Picking Up the Beat of Barcelona

Our reporter describes the bright side and rough spots in covering the Games. POSTCARD from Barcelona

THE grand and the laughably ludicrous can occur with equal regularity at an Olympics.

To the latter category I assign a recent incident at the Barcelona Games involving a busload of international journalists. As a Bostonian, I'm tempted to call it simply the "midnight ride," except that wouldn't be fair to the memory of Paul Revere. My experience, after all, more closely resembled that of subway-riding Charlie immortalized in a Kingston Trio song about being hopelessly lost below ground.

In this case, a slice of the huge Olympic press corps was attempting to return to the media village for needed sleep, when the confused bus driver embarked on what one passenger facetiously called an impromptu "Barcelona by Night Tour." The neopolitan mix of bus riders kept its composure and decided to make light of the situation - even when the bus roamed beyond the city limits. After a number of wrong exits off the freeways, everybody arrived "home" safe and sound.

The motto for these Games is "Friends for Life," and incidents like this seem to indicate that even hardened Olympic reporters are going that extra mile (or miles) with their new Spanish friends.

The hosts, for their part, are trying to be attentive to virtually every detail, even to the point of placing a jazz quintet in a media accreditation center at the airport. The one amenity that many visitors miss, though, is air conditioning. Shade is a valuable resource here, especially during the midday sun.

This is a communications Olympics as well, and an Everest of information is moved daily on Olympic results in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Catalan, the latter spoken in this autonomous Spanish province.

English, of course, was the language of choice at the biggest press conference to date. The so-called Dream Team, a collection of stars from the National Basketball Association, met a horde of quote-hungry journalists about 25 minutes after the scheduled start time. (Reason: bus problems, naturally.) Before the players assumed their places, the team's press attache performed a most discreet but telling act. He casually removed the Coca-Cola cup from in front of where Magic Johnson (a Pepsi spokesman) was

to sit.

In this age of heavy athletic commercialization, corporate backers aren't pleased with mixed signals. Olympic sponsor VISA, therefore, battles what it considers the ambush marketing attempts of American Express, an Olympic outsider.

Quite a few mass-interview opportunities here are being arranged by shoe companies, which have some of the big-name athletes under contract.

This might be a hint at an Olympic future filled with multinational stables of athletes carrying corporate banners almost as prominently as national ones.

US hoop star Michael Jordan, by the way, said "I'm not here looking for major deals or to add to my [endorsement] portfolio."

Maybe one of best Dream Team lines was intoned by Larry Bird, one of the squad's elder statesmen. Given the speculation that Bird might soon decide to ride into the basketball sunset, one inquiring journalist pressed him to be more specific about his retirement timetable.

"I've been retired for four years, but nobody knows it yet," he quipped with disarming aplomb.

It was a joke, and like good transit horror stories, it was bound to play as well in Barcelona as in Boston.

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