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At the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics Twenty-Two Years Ago and in Vancouver Today: The Excitement Ran as High Then as it Does Today
Arriving early for my first production meeting in a small room at the Olympic Ceremonies offices in downtown Calgary, I picked a spot at the long table and waited for the high echelon of the Ceremonies production staff to arrive. The door flew open as we were set to begin. An imposing figure in a full-length fur coat with a Russian hat burst in and chose the only spare chair, which was next to me.
“Who are you?” he said.
“I’m Jennifer Fahrni, production assistant. Who are you?”
“Kevin Cottam, Choreographer for Closing Ceremonies.”
Quickly my duties from production assistant were extended. I was to pick up dignitaries and celebrities from the airport, including Nancy Greene. She had often been a guest on a ski and entertainment show which I produced and co-hosted. Nancy had achieved celebrity status. I had hoped to do the same for our ski team with the TV show – make celebrities out of them while promoting the sport of skiing. Nancy and I discussed the fact that we believed our Canadian Olympic Medalists were not given the priority they deserved. As our Olympic hosts and heroes, they should have been given the royal treatment and full access to the venues. Nancy asked if I’d help her organize a press conference to address this issue. I declined, and have since regretted my decision.
Soon after picking up writer/announcers, Serge Grenier and Winston McQuade, we made fast friends, and whenever time allowed I showed them Calgary’s culinary treats. Among the skate champions who were arriving in preparation for Closing Ceremonies, Barbara Ann Scott, Gold Medalist from 1948 was the real star – still sparkling and graceful like a fairy. One day, while driving skate icon Toller Cranston, he told me he wanted to get his hands on me for a “complete makeover.” I wish I’d taken him up on it.
For Closing Ceremonies, I dealt with Brian Pockar, Artistic Director and his sister, Leanne, Assistant AD, who seemed to be running the Closing show with Kevin Cottam. I was sad to learn of Brian’s passing four years later, in 1992.
Security of information was paramount. It was a condition in our contracts that we were to guard against any information about the Ceremonies being leaked to the press. I took possibly greater care than most, as I was a member of the press myself. I figured that if information did get leaked, I would be a prime suspect. My media pals good-humouredly, but consistently drilled me about any information that I might accidentally pass on. In order to keep Paddy Sampson (Executive Producer) and Jacque Lemay’s (Artistic Director) plans safe, I remained particularly tight-lipped.
On a day leading up to the Opening Ceremonies, Kevin Cottam and I were on our way up to the Control Booth at the Stadium. When the elevator opened, out stepped one of our young skaters for Closing Ceremonies with her mother. Mrs. Perry seemed to go on and on excessively, about how thrilled she was that her daughter was involved in such an important event. Getting into the elevator, Kevin and I looked at each other with a “Wow, that was a little overboard” look, and went on up to check in with Paddy Sampson.