows sets and just about everywhere leading up to Australia's Games. On her quest to bring home five medals, she came home with three gold and two bronze.

Most remember also her national headlines upon admitting she lied to federal investigators about performance enhancement. This is what I remembered.

"What are her reflections and lessons learned from jail time?," I wondered.

My choice of the third session was by design -- not too early, not the final session with the usual "we have a plane to catch" rushed departure. Arriving at 11:30 a.m. seemed just right, with hopes but not high expectations for a few minutes to speak with Jones between sessions.

It was no surprise the 20-car line to enter the church's massive parking lot with welcome signs proclaiming "Get ready for an unforgettable experience!"

What did surprise me was the thousands of worshipers singing and clapping to a Christian rock band on stage to warm up the crowd. People's Church, I learned, simulcasts to other places of worship, and Jones' appearance packed in a near-capacity crowd the pastor compared to Easter Sunday.

Before Jones took the stage, a video showed Jones during her pre-Olympic running days and on the court at UNC. Brief sound bytes from coaches, friends and even Olympian Edwin Moses spoke of Jones' athletic prowess. Then Jones' press conference admission of lying played in black and white before some of her post-incarceration feats (playing in the WNBA) brought the viewers to present day.

Jones at last took the stage and shared a mostly candid conversation with the pastor and congregation. Jones did not take questions from the audience, but the pastor did a decent job asking the questions on the minds of many in attendance.

Through her presentation, I learned a few new facts. For instance, Jones was nine and living in Los Angeles during the inspiring 1984 Olympic Games in her home town (though she did not attend in person, the Games inspired her to pursue Olympic dreams).

We also learned Jones made her first Olympic track team for Seoul 1988, opting not to compete because, she said, she preferred to wait for a spotlight to be on her potential feats (rather than share glory as part of a relay team, for instance). Jones majored in mass communications and journalism -- news to me.

It was clear from a young age that Jones set big goals and had a good habit of achieving them.

Jones also did a fine job of admitting her "one bad choice" and detailing the consequences -- jail time at a Texas facility for worst offenders -- after the judge in her case opted to set Jones as an example for others. Jones described moments from solitary confinement and how she found God during this time to reflect.

"God knew the plan all along," said Jones. "Life doesn't stop when you make a poor choice."

Here's where things got muddy for me. Did she say, "poor choice" or was that "poor choices?"

For most of the presentation -- in the video, and during her conversation -- Jones repeatedly came back to a singular poor choice (lying to investigators). Only one time during her 40 minute presentation did Jones allude to other bad choices, stating that in the lead-up to Sydney, Jones surrounded herself with "people telling you what you want to hear" and that she "distanced myself from those who had my best interests in heart (notably, family members)."

I kept waiting for Jones to talk about how God was there when decisions were made about her Olympic training and the 1x1 relationships that got her in a mess that made her lie later (weren't there, like, hundreds or thousands of little lies that crescendo-ed with the whopper that sent her to jail?).

"God knew the plan all along," said Jones, specifically citing that God was there during the [whopper] lie.

But again, no mention by Jones of the years of likely other fibs and mistakes.

"With success, I thought I had it all," said Jones. "Now at 37, I know I have it all." And her life remains a "work in progress," she added.

After the presentation, I inquired with the pastor and Jones' contact, Susie, about a few minutes to speak with Jones and ask some follow-up questions. In explaining Jones was not available for media questions, Susie very politely but told me, in church on the main stage, that she would be emailing me by Sunday afternoon so I could get the following questions to Jones:
  1. During your time in solitary confinement, Marion, what reflections did you have on truth and consequences during the pre-2000 through Sydney years?
  2. If you miss the Olympic Family as much as you seem to, what steps have you considered and executed/offered to help the International Olympic Committee and international track federations fight doping?
  3. You discussed greed in some ways, and pride in a less direct manner -- how have you reflected on each in recent years?
  4. Can you please share more about the logistics of returning your Olympic medals (the physical medals -- who boxed them up and shipped them back) and whether you've spoken with the competitors who received them upon their return to the IOC?
  5. If you spoke with these fellow athletes, how did the experience of meeting them (post-scandal) compare with the weight (and relief) of other admissions?
My friend who spent thousands of dollars to see Jones compete in Sydney asked me to also inquire what she has to say to the throngs of fans who cheered for her, but I will let him pose that question directly. It's clear from post-jail interviews, and her press conference announcement in 2007, that Jones knows these questions will remain on the minds of many as she seeks forgiveness. It was interesting to find her remarks on forgiving one's self when reporters asked for her POV on Lance Armstrong.

