Sunday, May 27, 2007

Korea's Winter Olympic Bid

Today, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Bahng Jae-Heung, Secretary General of the PyeongChang 2014 Winter Olympic Bid. It was the first time that I’ve been able to witness the thick of a bid process. Mr. Jae-Heung provided valuable insight on the Olympic movement in South Korea and how the 1988 Seoul Games laid the foundation for future Olympic success.

In little over a month the International Olympic Committee will vote to decide if South Korea will be only the second country in Asia to host the Winter Games. The other finalist candidate cities include Salzburg, Austria and Sochi, Russia. If I was a betting man, I’d put my money behind PyeongChang. For one, they benefit from a geographical advantage. By the time the 2014 Winter Olympic Games come around, they’ll have been held in North America twice (2002 & 2010) and Europe once (2006) since Asia was last host (1998). Often criticized for being overtly European-centric, the IOC has the opportunity to spread the Olympic message to an even greater part of the world.

In addition, the bid itself is solid and should win on merit alone. Unlike many Winter and Summer Olympic, the PyeonChang bid aims to accomplish something greater than the mere spectacle. In my experience, the legacy of such hosts has a greater long term impact than their uninspired counterparts.

Mr. Jae-Heung identified three key legacies that will be left for Korea. First, the Olympic investment will help develop the infrastructure of the Kangwon province. There has been efforts in recent years to encourage population growth outside of Seoul and this development could help the province immediately.

The second legacy ties in to the first and is one that would have an even greater impact on the larger Northeast Asia region. As the economies continue to emerge and mature, interest and participation in winter sports will advance as well. Korea provides a less expensive option for enthusiasts in Asia and could potentially emerge as a major actor on the winter sports scene. Such a development would have a direct impact on both the economic and social levels.

The real factor I am interested in is the third potential legacy. Instead of paraphrasing his response allow me to quote at length:

The third legacy would be the largest legacy that we could leave behind. The Korean peninsula is divided into South and North Korea. The Kangwon province is also divided. It is the only province in Korea that remains divided with the same name. Up until now, politics hasn’t worked to unite our country. Sports exchanges have been successful because sport goes beyond politics.

Last November we secured the official government support of North Korean for the 2014 bid. We paid an official visit to Pyongyang (N. Korean capital) and met with the North Korean President of the National Olympic Committee and we exchanged an agreement. They did not support or participate in the 1988 Seoul Olympics – they even told the citizens that the Games had been canceled - so this is very important. Included in the agreement is that the two countries will also go on to form a unified team and will participate in joint training programs. Not only that, the North Koreans will also participate in the cultural programs and the Games Ceremonies.

I believe this will make a meaningful contribution to the stabilization and peace of the Korean peninsula. The values pursued by the IOC movement, peace and harmony, are the same values of our bid. This kind of peace message will be further spread out around the world. And this is the greatest legacy we can leave behind.

All three Olympic candidates are capable of hosting the 2014 Olympic Games. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is which city and which Olympics can best suit the spirit and values pursued by the IOC. Our peace message and the development of winter Sports in Asia will be very great legacies to leave behind indeed. Even though we have very good causes behind our bid, the secret votes ultimately decide. So please, if you can spread our message around the world when you travel, that PyeongChang is doing something different, I would appreciate it.
Consider it done.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why Peter Ueberroth has the USOC headed in the right direction

In case you were the only person in the U.S. whom failed to hear the news, Chicago beat out Los Angeles for USOC's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. 'So what,' you say, 'it's just the nomination.' I know, I know. But as I've been harping for the past year, whichever American city receives the nomination will be the automatic front-runner. For if the bid has little else, it will have the geographic advantage. Since the Summer Olympic Games were last held in Atlanta, GA of 1996, they will have gone to Oceania (Sydney 2000), Southern Europe (Athens 2004), Asia (Beijing 2004) and Northern Europe (London 2012). So unless strong bids are presented from African or South American nations, all signs point to Chicago.

