SBJ/August 6 - 12, 2001/Olympics

Heading to Salt Lake with a whisper

Even with world figure skating champion and proven marketing dynamo Michelle Kwan in the mix, a relatively subdued countdown to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games appears inevitable. There are multiple agendas at work.

NBC, the Olympic television rights holder, plans promos targeting a hip, teen audience that prefers freestyle aerials and snowboarding to bobsled and ice dancing. Sponsors and advertisers are expected to limit pre-Games campaigns because discretionary dollars are tight. And it remains to be seen if an Olympics, mostly live in prime time and on U.S. soil, will create instant celebrities the way the summer Games of 1984 and 1996 did.

Deal maker Nova Lanktree, longtime president of Chicago-based Lanktree Sports Celebrity Network, said corporations hoping to maximize the power of the Olympic rings actually are better off taking a neutral view of the Games, for now. Athletes, sometimes victimized by inflated expectations, also seem to benefit from hype control.

"Can you imagine that an athlete as superior as [sprinter] Marion Jones became a 'disappointment' [at the Sydney Games]," Lanktree said. "If there had been no hype, she would have been perceived as a marvel."

The search for tomorrow's Olympic stars begins with an appreciation for how we came to know them in the past.

"The reason Olympians like [Peggy] Fleming, [Dorothy] Hamill, [Mark] Spitz, [Nadia] Comaneci and [Mary Lou] Retton became the stars they became is because their performances unfolded into spontaneous dramas," Lanktree said. "The purity of that cannot be diminished."

  CHANGE LOOMING AT USOC: Mike Moran, the U.S. Olympic Committee's principal spokesman since 1983, said he will leave the organization in a full-time capacity after the Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games next February. Moran, 59, was hired by the USOC in 1978.

The USOC's managing director for media relations and public affairs said his plans include writing a book and working as a consultant. During his USOC tenure, Moran weathered figure skater Tonya Harding's threatened lawsuit against the USOC on the eve of the 1994 Winter Olympics and the uproar over Salt Lake City's tactics during its campaign for 2002.

  ASSIGNMENT BEIJING: As it does for every Olympic host city, the International Olympic Committee soon will appoint a coordination commission of IOC members to keep an eye on Beijing's preparations for 2008.

Hein Verbruggen of The Netherlands is expected to be named head of the commission working with Beijing. Within the IOC, these posts are akin to being a diplomatic ambassador, in that the chair and his panel's work are rarely noticed until something goes wrong.

Verbruggen, an IOC member since 1996, is president of the International Cycling Union. He also has been a member of the Athens 2004 coordination commission, which has found itself in the eye of a storm as organizers of the Athens Games struggle with construction deadlines.

  OLYMPIC TRAVEL PLANNER: A USOC evaluation panel this month completes its inspections of eight U.S. cities seeking to become a host candidate for 2012 Summer Games. The panel visits San Francisco Aug. 20-23 and concludes with Los Angeles Aug. 23-26. Earlier, the group inspected Washington, Dallas, Houston, Cincinnati, New York and Tampa. ... With the formation of a "shadow" committee, a London bid for the 2012 Games is evolving, according to The Daily Telegraph. ... International Sailing Federation chief Paul Henderson of Canada is urging the IOC to change the dates of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The dates set by Chinese officials, in a late July-early August time frame, fall during a season of intense heat and monsoons, thus raising the obvious question: What were they thinking?

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