JOHN L. PITTS: Olympic success often gets personal




I have worked at four Olympics – two Winter and two Summer – and the paint is always drying on the medal stands when the games begin.

It reminds me of when I worked at the community theater in my hometown in the summers. Nobody sitting in the audience ever knew how chaotic it was behind the scenes just five minutes before the curtain went up. But the show always went on.

That’s show business. And the Olympics is all about the show.

You’ve heard a lot the last few days about the problems with the new hotels around the Olympic site in Russia, but that’s what gets widely reported when there’s nothing else to report.

With the opening ceremonies out of the way, there will be no shortage of stories that don’t involve off-the-field problems.

From what I can tell by reading the social media accounts of people I trust, the competition venues themselves are excellent. That’s one thing the International Olympic Committee, for all its flaws, knows how to get right. Every venue – the skating and hockey rinks, the ski jumps, the snowboard courses – would have had a series of world-class test events before the games began.

Highs and lows

I worked behind the scenes at one of the most successful Winter Olympics, the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. And I worked at one that had its fair share of problems, the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

One day, a week or two before Atlanta began, we had a meeting in which we were told a warehouse full of folding tables had been “lost.” That’s a lot of folding tables.

But the Atlanta Games were really a huge success in terms of the experience for the athletes who competed. The stuff happening on the field went just about perfectly.

At some point, the success of every Olympics comes down to the pride of the individuals behind the scenes to make it work. It was that way in Atlanta and Salt Lake City and in the other Olympics I’ve attended. In the end, I bet that’s how it’ll turn out in Sochi, too.

John L. Pitts ( is sports editor of the Journal. He’s a former Olympics Editor at USA Today.

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