On a slightly different note, Chicago's selection reaffirms my belief that USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth has things headed in the right direction.

Back in November, Mr. Ueberroth gave an address at the Domestic Candidate City Seminar. The full text pdf can be found here. In his speech, he discussed how the United States can regain footing in the Olympic movement and the world at large. They key is international relations.
To illustrate the distance we must go in repairing our image among the international sports community, you need only look to July 2005 in Singapore.

That’s when the U.S. Candidate City for the 2012 Olympic Games, New York City, was eliminated in the second round of voting.

After receiving just 16 votes. 16 votes...for which NYC2012 spent almost $60 million, along with untold time, energy and other resources.

Those 16 votes are, in some measure, a reflection of how the United States is viewed in the international sports community.

Which is why International Relations is now a key priority for the USOC. But not just because we want to win a bid. We have examined our relationship with the Olympic Movement. And in the process have recognized the critical importance of the Olympic Movement to our world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Those wildly spitting Chinese

I hope you caught this gem of an article from the NYT: No Spitting on the Road to Olympic Glory, Beijing Says.

It discusses the city's efforts to improve manners and curb what may be offensive behavior to foreigners. One of the biggest obstacles, spitting in public.

Want to talk about night and day. The attention to detail by the Beijing Organizing Committee puts Athens to shame. I am looking forward to moving there in May, and I promise to post as much as I can during my two month stay.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fearing Olympic backlash, China pushes Sudan's government

In recent news, China has finally decided to pressure Sudan's government for change in Darfur and help end the continuing genocide. The government had previously been able to resist American and European efforts because of the Chinese blind support. If you happened to miss the news, it is a good example of how the Olympic Games can, and should, be used as a tool for promoting humanity and democracy.

Some insist that the Olympics should completely rid itself of politics. In our interconnected, globalized world this is pure foolhardy and it's good to see efforts being made. The time has come for China to start acting like the global superpower it inspires to be.

Back in December of 2006 the Washington Post was the first major news sources to tie the two issues. The editorial, China and Darfur: the Genocide Olympics? asked, "Doesn't China feel qualms about propping up this ogre?"

The former actress, Mia Farrow, in particular, has taken up the cause of pressing China on this front. In her recent Wall Street Journal editorial, editorial, she writes:
"One World, One Dream" is China's slogan for its 2008 Olympics. But there is one nightmare that China shouldn't be allowed to sweep under the rug. That nightmare is Darfur, where more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than two-and-a-half million driven from flaming villages by the Chinese-backed government of Sudan.

Finally, the New York Times piece, Darfur Collides With Olympics, and China Yields, updates on the political results.

However, if I were a major NGO, I would be hesitant to persistently use the slogan, "Genocide Olympics." I believe China will do what it must, but continually offending something they hold so dear could be problematic.

Monday, January 1, 2007

What Makes an Icon?

At each and every Olympic Games, certain athletes perform with such virtuosity and perfection that they distinguish themselves from the rest of the field. The 1972 Summer Games of Munich were no exception. U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz accomplished the impossible by winning seven gold medals while the tiny Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union became the media starlet with her dramatic success in gymnastics. mbols. The design must feature memorable forms yet still summon unique images for each viewer. By providing these multiple and enigmatic meanings, the building achieves the status of a popular architectural icon.

After a prolonged competition, the Munich organizing committee selected the Gunter Behnisch and Partners architect firm to produce the conceptual design for the Olympic Park. The city provided three square kilometers of undeveloped municipal grounds for Olympic purposes. Formerly a dump, the land had been slated for development for some time. In all, the park was to feature four new installations while incorporating the previously existing television tower.

