Saturday, May 08, 1999

Flying Pig I represents Vehr's vision

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nick Vehr is just back from Barcelona, and bound for a water station on Wilmer Avenue.

        Some days, the Olympic dream is nurtured through international politicking in exotic locales. Other days, it's more mundane. Sunday, Vehr can measure his progress by the amount of flesh pressed at the first Flying Pig Marathon.

flying pig
Special section

        The President of Cincinnati 2012 will be spearheading the Mile 19 canteen Sunday morning, doing battle with dehydration, watching anxiously for his wife. Laura Vehr will be running her first marathon, and Mile 19 may represent The Wall to some participants.

        “I have no higher purpose,” Nick Vehr said, “than handing water to my wife.”

        True and false. Vehr is too practiced a politician to neglect his core constituency — however sweaty she might be — but he has more at stake in Flying Pig I than mere marital bliss. Any local sports event that can attain national stature helps sell Cincinnati as a prospective site for the Summer Games. Any event that attracts volunteers from both sides of the river promotes the kind of regional cooperation Vehr craves.

Northern Kentucky in on it
        When Bob Coughlin first approached Vehr with the marathon idea, it was in search of funds the Cincinnati Olympic effort could not provide. But the Olympic visionary is never shy about seeking something for nothing. He requested that the race be re-routed to include Northern Kentucky.

        “I think it's important in everything we do as a community to realize that the river connects us,” Vehr said Friday afternoon. “From the perspective of doing the Olympic Games, the bottom line is if we don't think as a region, it will never happen.”

        Though spanning the Ohio created some additional headaches, Coughlin graciously cooperated. The runners will spend the latter part of Mile 3 crossing the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge into Covington, and follow Fifth Street into Newport in Miles 4 and 5 before returning to Ohio by way of the Taylor Southgate Bridge.

        “It was logistically difficult because you're using different police departments,” Coughlin said. “But it made for some variety in the course.”

        The trek into Kentucky is largely symbolic — an effort to involve separate communities in a common interest — but it is indicative of Vehr's attention to small details. He often refers to a marathon in describing the effort to land the Olympics, and it seems an apt analogy. If we can assume future games will be awarded based on merit rather than bribes, the winner will get there through thousands of small steps.

        Is Cincinnati still a longshot for the Summer Games of 2012? Absolutely. Yet if this second-tier town has an edge over larger rivals competing for the bid, it is Vehr and his cloudless vision and boundless energy.

Vehr is real go-getter
        While some Olympic aspirants have dallied, Vehr has dashed. While San Francisco's Bay Area Organizing Committee was just getting around to naming an executive director this week (former Olympic swimmer Anne Warner Cribbs), Vehr was attending a speech by Juan Antonio Samaranch in Spain. He met there with Josep Acebilla, lead architect and urban planner for the city of Barcelona, who confided that he would be touring Cincinnati this summer to study downtown development.

        Today and Monday, Vehr will be making Olympic presentations at corporate meetings. Tuesday, there's a fund-raiser. Wednesday, he appears at the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce Expo. Vehr figures he delivers some variation on his Olympic stump speech about 150 times a year. He speaks to law firms and condo associations and, sources say, random pedestrians waiting for a walk light.

        Marathoners approaching the Mile 19 water station Sunday are advised to pause at their own peril.

        “I don't want anyone to think we had a role in getting the marathon going,” Vehr said. “Cincinnati 2012 is not a sponsor of events. But in some ways, we hope to be part of the glue that brings all these things together.”

        The longest race starts with a single step. Nick Vehr is off and running.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at