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Will Chevrolet Trucks Have Prominent Role In Opening Ceremony?

July 19, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ It appears that commercialism, the concept embraced heartily by the Olympics Games, finally went too far.

Six years of preparations finally reach fruition tonight when the games begin with a ceremony at 83,000-seat Olympic Stadium. But there’s one bit of intrigue still to resolve before the action gets as hot as the temperature, which is expected to hit 92 today with 66 percent humidity.

Will General Motors be able to get 30 gleaming, chrome-painted pickup trucks _ each sporting a vivid blue ``CHEVROLET″ on its tailgate _ into a major production number at the ceremony?

Or will the organizers cut off the powerful Silverados like a New York city cabbie?

As the dress rehearsal Wednesday night, some observers expressed surprise at the glaring brand-naming of stage equipment in what is supposed to be a four-hour ceremony focusing on lofty principles of global brotherhood.

The trucks are platforms for spotlights illuminating 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers who perform a prime-time number, ``Atlanta’s Welcome to the World.″ After the dancers leave the arena, the trucks will have the field to themselves before they maneuver around to a show-stopping exit.

``We are proud that the world turned to the world’s most dependable trucks,″ said John Middlebrook, general manager of GM’s Chevrolet division. ``Those who view the opening ceremonies will recognize that we elevated GM and the Chevrolet brand way above the field.″

That blatant bit of promotion, in the form of a news release, rankled organizers, who said the trucks would not look that way with President Clinton in the stands and hundreds of millions watching on television worldwide.

What might be done to soften the image was not known, but GM was apologetic. ``We never intended to put (the organizers) in any sort of compromising or embarrassing position,″ spokesman Dean Rotondo said.

On a more serious note, Olympic organizers scrambled to assure everyone that the games would be safe after a TWA jet exploded and plunged into the ocean off Long Island late Wednesday _ 48 hours before the opening ceremony.

``Yes, it has heightened my anxiety a little bit,″ conceded Don Mischer, executive producer of the event, adding that he might revise the production to acknowledge the tragedy.

Mayor Bill Campbell said the crash ``certainly overshadows the joy that we feel in preparing to host the world for the Olympic Games.″

Only once before _ Munich, 1972 _ did terrorism intrude on the games, but the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches left scars on the Olympic movement that remain vivid today. Security surrounding the Atlanta Games has been extraordinarily tight, which doesn’t seem to bother the athletes.

``From a peace of mind standpoint, it’s very comforting,″ said Terry McHugh of Ireland, competing in his third Olympics in the javelin.

The IOC held a moment of silence Thursday for the 228 victims of the crash and expressed confidence in security measures for the Atlanta Games.

The Dream Team arrived in Atlanta a day before the games to the usual hoopla, which was only heightened by Shaquille O’Neal’s landmark $120 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers signed a few hours earlier.

O’Neal declined to talk about the signing while sitting in on a news conference with his fellow Dream Teamers, waiting until he had his own news conference later in the day put on by his shoe sponsor, Reebok. Oh, well, commercialism isn’t dead yet.

``It was a very, very tough decision,″ O’Neal said of leaving the Orlando Magic, ``just like choosing where to go to college and whether to get married.″

Another high-profile Olympian, Andre Agassi, was busy trying to explain how he has gone from the best player in the world for much of ’95 to someone who could lose to no-namers like Chris Woodruff, Doug Flach and Patrick Rafter in ’96.

``I certainly have struggled more than I would have cared for,″ said Agassi, counted on to lead the U.S. team now that Pete Sampras has dropped out because of an injury. ``But being here is a great moment in my life and I’m going to make it everything that it can be.″

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