Following the direction of the organizing committee, the conceptual design was to be the visual antithesis of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As previously mentioned, the organizers had to battle with Germany’s historical experience and tainted Olympic past. Hosting the Games, provided the stage to make a statement about democracy rising in West Germany. Society was ready for reform and innovation. Therefore, whereas the architecture of the Berlin Games featured imposing facades and grand squares awash in red, the Olympic Park was to embody the openness of democracy in a natural environment.

Behnisch architects were faced with the rather daunting challenge of translating these formulated principles into architecture. With the help of Frei Otto and more than 25,000 construction workers from 24 countries, their design was turned into a reality.

When walking around the park, visitors feel the openness that the organizers had hoped for. All the major installations are sculpted into the landscape, so spectators enter the stadiums from the upper rim and have an immediate view of the playing fields below. This allows the landscape to maintain a natural feel. Undoubtedly the most important feature of the conceptual design though is the roof.

Wanting to maintain the landscape principle, the architects rejected the rigid geometry of typical stadium roofs. Instead, they connected the various installations into a harmonious nexus of sport with a system of transparent tent shapes. Not without controversy, during the construction the roof was subsequent to great public debate. Many felt the extensive time commitment and high costs were not worth its novelty. Thankfully, the architects remained steadfast in their vision.

Today, visitors find that the rising silhouette of the roof mirrors the alpine panorama in the distance. Some think the roof provides a sense of flight while still others insist the tent structure makes the installations appear lighter and less imposing. No matter the interpretation, few can argue against its iconic status. According to the architects, “The roof turned out as we had all imagined it: transparent, surprising, novel, unusual.” For the city of Munich, it has had enduring success. As Wilfrid Spronk, the current General Manager of the Olympic Park, explains, “The architecture, especially the silhouette of the tent roofs, has become a symbol, a brandmark.”

Now, if I have done a proper job in this analysis, you might have had the same “ah-ha” moment that hit me a few weeks back. Should all host cities shoot for the proverbial moon with innovative architecture in the hopes of creating their own icon? Well, that is not as easy as it sounds. Let us remember the delicate balance of factors required of an icon. Unlike sports icons, there isn’t a concrete recipe for success. It is never a sure thing. Just ask star architect Frank Gehry, who has his fair share of failed icons.

If you are an architect and the city council calls on you to build a functional office building that is one thing. But when they ask you to create a popular icon that will project a positive image of the city at home and abroad, you might start you sweat. It is a challenge, both creatively and financially.

That said, the Olympic Games have become a stage for unveiling the latest attempts. Three years ago in Athens, Santiago Calatrava added steel arches and other touches to an existing stadium in the hopes of providing the boost needed to become an icon. Never to be outdone, the Chinese are in the midst of constructing their own Olympic Stadium with iconic aspirations. The Beijing National Stadium designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, and also known as the Bird’s Nest, appears to have intriguing possibilities.

With such an intense spotlight, architectural error can have a negative impact on the enduring legacy for a host city. Organizers would be wise to take note of Montreal’s 1976 Olympic Stadium. As a result of horrendous planning and management, the stadium was a disaster. The supposedly retractable roof has never functioned properly and the inside gives off an uninviting atmosphere of a damp, concrete jungle. In the end, the stadium clouds any potential benefits from hosting for the people of Montreal.

Lastly, to return to the question I presented in the title of this entry, what makes an icon? Though definitions exist, I honestly do not think anyone can say exactly. You only know after it is finished. That may sound a bit risky, but in the case of Munich the gamble has paid substantial dividends.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Munich Massacre

When someone casually mentions the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, the conversation almost immediately turns to the hostage situation and ensuing massacre. For those foreigners who witnessed the incident, the attack on the Jewish athletes is the most prominent memory from that summer. In 2005, the world was once again reminded of the disaster through Stephen Spielberg’s movie on the subject. By projecting the tragic events to the next generation, the memory of the lost athletes will not soon be forgotten.