After Marion Jones' session today, I did more research and realize some answers to my five questions may be on the pages of her 2010 autobiography, so there's time to find and read a copy while awaiting Susie's email (did I mention Susie  told me she'd be emailing today, while she was shaking my hand on stage in church?).

As for Jones' lack of candor about little versus whopper lies, it seems I'm not the first to question this.

The People's Church exit gave me one more item on which to reflect -- the exit signs from their parking lot proclaim "It's all about changed lives." Amen!

Photos via SusanFarley.com, Babble.com and PraiseCleveland.com

 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert and Life Itself

After many weeks in 2013 without a new Roger Ebert film review, April 3 brought relief when the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic announced a "leave of presence" to recover from another cancer.

His treatment would, he wrote, afford him time to focus on only the movies he wanted to see.

So today's afternoon news that Ebert died in Chicago took the wind out of me.

Tonight, reading his wife's quotes in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert's employer of 46 years, it seems the beloved critic was set to enter home hospice care (a sign he was closer to the end than the optimistic "leave of presence" notice led me to believe).

It's just sad either way.

Reading public comments about Ebert this afternoon, it's clear my stories and memories of the man are not unique. What a life he led!

Clicking on Facebook's "Like" feature took on a different meaning for many selecting "thumbs up" in tribute to Roger.

Many millions got to know Ebert as I did via PBS syndication of his review programs with Gene Siskel. Their review shows were among the few "adult" broadcasts of the late 1970s that my parents let me watch as a preschooler -- their review of the original "Halloween" movie with Jamie Lee Curtis remains seared in my brain (equally for the critique and the scary scene that led to my bedroom closets being open until teen years), as is SNL "Weekend Update" reporter Dennis Miller's mid-1980s announcement that Siskel & Ebert officially got renamed "the fat guy and the other one" (not respectively).

Ebert also made big brown glasses "cool" when my eyesight required lenses (about 1979). Reviews of "Tootsie" and "Thelma and Louise" stand out, as did the credits for their show, my early introduction to urban Chicago.

By my 1991 arrival at Minnesota State University at Mankato, I had more than a decade of Ebert critiques on the brain, and his style inspired not only a "great movies to rent" column for the MSU Reporter, but also my entry in to the mass communications program. My MSU friend Paul Rignell and I shared many Ebert-inspired chats (and spirited debates) as part of the campus film selection committee.

When my first girlfriend asked for Christmas gift suggestions, Ebert's 1993 review compilation was my No. 1 choice, and the more I read his columns (to complement the broadcast versions), the more inspiring the journalism track became (my home library now includes six Ebert review books and his excellent, inspiring autobiography "Life Itself," which I could not put down in early 2012 -- I cannot wait for a lucky filmmaker to turn this autobiography into a silver screen classic).

Ebert's website and blog served as inspiration for this Olympic blog (and occasional film blog) as well.

I love that he wrote captions for The New Yorker cartoon caption contest, entering many times before finally winning (reminiscent of the Olympic motto on the importance of taking part).

And speaking of the Olympics, Ebert also offered commentary of several Olympic moments including Beijing's and London's opening ceremonies. His notes on his Chicago's loss of the 2016 Olympic bid turned attention to other pressing matters for the city to tackle. He reviewed almost every Olympic-related film from "Olympia" to "Chariots of Fire" and "Cool Runnings" with panache.

And he could cook! This New York Times report about Ebert, by Atlanta-based food writer Kim Severson, is one I clipped and placed in the pages of "Life Itself" for future reference.

I am going to miss Roger Ebert.

Photos via the Chicago Sun-Times




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