Grad guides Olympic Torch around the world in 35 days
Traveling around the world to manage ceremonies for the Olympic Torch’s first "global" relay sounds like a dream come true. Yet managing a different ceremony every night for 34 straight days, often with a crew who spoke only their native language, sounds a bit nightmarish. And it was, says relay production manager Bill Kavanagh, DAAP ’78.
On one hand, the Los Angeles resident got to work with stars like Rod Stewart and Ozzy Osbourne, who gave a concert in London; Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone and Ellen Degeneres, who were L.A. torchbearers; and gold medal gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who slid down a cable onto Times Square from a skyscraper. ("You couldn’t see the cable; she looked like Tinker Bell flying in," he says.)
On the flip side, Kavanagh changed time zones 37 times, had to communicate in 19 different languages and averaged only three or four hours of sleep a night, usually on one of two 747s where, at least, he had his own private row in which to stretch out.
In 27 countries, his ultimate responsibility involved getting the final torchbearer of the day to arrive at an impressive sunset ceremony at a specific time. Consequently, one of the first things he needed on site was the script for the event the local community had planned. Of course, he could rarely read a word of it, and local interpreters could seldom translate technical production terms vital to Kavanagh.
In Cairo, the language barrier created the biggest problem when two Egyptians, whom he couldn't understand, put him on a camel and led him into the desert before he realized they weren't crew members. His cries for help fell on deaf sand until he emptied the cash from his pockets and the men let him off.
Kavanagh was also production manager for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Torch Relay, which remained in the United States and attracted much smaller crowds than the 250,000 people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which had never before hosted the relay.
Crowds that large often became impassible, creating a logistics nightmare for Kavanagh, who eventually had to keep 3,000 torchbearers on schedule. Nevertheless, Kavanagh says the entire staff found it "pretty amazing that we went through 27 countries without a hitch and exactly on time."
Well, Kavanagh did fall off the stage in Barcelona and got stitches in his head, but the show was on time.