For Bavarians though, the hostage massacre carries less significance than one might think. There is a strong sense of sympathy, but unlike Mexico City’s student protests, the disaster does not cloud the legacy of the 1972 Olympic Games. Daily reminders exist of the benefits from hosting the Olympics, and it is unfair to expect the city to remain in a continual state of mourning. Still, the event is vastly important to the Olympic movement and its repercussions are felt in international relations even today. Thus, it deserves a closer look.

Most of the literature on the subject focuses on the who and the what. These reports tend to overlook the equally important questions of how and why. The general plot itself should be familiar to many. In the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 1972, well into the second week of the Games, eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September scaled the short fence of the Olympic Village and entered the complex at 31 Connollystrasse. This forms the who.

Inside the building, the Israeli Olympic team was assigned to three apartments. Using force and automatic rifles, the militants took nine living hostages – nearly half the delegation. During the struggle, two were killed while some were able to escape via the underground parkways. Immediately thereafter, the terrorists made their demands known. They requested the release and safe passage to Egypt of 234 Palestinians and non-Arabs jailed in Israel. The Bavarian government negotiators were then given a time limit and a promise of more bloodshed if they did not fully cooperate. The what is as easily established as the who. The other variables prove to be a bit less straightforward.

When reporters today address the issue of how, they tend to focus on the state of the security in the Olympic village. Here are some examples of their criticism: “To revisit the Munich attack is to go slack-jawed at the official lassitude and incompetence,” and “Security in Munich was almost laughable. At the entrance, unarmed guards in powder blue shirts looked more like ushers at Disneyland.” While it’s true that Munich organizers spent less than $2 million on security – whereas nearly $600 million was spent in Athens – the lax protection was not indicative of poor planning and incompetence. Viewing the situation as such mars the complexity of the issue at hand.

From the beginning, the Munich organizers wanted to project an image of an open, democratic West Germany. The Olympic Park and Village were to be inviting green spaces where spectators could move freely amongst modern installations that blend with a rolling landscape devoid of barricades, gates or entrances.

The importance of such a deliberately understated security policy stems from Germany’s historical experience. After all, the last time they played host was 1936 in Berlin. Those Summer Olympics, known as the Nazi Games, were dominated by militaristic pageantry and ceremonial grandeur. Additionally, located only 15 miles from the Olympic Stadium is Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. As you can imagine then, the Organizing Committee had their hands tied by historical circumstance.

An initial response might be to consider the organizers overly cautious in their avoidance of controversy. Yet at a trial event a few months before the commencement of the Games, media outlets took offense to the German shepherds that accompanied some of the security guards. “Shame on you,” they said, “with the memories of Dachau still so fresh.” And so it was that the powder blue guards of the ’72 Olympic Games wielded only walkie-talkies. Leave it to the media to later criticize the incompetence of a policy they had a direct hand in creating.

But now, let us quickly turn to the why. Not why do the Israelis and Palestinians fight, but why the Olympic Games? Leading up to Munich, the Olympic Games had been steadily growing in every aspect. The previous Olympiads of Tokyo and Mexico City spread the influence to Asia and Latin America for the first time. It was Munich then, that marked the arrival of the Olympic Games as the quintessential global event. All records regarding the number of participating nations, athletes, and members of the media were broken.

The Palestinian leadership recognized the international importance of the event and therefore decided to use the spotlight to draw attention to their cause. As Abu Iyad, the Yassar Arafat deputy who headed Black September, later explained, the hostage plan was, “to use the unprecedented number of media outlets in one city to display the Palestinian struggle--for better or worse!” However, it was not only the presence of the media that interested the Black September militants. The technology of the Munich Olympic Games provided timely distribution to the world over. In fact, the unparalleled satellite technology beamed live feeds of sporting events to over a billion people. By allowing the world to watch the horror unfold live on television, the Munich Massacre became a defining moment that spread fear and intimidation to a global audience.

