Thursday gave us some rain, a press conference with Sanya Richards, Lo Lo Jones an Allyson Felix. All three are consumate stars and are three of the true new stars of our sport.What was ironic was that Doug Logan, the new CEO of USATF, had a chance meeting with some of the media after the press conference, including me.
My first impression of Doug Logan? Sincere, focused, driven, and he knows he has a great sport with fantastic athletes to market. The key is, can he convince the global sports marketing big whigs?
Beijing Diary, August 14, 2008
Rainy days in Beijing.......
It is nearly five pm on Thursday, less than twenty four hours before the start of the real Olympics, track & field. The humidity in the National stadium, with 91,000 people is going to be a poster opportunity for free perfume. Humidity, close quarters, this is going to be an Olympic experience!
But, I have digressed. I have been waiting since last Saturday for track & field to start, so I am getting quite excited, sports fans! But, before I begin to drool about our sport, a few things need to be covered: namely, what happened today.
I had a first today. After nearly a week of more taxis than one could throw a boiled carp at, I had to wait for nearly an hour in Sunyi for a taxi. The driver was quite industrious, as he spoke not a word of English He used his phone to call China Mobile, and handed me the phone. The women asked me, in nearly perfect English, where I planned to go. I said, " MPC" and she then spoke to the driver in Mandarin and we were off!
Leaving at 12:15 PM put us in mid day traffic. Midday in Beijing on the highway was pretty full, but it moved okay. The driver was able to put me right outside of Security near the Hotel Intercontinental, which is built into the Main Press Centre. Security is quite quick and very polite. My computer is removed, and bag and computer go through scanners similar to US airports. I always make the buzzer go off, so I am scanned by the hand held scanner. They find the metal plate in my head, and I am off!
Young people are the ones who speak English and they do it with enthusiasm. I complement them on their pronunciation and if they ask me how to say something better, I will suggest an option. Most of the time, it is me complementing and the young ones grinning with appreciation.
I can not say how nice all have been. I have befriended the security team in my compound, and they wave as I walk in the morning by their guard stations. The young men are quite young, 16-20, my guess, and are as fascinated with me as I am with their discipline and demeanor.
Again, remember, dear readers, this is an Olympics. This is the world stage. And if you can not find a real controversy, it is best for 15,000 media to create one. There are several hot stories going around, so I will pass them on, in the thoughtful reasoning of clearing up some misconceptions:
a. LIp syncing---it has been done on Saturday Night Live, it was done here. Apparently, one of the cute little girls who sang at opening not only lip synced, she was doing a Mili Vanilli-sorry, sad attempt at reminding world of two sad singers who won Music Awards only to be outed a year later as fakes. In this story from Beijing, apparently a party Official did not like the young girls' voice, her demeanor, her look was fine, so they had another girl sing. The only mistake here was that they tried to hide it or ignore it. Due to the handling, it is getting airplay. When is the IOC and LOC going to hire a really good PR person to deal with this sloppiness?
b. Fake Fireworks--there were wonderful fireworks on TV for the four billion television viewers. They were apparently also fake, dubbed into the broadcast and worked on for over a year. Again, sloppy management here, the idea of trying to pull off such a sham. All it does is take away from the Beijing games and hurt the credibility of the LOC.
c. Drug testing-some athletes have complained on the amount of testing going on here. It might be that, the athletes complaining are facing multiple test, both urine and blood,due to the huge increase in testing over Athens, and also the lack of testing in their home country. Many countries have very little testing out of competition at all. The IAAF and WADA are hard pressed and have to focus on where they can get to many of the athletes. A couple of athletes, who have had previous issues with the drug police, were actually met at the airport and tested.
d. Michael Phelps is the story that NBC pushes in US, but overhere strange reaction to Mr. Phelps, allow me to explain:
a. Since there are no Chinese swimmers of his level, it is not big story in Chinese papers, from People's Daily on down. At the track press conference today, Jere Longman of the NY Times, a keen observer of the Olympic sports scene asked the assembled athletes if, with the ease that Mr. Phelps seems to set records and win medals-five races, five records, five gold medals, shouldn't Carl Lewis be considered the greatest Olympic athlete of all times? Also the questions have been made that no one in track & field could attempt such a feat as that would mean running 100 meters to 10,000 meters-and it was impossible for 200 meter and 400 meter events to be doubled in Beijing!
Here is my take: Swimming gets a stage like this once every four years. Phelps is a special athlete and NBC has focused on swimming-some of that is good and some is bad. NBC focusing on your sport changes the schedule, and makes the TV time slot more important than the needs of the athletes. Swimming is a totally different sport than track & field, and Phelps is amazing-eleven medals were not given away, the young man earned them.
My belief, however is that Carl Lewis' fourth long jump gold could be the greatest performance EVER in Olympic history. Lewis was older, wiser, and a supreme competitor. His sports savvy won it for him, his ability to call on his ability one last time, and his focus gave that performance, at his advanced age, a special place in history.
The conundrum of Mr. Phelps is that his supremacy is hard to fathom for some. The way NBC has crafted the coverage has attracted American audiences. The whole Olympic medal count is a big deal in US and much pride and too much emphasis is placed on that.
Give Michael Phelps his due. His performances here will dazzle in the U.S. for the general sports fan, be confusing for the Chinese fan and be the beginning of some wonderful discussions among athletics fans.
Meeting Doug Logan
Doug Logan is the new CEO of USA Track & Field. He has got off on the right foot, in my mind, attacking the use of drugs in sports and speaking out on better testing, more frequent testing and how drugs is the bane of the sport's existence.
But Mr. Logan has more to say and my guess is that we will see this over the next few months. Logan understands the new opportunities in new media for athletics. " It is a way for me to get my message out unfiltered," was how Doug referred to my queries about his quick adoption of the blog as a messenger to the sport.
In a short conversation with about a dozen media, after the Sanya Richards, Lo Lo Jones, Allyson Felix press conference on Thursday afternoon, Logan showed that he quite adept at dealing with the press. Self deprecating, quick witted, Mr. Logan spoke of the need for a circuit, both indoor and outdoor in the US, that has to be global in relation to the sport. He admitted that he shared, " in theory" the IAAF goal of developing a global circuit for the Golden League in the future. He made it clear that he had not studied the IAAF proposal and just was not ready to expound on it. Logan spoke of the attractive and communicative young sports heroes he has to market for USA Track & Field. He sees that as an obvious positive. He also knows that he must capitalize on the positive buzz that will come from Beijing.
I had a moment to introduce myself and Mr. Logan, who noted he has been doing his job less than a month ( remember, he started on July 17), did make a few good points with the assembled members of the fifth estate.
He noted that he needed to find new sponsors and that success would be a function of communicating the excitement in the sport, the opportunities with a generation of clean, attractive athletes who are true success stories.
One writer continued to press that perhaps more people would be interested in seeing Sanya Richards on Dancing with the Stars than on the track, to which Logan deadpanned, " Then we will use that ." He was also asked about NBC and their changing interest in track & field, to which he said he was not consulted on that, and that in the three weeks he had been on the job, he did not have a chance ( humor) to speak to the powers that be about that.
In truth, Logan is in his honeymoon. Some honeymoon. He is at the global stage where most countries would kill for one hundredth of his success, and yet the IAAF, and IOC are absolutely confused over USATF and the USOC's inability to translate that success to a larger position for the sport in the United States.
Good Luck Mr. Logan, you will need it.
For more on USATF, please check out http://www.usatf.org