Monday, February 23, 1997
Vehr sharpens his skills
as Olympic diplomat

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nick Vehr
NAGANO, Japan - Nick Vehr came here to see, not to sell. The big push for a Cincinnati Olympics has not begun, and Vehr is cautious about seeming too pushy.

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He spent a week at the Winter Games and deliberately avoided the members of the International Olympic Committee. Vehr is a politician by training, and he understands protocol. He is biding his time until it is time to make his bid.

''I have been spending most of my time just watching and listening and kind of feeling what it's like for people who are here watching the games,'' Vehr said Sunday afternoon. ''That's what I wanted to do and I can tell you that it's been very successful for me.''

To land the Summer Games of 2012, Cincinnati must first pass inspection from the United States Olympic Committee. Part of that process - and a pretty big part - is knowing one's place. Vehr's place, at present, is to maintain a dignified distance from the IOC while proving himself a serious player to the USOC.

So far, so good.

''The reason I think Cincinnati has a chance is because of him,'' Jim Greensfelder said. ''I've been around the Olympic movement now for 14 years. I've seen the inside, and the characteristics and traits that Nick has are exactly what's needed to bring the Olympics to Cincinnati. His mixture of political skills, and his ability to create friendships rapidly with people are exactly the skills needed to sell.''

Greensfelder may be a bit biased vis a vis Vehr. The former Procter & Gamble executive is the volunteer marketing and development director for Vehr's 2012 campaign. He became interested in the Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles, through pin collecting, and has since parlayed his hobby into a means of entree. He was credentialed for the Nagano Games as a distinguished guest of Uzbekistan, whose low-budget operation he has bolstered through pin sales.

This status has given Greensfelder a certain amount of security clearance and a considerable amount of access to restricted areas. In turn, Greensfelder's contacts afforded Vehr a view of some of the behind-the-scenes Olympic operations. His trading savvy enabled Vehr to score one of the striking fur hats worn by the Mongolian delegation during the Opening Ceremonies - on the condition that he wear it to the next board meeting for Cincinnati 2012.

Vehr valued the opportunity to witness the Olympic accreditation process, to schmooze USOC officials in designated hospitality areas, but mainly the chance to visit competition venues.

''One thing I was struck by was the value of the intimacy of the competition - that the experience the spectator has is tremendously important,'' Vehr said. ''I hope that the USOC and the IOC place value on that in the decision making.''

If Cincinnati is to compete with larger cities for the right to bid on behalf of the United States, Vehr needs to carve out an appealing niche in the minds of the USOC. He might start by aiming at the Nagano model - nicely understated, wonderfully efficient, ambiance without attitude. The less Vehr looks like the Atlanta huckster, Billy Payne, the better his chances to pull this thing off.

''To me, what was most fun about Atlanta was the times that I interacted with people from other parts of the world,'' Vehr said. ''It seems that that occurred more in Nagano, perhaps because of the fact that the Winter Games are one-third to one-half of the size (of the Summer Games) or perhaps because greater attention was paid to the spectator experience.

''Perhaps it was also the innate friendliness of the Japanese people. Whatever the reason, I found this time that the interaction not only with the people of Nagano but people throughout the world was more important than in Atlanta.''

The International Olympic Committee needs to bring the Games to America from time to time for the sake of its major funding sources: network television and corporate sponsors. Where the next U.S. Summer Games will go, however, may be determined by diplomacy as much as dollars.

The town that seems least like Atlanta should have a leg up.

''I think the people inside the (USOC) see Cincinnati as a serious contender, but not necessarily the front-runner,'' Jim Greensfelder said. ''I think they have concerns over whether the financial support is there for a bid. They wonder if we have the big-city pizzazz to make it happen.''

It's a fair question, but it is not the only question. Nick Vehr's job is to find the answers.

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