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May 20, 2001
The Extra Mile Gets Olympic Gold
by Phoenix Roberts

I found this ad in my local paper: "Writer wanted - Olympic licensee seeks
writer to create booklet explaining Olympic sports to children." I'm not a sports writer, but I had time, so I sent a resume and samples. The company's art director called me a few days later, saying she had three responses she liked, would I be interested in doing an audition piece?

RED FLAG. I don't like audition pieces at all, but a book is a good resume
bullet and any Olympic connection impresses people in Salt Lake City and might
lead to more work with this company. So, I agreed. The art director sent me the job specs and some info about the sports - most important, the stories must revolve around Salt Lake's mascots; "Coal" the bear, "Copper" the coyote and "Powder" the hare.

Okay, I had pages of info, I just needed to condense it down to a couple hundred clever words. Easy.

RED FLAG. That's what the other candidates are probably saying. How do I win this gig? As I looked over their info, it was obviously downloaded from a news site. Nothing about Salt Lake City - - no introduction explaining why these characters are talking to kids about the games. Maybe there's an idea there.

So, I wrote three sample pages, instead of two. My first would be pure, but clever exposition in which Copper and Powder go into Coal's cave to wake him up for the games. Then they would explain the games to kids by explaining them to Coal. Hey, I thought, bears hibernate, why would he know anything about winter sports?

I also worried that this project could turn out rather dry, so, I threw in an obvious bad joke:

"What time is it?" Coal asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

"Almost half passed January," Powder replied, her ears twitching with excitement.

"What! I told you to wake me at a quarter to April!" the sleepy bear bellowed.

A little over the heads of the kids, maybe, but it was written to the art director, to show her I had a sense of humor.

I hesitated before dropping the package in the mail. This was kind of risky. The art director might look at my extra work and say, "This is garbage." Or, she might decide I was too dumb to follow simple instructions - I was told two samples. Either way, the contract would be lost, but, since I didn't have anything yet, so, I figured I could be bold, and sent them all.

Weeks passed, no word came. I called, and was told there'd been a small
delay, but I was assured, "We'll be in touch." Yeah, right. More weeks passed, and then the call came: "I really liked that introduction you did. We'd like you to do the book."

GREEN FLAG. She faxed a contract, I signed it, and we met to discuss specifics. First up, my introduction was interesting, but wouldn't work. Coal, Copper & Powder had been drawn to portray reporters in the book, so the hibernating bear story was out. I'd have to replace it.

Because of the delay in selecting me, the deadline was looming, and time was
crucial. I had 70 pages of sports info to be condensed to about 3500 words.
That was going well, but the new introduction wasn't. No new ideas were
jumping out at me.

I'd also been given several pages of info about the mascots. In addition to the very animated characters you'll meet next year, the Olympic Committee created drawings for the mascots that resembled the famous rock carvings from southern Utah, and stories telling why they so perfectly represented Olympic virtues. That reminded me of a brochure idea I pitched to a pioneer history group - I recommended three cover photos: pioneer life, a modern family at a historic site and between them, a "grandad" telling stories at a campfire. The campfire! The storyteller!! I had my hook!!!

At the end of two weeks, I submitted my first draft, with the following

In the lodge of the Storyteller, a small fire burned brightly. For generations, the old man kept the magic alive by teaching the tribe's
children. When the message was very important, he called old friends to help. A snowshoe hare, a coyote and a black bear came in and sat by the fire.

The Storyteller smiled, "I am happy to see you, old friends."

"We're glad to see you," they said.

"Good, because tribes from all the Earth are coming to the Valley. They come to compete in the Winter Olympic games, and I have chosen you to teach the children of those tribes what these games are about, and how the athletes will compete."

"Why us?" they asked, eyes and smiles wide with excitement.

The Storyteller continued, "Of all my friends, you represent the Games best. They say Citius, Altius, Fortius, meaning 'Faster, Higher, Stronger.' "Powder, you are fast like your ancestor, the hare who raced up the mountain and shot an arrow into the sun when it became too hot. The arrow brought the sun lower and cooled the earth. Copper, when the earth became cold and dark, your ancestor the coyote climbed the highest mountain, and took flame from the fire people to warm the earth. Coal, when hunters chased your ancestor the bear, his heart was stronger than the hearts of the hunters, so they chase him all across the sky, but he is still winning the race. Can you do this?"

"We'll teach them," Powder said.

"It'll be fun," said Copper.

"Don't worry," said Coal, as they hurried out of the lodge toward Salt Lake City, Utah, and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.(1)

My bid for this project was higher than any other applicant, but going the
extra mile meant that I got a little bit of the Olympic gold of my own!

(1) From: Young Peoples Guide to the Games by Phoenix Roberts.
© 2000 Great Mountain West Supply - - All Rights Reserved.

Phoenix Roberts is a Utah-based freelance writer specializing in corporate
communications and local history.

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