Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Larry Longo Rocks

“J-School” is this thing folks once attended to learn how to write before people adopted such literary tools as “OMG” and “LOL” as a means of communicating. I went to one; I got a masters’ degree; I worked for 10 years as a reporter; I ran my own magazine (right into the ground, I should add) for 14 years.

A lot of people say nice things about my announcing, but they don't realize how much time I spent reading and writing. Those things come in handy when speaking.

While in journalism school I had to read a book entitled The Literary Journalist. One of the most coveted and dog-eared pieces on my shelf, this book was a collection of great magazine writing. Every author proved fantastic.

So in collecting the pieces they polled all of these all-star writers on who they believed to be the finest writer alive in our language. Several of them said without question Tom Wolfe. So then the interviewer decided to go ask Tom Wolfe who he considered to be the finest writer.

Without hesitation Wolfe responded: John McPhee.

So a lot of folks as of late have said really kind things to me about race announcing. This I find hard to believe because whenever I bark at a race I do nothing but chronicle all the mistakes I make. (Trust me, there are several.)

As one of the promoters of this month’s Providence Cyclo-cross Festival I knew one thing: I did not want to have to announce my own race.

You see, an announcer is like an obstetrician. We don’t do all the hard work; we don’t have the labor pains; we don’t conceive the thing in a fit of passion; and we certainly don’t have to pay for the bills after the thing is delivered. But when it is crunch time, we arrive relaxed, adjust a few things, respond to any emergencies, provide a bit of coaching, and hopefully deliver a cleaned up bundle of joy.

We’re relaxed; it’s not our baby.

So when I found out I had to go to Australia as the guest of the UCI, I had to find my own replacement for Gloucester and that helped me fund the selection of just about any announcer I wanted.

There are loads of great announcers. I like most of ‘em and consider several to be good friends. And I would hire several of them in a heartbeat.

But I chose California’s Larry Longo.

I could not figure out why I liked him so much until after I hired him. As I ran another feverish errand across the venue on Sunday at Providence I heard Larry's voice. (That I could hear him so well is a testament to the great Glenn Stillwell, but more on him and our secret at Providence later.)

“…..So we can call it Cyclocross Singles…..Bachelorette Number One, what’s your name?”

He had gone off the script, off the event schedule, and casually engaged other staffers and exhibitors and sponsors in this piquant dialogue that was fun. Larry keeps your ear. Few announcers do that.

Dave Chauner taught me when you promote a sporting event you are essentially building a stool that stands on four legs: spectators, sponsors, media, and participants. And an announcer has to inform, educate and entertain all four of those elements.

And most announcers do a good job of that. And let’s face it, we all have our own favorites based on our own selective criteria.

Larry Longo realizes there is a fifth leg to the stool: the staff.

He’s easy going, relaxed, and like a good obstetrician assures them all that the baby’s going to come out just fine. And when a staff relaxes, they perform better. Working alongside of Larry at crits, mountain bike events, road races, and now ‘cross events, I’ve never once seen Larry get the officials or the marshals or the medical staff or the organizers ruffled or aggravated.

He sands down everybody’s rough edges.

Only when serving as a promoter do you realize the importance of that element of the job. And know this, being laid back does not mean being lackadaisical. Larry’s as prepared and educated as he needs to be for every day’s work.

He can whip a crowd up, but he can also calm them down. And he keeps you listening all the time... for his jokes, his observations, his way of kindly mocking a staffer, or wishing Mitch Wippern happy birthday EVERY DAY that Mitch Wippern ever worked with Larry. All of it on the microphone.

If you get the chance; hire him. If you want to learn the craft, learn from him.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Patience Pays Off

Patience Pays Off

I did not file yesterday as I had to head right the start of the men’s race.
By now you probably know that Georgina Bronzini of Italy and Thor Hushovd of Norway each won their respective world road titles. The coverage should indicate the ferocity with which each successive field raced. But this course rewarded patience. The rider we mentioned the least would be the favorite.

My job was to simply start ‘em on time. But there is considerable fanfare before each event, all of which is subject to the regimen imposed by the UCI. But it works.

The women’s race was held entirely in Geelong. At noon I start the team
introductions one hour before start. Then you do it all again at the start line, calling every rider to the line. A real pro, Rik did a great job of either speeding it up or slowing it down according to the schedule.

The women raced very negatively at first but finished with utter savagery on the road circuit. What we learned on this difficult circuit was that patience paid off. The rider who waits would win. Emma Pooley destroyed herself, only to see her compatriot Nicole Cooke leave with Germany’s Judith Arndt with 6 km to go. They would be caught on the homestretch by the bunch to be swarmed by the field led by an Italian leadout train. Bronzini came through, with Dutchwoman Marianne Vos winning her fourth consecutive silver medal ahead of Emily Johannsen of Sweden, whose helmet bounced off a spectator leaning over the fences with 50 meters to go.