Before moving on to the aftermath of the tragic events, I would like to quote a final paragraph from the Time exclusive article, “Horror and Death at the Olympics,” which ran the following week. You should be surprised by the prophetic significance of the commentary:

“To counter the guerrilla terror, governments everywhere will have to pay far closer attention to security—not only on airliners, as they are learning to do, but at almost any public event or occasion that terrorists could disrupt, as they did the Olympics. Perhaps the ultimate significance of last week's horror in Munich is that the historic, bloody conflict between the Israelis and Arabs has now been exported from the Middle East to the rest of the world, first to Western Europe, and maybe eventually even to the U.S.”

You should all be familiar with how the tragic story ends. The two parties agreed to transport the terrorists and their hostages by helicopter to a military airport at Furstenfeldbruck, where a Boeing 707 was awaiting to fly them to Cairo. Inside the plane, policemen dressed as crew-members were to attack the gunmen and free the victims. Minutes before the helicopter arrived, the policemen abandoned their posts. That left the Munich Police with five German snipers to ambush the kidnappers while without armored backup.

Here is where the rescue attempt fell apart. The snipers were actually amateur marksmen, who shot competitively on the weekend. They were further hindered by the fact that they did not have infrared sights nor radio contact to coordinate their fire. More importantly though, they were outnumbered, breaking the basic tenant of snipping operations requiring twice as many snipers as targets. The standoff lasted longer than an hour as the two sides exchange fire. At the end of the botched rescue attempt, nine more Israeli athletes were killed, as well as five terrorists and a German policeman.

It is easy to point the finger at the Munich police. Their ill-conceived plan did realistically cost lives. Nevertheless, a few side notes help to understand the context of their failure. Prior to this occurrence, there existed no terrorism unit in Germany. This was uncharted territory and they were hardly prepared. Secondly, the Israeli government ruled out any negotiations with the terrorists, leaving the Germans with little to offer. Minister for the Interior Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and Walter Tröger, the mayor of the Olympic Village, did offer to no avail unlimited amounts of money as well as themselves to be taken in place of the Israeli athletes. Lastly, the International Olympic Committee heavily pressured the officials to hastily move the siege out of the village. All of these factors contributed to the tragic demise of the Israeli hostages.

If we are going to play the blame game, then I would like to briefly air my opinion of how IOC President Avery Brundage handled the aftermath of the hostage disaster. Though Willi Daume, President of the Munich Organizing Committee, initially sought to cancel the remainder of the Games, Brundage was steadfast in his conviction that they should continue. I believe this was the right thing to do. You cannot let a handful of individuals destroy the international cooperation and goodwill of the Olympic movement. Some delegations, such as the Philippine and Algerian, as well as a few individuals from the Dutch and Norwegian teams felt otherwise and decided to leave the Games before their conclusion.

Brundage’s taste in the memorial service is another story. Roughly 80,000 people and 3,000 athletes attend the memorial service for the Israeli victims. Accompanying the somber scene, all the world’s flags (except the ten Arab nations’ and the Soviet Union’s) were flown at half-staff. Remarkably, Brundage made no reference to the murdered athletes during a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement. In vague terms, Brundage did describe the massacre of the Israeli athletes and the barring of the Rhodesian team as crimes of equal magnitude. His insensitive gaffe outraged many listeners. Athletes such as U.S. basketball player Tom McMillen, blamed Brundage for trying to “convert the memorial service into a pep rally,” while U.S. marathoner Frank Shorter called him a “pompous ass.”

Since that day, families of the victims have repeatedly asked for a moment of silence to be held at succeeding Olympics and for the IOC to establish a permanent memorial to the athletes. On both accounts the IOC has declined, saying that to introduce a specific reference to the victims could alienate other members of the Olympic community. This should be interpreted as a fear for Arab boycott of future Games if action is taken.

