The flip side of the Games: behind-the-scenes players
As the 2000 Olympics burst upon the world stage in Sydney (Sept. 15-Oct. 1), there will be huge pomp and much circumstance with some 10,200 athletes from about 200 countries competing in 28 sports.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Olympics are about much more than sports. The US Olympic Committee understands this - which is why, unknown to most people, it devotes so much attention to goings on of major significance behind the scenes, removed from the bright lights.
For examples, see below. The Artist, The Speakers, and The Wannabes are joined at the hip because each contributes - obscurely but enormously - to the fabric of the Games and the mosaic of the Olympics experience, though in vastly different ways.
John Haertling is having a hot dog for lunch at Mustard's Last Stand, near his art studio in Boulder, Colo. He is discussing the 24 elegant, free-standing commemorative sculptures - each unique - he has produced for the United States Olympic Committee to give to VIPs - presidents, mayors - in Sydney.
These definitely are not in the same category as tasteless bowling trophies. These are stylish gifts, and they are fine art. Says Toni Sparks of the USOC, "They're gorgeous."
Asked how much he was paid, artist Haertling brushes the query aside: "I don't say, 'How much do I get?' Instead, I say, 'Let's do it.' This is my opportunity to participate in the Olympics."
Indeed, Haertling, a 1983 graduate of California State University at Long Beach, evidences as much Olympic spirit as any athlete. Of his sculptures, he says, "I've given them my all. Success is if you meet or exceed expectations.... My expectations are never financial."
The sculptures - eight inches high and crafted from brass, Lucite, slate, and cherry - are designed to "focus on spirit and integrity."
And that's how he sees the Olympics: "They give everybody a chance. They involve the beauty of human achievement. And I will keep reaching as high as I can, just like the athletes."
Haertling says he was hooked on sculpture after his mother enrolled him in his first pottery class when he was five years old. He got started with the USOC about five years ago when he was mentioned in a magazine that somehow made its way to the lobby of the USOC's protocol office. Haertling estimates he has produced about 15 different sculptures for the Olympic committee.
Says the USOC's Sparks, "He can put very rough elements together and make them look beautiful."
The 1996 Olympic VIP gift Haertling created is a Greek discus thrower made of bronze, nickel, marble, and flagstone. For 1998 in Nagano, he produced an Olympic torch that relies heavily on granite, turned aluminum, and brass.
Five pieces of Haertling's work are on display in the White House.
What appeals to him is "I make awards for people who really deserve something." Therefore, the artist says, his art must be worthy. "It's sad," he says, "when somebody gets something unattractive." When the subject of money is broached again, Haertling once again finds it unattractive. Reluctantly, he says that the works he produces for numerous clients range in price from $50 to $2,500.
Like the athletes, Haertling can't help aspiring to more. He says he would love to be chosen to make the gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded to Olympic winners. "I have ideas in my head," he says, "and I'm driven to get them out and have influence."
For Olympic athletes, performing at peak level can be a difficult challenge. Talking about it can be worse.
That's where the husband-and-wife team of Sue Castorino and Randy Minkoff, creators and owners of The Speaking Specialists, comes in. The Chicago-based company has been hired by the US Olympic Committee to train its athletes and coaches in the sometimes Byzantine art of dealing with the media.