But the bigger victory was the event itself. The rematch of the AFL Grand Final drew most of the attention with the Magpies crushing the Saints. Regardless there was easily 50,000 spectators out for the event.

I finished off the day, as always, alone. I got a beer at a bar surrounded by Magpie fans resplendent in black-and-white attire. I then opted for a quiet sushi bar for a snack.

I had an 8 p.m. dinner meeting with the marketing department of the UCI. I waited in the bar, alone, until drawn to a table where the other UCI staff gathered. They all spoke French until I found a guy from South Africa.

I finally got out to dinner with Middat, Nicole and Tobias. We spoke English. Although there were a lot of discussion topics, the outcome is this: they booked me for the ‘Cross Worlds in Germany AND the 2011 Road Worlds in Copenhagen. Cool, huh?
I finally stayed awake until 11 p.m.!

Towards all that stuff, I must say that patience pays off. I have never tried to sell myself to promoters. I have never tried to undercut another announcer or take a job from my brothers or sisters in this profession. I've been patient. I'm prouder of that than I am of actually securing such prestigious gigs as these.

When I woke, I found Rik in the lobby. He would join me at the start in Melbourne. We made the drive to Melbourne, a beautiful, gritty city with amazing architecture. It’s a blend of Victorian charm and Bauhaus zeal.

When we arrived there were maybe a few thousand people bounding about like charged electrons. We figured out what we had to do and went to work. We were at Federation Square. There would be a team presentation on a stage followed by the start about 300 meters away on a bridge.

I did comedy and Rik and I tried to do some race handicapping to fill the 15 minutes before the teams were to arrive. Just having the PA running drew in the crowds. The number probably crested at 1,000, and that was just for the presentation. About 5,000 people were on the bridge for the start.

Per usual, the teams fail to arrive on time and when they do, confusion reigns. The Americans were one of the first to arrive. I enjoyed seeing the guys I knew, Ted King and Christian Vande Velde are two of the nicest pros you could ever meet. They were relaxed and at ease. We got a few teams up and down and then waited a painful three or four minute between teams. Then they ALL came at us, Latvians, Poles, Colombians, Swedes….

Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd, and especially the Aussies with Cadel Evans drew
At one point Michael Albassini of Switzerland stormed up on the stage, stammering, “There is no rule zat we have to do these. We have no time. Thees is stupid….”

Rik, myself and the official said nothing, nothing.

“FUCK off,” he said… Running up during another team’s photo op and signing the board …and continuing to curse us as he left the stage and he rode away.

Then Fabian Cancellara rolled up, with a sheepish Albassini in tow. The man they called Spartacus, a true class act, made this donkey return to the stage for the photo. He said nothing this time when he passed by me on the stage.

Sports are show business. The sooner riders realize that, the better. And patience is typically rewarded.

We rolled them up again for the start, where the great Phil Anderson helped Pat McQuaid do the start duties.

The riders would go over the massive West Gate Bridge and roll 85 k to Geelong to start 10 laps on the circuit.

We drove to the circuit, turned up the hi-fi, and worked the finish stretch. In short, we signaled the start of the race for these fans who had staked out fence-side seats hours earlier.

Read the coverage. A great race unfolded with underdogs, local heroes, Rocky Balboas and Apollo Creeds all racing brilliantly.

Despite unbelievable heroics from Cadel Evans, a late breakaway was caught by the 40-rider field, survivors of unbelievable savagery that sent most of the sprinters to the DNF list. Save for one: Thor Hushovd, who never felt the wind in his face until 100 meters to go.

Boom. Done.

The Americans were dreadful. But if you study the event you’ll realize that Italy sent riders and directors to Australia twice to profile the circuit and study the event. Although unsuccessful, they were in every major move with big numbers. They were able to select the right time for the job. They finished with several riders.

Other teams show up as an afterthought and the results show.

And then it’s done. I walked back, actually stopping to have my picture taken with fans and even signing two autographs. What fun and flattery.

Headed home I young lady from Geelong named Bethany intercepted me. She ran a local community radio program on cycling. I had gotten her into the media box to get an interview with Cancellara.

She owed me a beer so I took her up on it. From there I would encounter other UCI folks in the lobby.

I never got out. No sites. No tourism. No clubbing.

But I did fasten down some friendships with some important folks. And I’ll improve the relations when I travel to Germany and Denmark in 2011. But I hope to have some family along next time.