I am under the opinion that the IOC has made the wrong decision. At Montreal in 1976, even in spite of the political atmosphere, there should have been a moment of silence and tribute paid to the fallen athletes. They need not, and should not, be construed only as Israeli victims. They were Olympic athletes and the IOC should have recognized the terrorist attack as an attack on the very foundations of Olympism.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Student Village: Munich, Germany

The Olympic Village used for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany is composed of two housing complexes. In the main terraced buildings, made famous by the hostage situation, the male athletes were housed. After the games these units were sold as condominiums. In the other section there were a series of bungalows for the female athletes. Today, these bungalows form a student housing village. Each of the units is basically a cement block. But what makes them so unique is that each resident is free to paint at will the exterior. Their house becomes their canvas.

The result is a labyrinth of color and personality. It is achieves the often difficult task of humanizing large-scale public housing projects - though I doubt it was ever an official policy. Just thought I would share a few of the photographs while I am still getting settled in.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Mexico 1968: A Question of Planning

Perhaps most important though, is the legacy of the government investment. In Mexico, a total of $98.96 million dollars was spent on the new installations, city works, and villages (in terms of inflation, this number would equal 542 million USD in 2005). The majority of my time in Mexico was spent visiting these Olympic installations, analyzing their function, condition, and the benefit provided to the public. According to MOC at the time, “Though built to fill specific needs during the competitions, these installations were designed to provide lasting service and utility.”

For the most part, this remains true nearly 38 years after the Games. By spreading the installations throughout the city, a greater number of people are able to benefit from their use. Except for one, all of the installations are government-run and operate to develop youth sport. In spite of their frequent use, almost all sites are in dire need of renovations. Each has long past the shelf-life for your average sports facility.

These sites though, are hardly remembered for their Olympic past. Little of the design lends itself to admiration or praise. They are, in a word, pragmatic – and little else. In none of the installations, nor the rest of the city, are there any memorials or museums to the glory of the ’68 Olympics. Each has a small plaque that displays the date of construction and the Olympic rings, but little else. These installations, which remind me of junior college facilities, led me to seek noted Olympic scholar, Ariel Rodriquez, to ask him, “What if dutiful, cost-efficient planning steeped in pragmatism and moderation leads to a weak memory, or legacy, of hosting the Olympic Games? Or in other words, does a city need a white elephant or pervasive memorial to ensure a strong legacy?” Professor Rodriquez then leaned back in his chair, thought for a moment before remarking, “That’s a good question, I don’t know.”

Map of the Olympic Installations

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Behind the 1968 Olympic Games

In October of 1963, at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany, Mexico City was selected to host the XIX Summer Olympic Games. Though highly controversial due to the debate over the effects of altitude, the selection was particularly significant as Mexico represented the first Third World country to ever host the event. The choice should perhaps be regarded more as a sign of the times and less a result of unwavering merit and IOC morality. The other two serious candidate cities were Detroit, Michigan and Lyon, France – both embedded in the Cold War conflict as members of NATO. Mexico, on the other hand, was able to parlay their relative neutrality into a successful bid. According to the Mexican Organizing Committee (MOC) the success of the bid was based on the existing facilities and the noteworthy experience hosting similar events.

By June of 1966, only two years before the scheduled Games, the Organizing Committee was in shambles suffering from internal squabbling and varied ineptitude. Little had been accomplished in terms of planning and the growing criticism threatened to embarrass the rising nation and its leadership. With the resignation of the previous chairman, the MOC appointed Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, a prominent architect as the head of the committee. A man of the government system, Ramirez Vazquez was hardly a sports enthusiast and was able to play his insider-outsider status to his advantage. His rather heretical position inevitably changed the course of the Olympic planning.

Upon assuming leadership of the Organizing Committee, Ramirez Vazquez had two principal obstacles. The first was instigating the construction of the major Olympic installations in the face of financial restraints. His response was pragmatic planning steeped in moderation and grounded in its projections. Embodying this principle, he stated, “the design is not a drawing, it is a service” and, “if the Olympic installations aren’t the most beautiful in the history of the Olympic Games then by any consideration they are practical and functional.”

