#32- Mike Moran's Commentary
It's South Korea! The 2018 Olympic Winter Games
By: Mike Moran
July 6, 2011
There is nothing else in sports quite as riveting as the moment of the announcement of a host city for the Olympic Games, even now……………sometimes awkward, refreshingly devoid of the mind-numbing faux drama and choreographed hype of similar revelations (see the first pick in the NBA or NFL drafts), it inspires me still after watching IOC Presidents tear open the envelope and reveal to the world the name of the cities that have held the Games from Lake Placid to London…………..I was drawn to the live television feed this morning from Durban, South Africa, and the IOC President Jacques Rogge’s envelope moment when it came that Pyeongchang, South Korea, had won the right to host the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, and I felt the same electric jolt that struck me in times past when I exhaled after hearing the voices of The Lord Killanin and Juan Antonio Samaranch saying to the world, “Lake Placid, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City.” So, now these Winter Games return for the third time to Asia, and to a nation sustained and carried forward in history by Americans in uniform from 1950-1953, almost 55,000 of them killed and another 103,000 wounded…………the old bitterness and tensions remain on the peninsula, and the demilitarized zone actually runs through the Gangwon province where the Games will be staged, but there is joy there today. As I watched the event this morning, it brought me memories of the drama that unfolded in Seoul in the autumn of 1988 when Samaranch orchestrated the participation of 160 nations in the Games following successive boycotts in Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles that nearly destroyed the Olympic movement…………as the Opening ceremony unfolded on September 17 in the late afternoon at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium, Cuba and North Korea were absent, but it didn’t matter, the world had come together again at the Games…………I was staying at the just-opened Intercontinental Hotel, a few blocks from the main press center and was enjoying the benefits of a personal driver and security agent who had met me at the airport two weeks before and insisted that they were mine for the duration of the Games because, in their words, I was a ‘high Olympic official.” I also had some unusual guests at the hotel on my floor, including the soon-to-be Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner, her husband Al Joyner, the track and field legend Edwin Moses, and their agent, Gordon Baskin………..we had helped Baskin out after the Olympic Trials when he contacted me about wanting hotel accommodations for his stars in a place where they could enjoy rest, quiet and be away from the adoring Koreans, who were mesmerized by Flo-Jo, her flowing hair, long, colorful fingernails, and powerful strides on the track…………..it developed that my driver and security agent, a Seoul police officer, packed Florence and Al into my vehicle each day and we took them to the track for practices, then picked them up and returned them to the hotel while I spent my hours at the press center…………the images of Flo-Jo flying down the track to gold medals in the 100 (10.62) and 200 meters (world record 21.34) remain among our nation’s most vivid memories………….when we took her to the airport to depart on October 3, she was mobbed at the entrance, but took time for a quick picture with the driver and security man, and when she kissed them on their cheeks, it made the pages of a thousand publications across the nation………….that image stays with me, and did even as I presided at her memorial service in Indianapolis in 1998 after her tragic death………..but there are other moments, stored now in my mind’s eye, from those Games in Korea that beguile………….being a human shield as we marched Carl Lewis into a press conference after Canada’s Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal for steroid use and a failed drug test…………..watching, holding my breath as Evelyn Ashford took a baton from Flo-Jo and made up a ten-meter deficit on her anchor leg to roar past East Germany’s Marlies Göhr in the women’s 4X100 meter relay at the tape in 41.98, sitting in the stands as the American men‘s basketball team lost to the Soviets, 82-76, not knowing that this disappointment and bronze medal would lead to the historic decision by FIBA to admit professionals to the Games and the 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona, and getting to see Matt Biondi and Janet Evans amaze audiences in the pool at the Jamsil Indoor venue……………..it was also the beginning of the end of the ugly, methodical sport machines of the Soviet Union and East Germany, which went 1-2 in the medals race again, with 132 and 102 medals to the 94 won by the United States………..the Koreans were in love with the Games, and their place on the world stage. Their pride shown in hundreds of ways, they were great fans at the venues, and wonderful hosts, especially the older Koreans who were there as kids when the USA helped the young nation survive and open the doors to prosperity in 1953………….there remains one story that is among my fondest moments among so many over the 14 Olympics that I enjoyed…………..the United States Olympic Committee was well-known by 1988 for helpful systems and sensitivity to the needs of the hundreds of American journalists and broadcasters who covered the Games, because it was our chance to give our athletes the attention and spotlight that would be theirs once only in four years…………..beginning in Lake Placid in 1980, we had created daily media briefings and access to our teams and athletes at the main press center and venues, something no other nation did, and it had become our signature of sorts……….here were America’s best and brightest, for all the writers and broadcasters from around the world and back home, and thousands of compelling stories told for the first time to millions………..but when we arrived in Seoul in early September, we were told that the manager of the main press center would not allow the USOC to stage media briefings with its athletes there, because it was unfair to the other nations and would be selfish…………no chance to deliver what we had become best at, a blow to our whole operation…………..but one morning at breakfast at 6:00 a.m. in the hotel’s otherwise empty dining room, I met the only other person eating at that hour, the venerable, lionized public relations executive Harold Burson, the founder of global PR firm Burson-Marsteller, my own Mickey Mantle or Stan Musial!……………BM had represented Seoul in the chase for the Games and during the events, and after we shared a table, I told him about our problems at the main press center related to media access to our athletes……………Burson, who remains a cherished friend and advisor to this day, suggested that I get an audience with the executive in charge of international public relations, and arranged that meeting for me the next day………….the meeting was in an office above the main press center, and when I met the organizing committee executive, I noted at least a dozen pictures on his walls of Wimbledon and its tennis greats………….turned out he had served in London at his nation’s consulate and was a tennis fan of immense proportions…………….when he heard my plea about being able to conduct major press briefings, he seemed sympathetic, but unmoved. As the issue appeared to be dead in the water, I managed a final try……….we would bring our U.S. Olympic Tennis team to his center the next day, to show him what we had in mind, and how the USOC staged these opportunities not only for American media, but for the world’s news corps as well. This team was made up of professionals as the sport returned to the Games for the first time in 64 years- Pam Shriver, Chris Evert, Zina Garrison, Ken Flach, Robert Seguso, Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert…………..that was the game-changer, and he stood, extended his hand, and invited us to bring the team in for the audition the following morning. As the team gathered in the morning in our USOC media office in their red, white and blue Olympic uniforms, it struck me that our man might like to meet Chris Evert in his office before the event, so Chris and I went upstairs to his office……….I told the staffer at the desk that I was there with Miss Evert to say hello and to thank him. He overheard me and appeared in the doorway in a second with a huge smile and beckoned us to sit down. Chris, the Wimbledon Ladies Champion in 1974, 1976 and 1981, presented him with an autographed tennis racquet and a U.S. Olympic Team pin set. A photographer was summoned, and she posed with him for a dozen shots. Oh, the media briefing went off without a hitch, with a couple hundred writers and TV types there to see the team, and we were invited to hold as many future media sessions as we wished in the main press auditorium. It was the first of roughly 50 that Bob Condron, my sidekick and press operations genius, would stage during those days now 23 years ago in Korea. But it was the best one.