Game over. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

I have found a few Americans over here. Mike “Mikey Havoc” Sayers is working for the American team along with Jim Miller, both good guys but super busy and staying somewhere else for lodging. Then there are the riders, but they too are so pegged and freaked out, that even during the team introductions, I appear to them like some character in Alice In Wonderland.

Adam Howes could not believe his eyes when he came on stage to see me.

"I'm in over my head on this one," I whispered when I saw him.

"Me too," he replied. Great kid.

But finding Ted Essenfeld and his family has been great. He’s a NewEngland bike guy serving in the Navy as a lieutenant. He married Ski, an Aussie gal from Darwin and Perth (far away from Melbourne), who talked her into going home for a month. They have two great little kids and got to hold a one-year-old infant last night, which is an amazing human connection in this environment. Many of you remember Ted for his son, Ryder, who wiped out Tim Johnson en route to the podium last year in Providence.

We got to have dinner together last night at some place called Hog’s Breath. Imagine Bugaboo Creek and you’re close.

I loved it. But I did have to concern myself with sleep and my voice. Despite being convinced I had I stayed out WAY past my bed time of 8, I arrived to the room at 7:30 (19:30). I had one more bad beer downstairs and then collapsed at 8:30. One would think with the whole British Empire thing, one could find a decent IPA in this town. That’s not to be.

Only through viral means did I realize Geelong has a bit of an inferiority complex. People look down on this place compared to Melbourne. I have yet to even go to Melbourne. But it’s clean, kind, and quaint with fantastic Victorian architecture.
The leading cause of death with tourists such as me is getting whacked by a car, as they drive on the left side of the road and we tend to look the wrong way before stepping off the curb.

So here’s the drill: wake up, check e-mail, write blog, shop around alone, get start list, cliean up, go to the venue, announce, eat, sleep, and repeat. I found some sleep meds last night at a “Chemist” store and added a pack of “Throaties” lozenges. Thankfully Ski, a native Aussie, guided me through the process.

My hotel has Graham Watson, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, the Spanish team including Luis Leon Sanchez, the Polish team, and some others.

I know you must all think this is like some cycling Valhalla. In many ways it is. This event has just so many layers of stuff. There must be five miles of hard fencing on this 15 k course. There are TVs everywhere. I cannot fathom the tenting bill alone, which would dwarf the entire budget of most US races. It’s a massive arena for cycling. They’ve built bridges just for this race. They’ve removed rotaries (a.k.a roundabouts). They’ve re-paved and re-painted the entire course.
But then there are some things you cannot fathom they do without….. I cannot find water! There is no food while you’re working. And I don’t have a schedule of what I’m supposed to do. I go to the office every day and receive my instructions in a hybrid of French and English.

Yesterday at 11:15 I learned I would do a team presentation at 12. This would be cool.

Everything is super formal and structured. And like I always say, the first casualty of battle is the plan. When the officials don’t show up at 12 you cannot start the team presentation.

I did them all with just one glitch. All you do is look to the left to see you have and then go. I have no help and no order. I accidentally looked over and called Japan to the stage when in fact they were the team from Hong Kong (who rode brilliantly I might add).

But I nailed the names of just about everybody - Lithuanians, Norwegians, and even the one kid from Eritrea – without a hitch. But starting late I had to speed up the process, with teams going up and down the stairs at the same time, jostling for pens to sign the board, and freaking out about riding the biggest race of their life.
The race itself played out fantastically, albeit negatively. Everybody is so geeked out because of the magnitude of the result. There were some fantastic attacks and breakaways, not the least of which was Ben King of America going at the gun with a chase by Ben King of Australia. Both would be caught but they were brilliant.

The ride of three young men really impressed me:

Daniel Teklahaymanot of Eritrea. Riding alone, this kid from the poorest of poor countries, not only finished with the bunch, he threw down a handful of impressive attacks late in the race.

Tony Gallopin of France. He went three times in the last two laps and nearly made them stick. A real engine, Gallopin could be the next great French classics star.

Moreno Moser of Italy. The nephew of Francesco Moser, he showed amazing strength and speed in his solo move that nearly succeeded.

But the race was a controlled affair designed to bring the race to a bunch sprint with Michael Matthews of Australia where he needed to be. He won by several bike lengths. The crowd went bananas.

A tie for third with Taylor Phinney of the US and Jeremy Boivin of Canada could not be broken even with the best of Tissot timing going to the very pixel on the camera. They shared bronze.

The chant “AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE” was heard during the medal ceremony, with the return “OY, OY, OY!!!”.

Great stuff.

Ok, so it’s off to the women’s race now. The crowds will be super small today because the Grand Final of the AFL (Australian Rules Football) will be today. A marketing mistake you ask? No. The game was last weekend but they played to a tie. In their rules, they simply wait a week to play again. It’s the Magpies versus the Saints.

We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.