Looking back, the purpose of his rhetoric was not to appease Mexico’s lower class or quell student-provoked criticism of government spending as one might assume. Upon my investigation of the sites, I found that the planning and the execution were in fact carried out in a pragmatic manner. Additionally, Ramierz Vazquez had the valuable foresight to arrange the Olympic installations on vacant fields of outlying areas that would be engulfed by development years later. This has led some scholars to argue that Mexico conceived and sold the idea of a “cheap Olympics.” Though some overemphasize this notion (overlooking the comparable number of participants) it still should be dully noted. In fact, the Mexican Olympics have proved to be one of the least expensive Games since Rome in 1960 – comparable only to Los Angeles in 1984. This may though be a result of time restraints and less of free will.

The second obstacle faced by Ramirez Vazquez and the Organizing Committee was a more abstract, discursive element, one that Eric Zolov terms the “burden of representation.” Preceding the Games, the foreign press frequently mocked the “land of manana” and the paltry preparations of a lazy country (to be sure some of the criticism was well deserved as one member of the MOC once remarked, “We are not sure we can guarantee the organization of these games. But the weather will be nice”). Addressing the racialized foreign stereotypes of Mexico’s underdevelopment was necessary to accrue the intangible benefits of hosting the Games.

The Mexican economy had been booming for years and the international event was to provide a stage to validate Mexico’s cosmopolitan belonging in the developed world. According to the MOC, the Games would project an image of Mexico as a nation where economic development was coupled with social justice and modernity balanced with tradition. The government believed the opportunity to refute the popular stereotypes would not only have exceptional touristic implications, but also an important psychological impact on the Mexican township.

As Mexico was hardly a sporting powerhouse, the Organizing Committee acknowledge that the most effective way to overcome the entrenched stereotypes was with a creation and projection of an image of the Olympiad in Mexico through a Program of Olympic Identity and the organizing of a Cultural Olympiad. In the graphic design of Olympic logo we find the focal point of this initiative.

Through the flawless Mexico68 logo, the MOC was able to accomplish the projection of an image that acknowledged its unique cultural heritage without sacrificing its modern aspirations. Surprisingly, it was an American invited to participate in the design competition who was principal in creating the final design. After multiple trips to the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Lance Wyman and Eduardo Terrazas came up with a design rooted in both Huichol indigenous art and the Op Art aesthetic of the day. The Mexico68 design, which blanketed the city, was a graphical feat and was cited in the book, “A History of Graphic Design” as “one of the most successful in the evolution of visual identification.”

In addition to the successful design component, one of the most original ideas of the Mexican experience was the Cultural Olympiad, which was a world in itself. In fact, Mexico was the first host country to emphasis culture as an integral aspect of the Olympic Games. It was an attempt to reunite the Olympics of sport with culture and peace. During the Olympic year, over 1,500 events were dispersed throughout the entire republic. Thus all towns benefited from the Olympic experience. For the Games themselves, Ramirez Vazquez invited the participating countries to send a cultural delegation. Each of the twenty sports were then replicated by twenty spheres of cultural activities including, dance, poetry, visual arts.

Performances during the Games included everything from Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington to the Senegal Ballet. A fitting example of this dichotomy between sport and art was the reading by famed Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in front of 12,000 people at the Arena of Mexico, which was used for boxing during the Olympics. He was introduced, to the delight of the crowd, in typical boxing announcing: “Esteeeeeeemed public… in thisssssss corner… at 72 kilos, standing at 184 cm... YYYYeeeeevtushenko.”

