Background image: The city of Calgary, Alberta at the base of the Canadian Rockies.
1988 Calgary Winter Olympics
The morning’s light snow had ended by the time I got off the plane in
Calgary to work my first Olympics. But the sky was still gray at 2 p.m., and
in the cutting breeze the temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit was like
13 below, according to the wind chill index.
I thought the index erred on the warm side, and I had been skiing in the
Rockies for 10 winters.
When I checked in, the power had failed at the media housing complex –
a trailer park built on the outskirts of town – and for several nights I
shivered half asleep in my long johns beneath a pile of blankets.
Two weeks later the midday temps in town were consistently in the
mid-60s, thanks to the city’s infamous warm “chinook” winds. Olympic
crowds were eating lunch outdoors at sidewalk cafés while ski jumping
was being repeatedly rescheduled to keep the athletes from being
blown off course in midair. Sandy grit was being swept off the bobsled
But the heat was back on.
It was not the experience I had hoped for, having been an Olympic fan
since I watched the first Winter Games televised live in the United States
while a third-grader. But it was good training for the Olympics that
My writing opportunities were limited because I was assigned to Calgary
as an editor in the Knight-Ridder Newspapers bureau. Consequently,
my credential did not allow access to most of the competition venues,
and getting a story out on my own time became a daily struggle.
Most of my writing was based on news conferences held in the MPC,
news media-speak for the main press center that’s typically housed in a
convention center or some such facility in the host city.
After being denied entrance to – or getting tossed out of – most
competition venues because I lacked the proper credential, I did manage
to sneak into the press room at Nakiska, a resort near Banff where the alpine skiing events were held. I covered the last Olympic race by Tamara McKinney – at the time the best female skier the United States had ever produced.
The security guard noticed the plastic badge hanging around my neck was marked “Ep,” which provided only MPC access, instead of the “E” for writers needing access to the competitions. But he allowed himself to be talked out of booting me until I had finished writing and filed my story.
The credential game was a competition behind the sports competition.
The International Olympic Committee rations each country’s print media credentials, and the job of doling out the United States’ allotment belongs to the U.S. Olympic Committee. At the time, the USOC weighted its allotment of print media credentials based on a points system: The newspapers and magazines that covered the most Olympic-related sports events, such as Olympic trials, earned the most points and were awarded the most credentials.
Broadcast media are treated differently. The networks that purchase the broadcast rights in each country get the lion’s share of that nation’s broadcast credentials. Competing networks get very few, and theirs have extremely limited access.
Calgary was the only Olympics I worked with an “Ep” credential; the rest I was part of a Mercury News team of a columnist, writer (me) and photographer.
... The 1960 Games were awarded to Squaw Valley and went off without a hitch. There was perfect weather for 1,000 athletes and 350,000 spectators. There were spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, and the festive atmosphere was unmarred by the political or civil strife that has marked most subsequent Olympics. ...
This story, reported before my departure for Calgary, was inspired by those Olympics I first saw as a third-grader and by the fact that Squaw Valley now was a regular weekend ski area for me. It was published the day before Calgary’s opening ceremony.
CALGARY – Don't confuse the Jamaican bobsled team with those other Caribbean bobsledders entered in the Winter Olympics, the ones from Netherlands Antilles and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
These guys mean business. They're not in Canada to play around.
They're not going to win a medal, either. ...
I filled my days between arrival and the start of competition by attending as many press conferences as I could, including this one by the first Jamaican bobsled team. The team’s story was the basis for the Walt Disney movie Cool Runnings, starring comedian John Candy.