Ultimately, the Program of Olympic Identity and the Cultural Olympiad provided the Games with the ambiance of the ultimate fiesta. Streets and buildings were awash in blazing colors while the symbol of a silhouetted white dove of peace was on display, rather ironically, at every turn. One couldn’t step outside without being surrounded by the Op Art design of the Mexico68 logo, which adorned everything from dresses to large balloons. Along major avenues, newly built billboards proclaimed the official motto “Everything is Possible in Peace” in a wealth of languages while looming pyrotechnic figurines marked the site of the installations. The general message radiating from the Olympic host city was that Mexico was alive with change – a political and cultural statement to be sure.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tlatelolco Massacre

The year 1968 is considered one of the most tumultuous in world history. In the US, it is remembered for demonstrations and assassinations. That year we lost Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and were witness to the beginning of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the clash at the Democratic National Convention. In Mexico, things were equally as unstable. In the summer of 1968, only months before the Olympic Games, nation-wide student strikes and protests had prompted an increasingly repressive response from the Diaz Ordaz regime. On October 2nd, just ten days before the Opening Ceremonies, the protest reached its pinnacle.

With the army occupying the university campus, thousands of students marched through the streets of Mexico City demanding democratic reforms. By nightfall, roughly 5,000 unarmed protesters, accompanied by spouses and their children, had congregated in Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco Section of Mexico City.

Beginning at sunset, army and police forces had begun to surround the plaza. From here, the details of the night remain vague as the Mexican government has kept information confidential, citing matters of national security. Something prompted the government forces to begin shooting live rounds into the crowd. Families, students, and protesters alike were caught in the fire. While the government claimed that “student snipers” had fired first at officers, many from Mexican academia contend that government snipers, from a highly secret battalion, had fired on the police to instigate the conflict.

Civilian reports claim that the bodies were then carried away in ambulances and garbage trucks to a near by military post where they were incinerated. The army worked well into the night washing away the blood with fire hoses. The official government reports put the death toll at around 30. This number is laughable. Nearly every other source, including the US embassy, estimated casualties somewhere between 300-400 dead with hundreds more injured. Without as much as a moment’s pause, the Olympics commenced as if nothing happened.

Today, the Tlatelolco Massacre remains deeply embedded in the minds of those who were alive at the time. Each year, the anniversary is marked with a march to the same plaza and a protest for the release of government records. From the interviews I have conducted and my general observations, the 1968 student protests overshadow any legacy of the ’68 Olympics. Until the government formally acknowledges its role, the people have room for only one memory of that summer.

In recent years, progress has been made. In June of 2002, President Fox released secret police files and named a special prosecutor to determine the role of the government in the massacre. In 2003, the National Security Archive at George Washington University published a series of US government records. Surprisingly, the information from US agencies remains the most cohesive body of information. In June of 2006, former President and Mexican Interior Secretary at the time of the massacre, Luis Echeverria, was charged with genocide and put under house arrest. Yet in typical fashion, a federal judge threw out the charges just this July, ruling that a 30-year statute of limitations had run out.

What is perhaps more interesting though, is that the younger generations have very little comprehension of what happened and the significance of it. The massacre fails to appear in most History textbooks. Yesterday when I asked high school headmaster Samuel Gonzalez Montano how this could be, he replied, “You can’t teach anything that didn’t officially happen.” Thus for now, the newest generation of Mexicans are only to have a general understanding of the Tlatelolco Massacre and the ’68 Olympic Games, as they are unavoidably intertwined. Without a reconciliation of one, a remembrance of the other is nearly impossible.

During a visit to the plaza, I encountered a group of boys playing soccer. When I inquired from one of them if he knew what happened in October of 1968 here in the plaza, he shrugged and looked around. I told him some 300 people died. He seemed lost and turned slowly to read the memorial he was sitting in front of and had lived near his whole life. The end of it reads:

Who? Whom? No one. The next day, no one.
The plaza awoke swept;
The newspapers said for news
the state of the weather.
And in the television, en the radio, en the theaters,
there was not a single change in the program,
not a single announcement.
Nor a moment of silence at the banquet
(or following the banquet).