Behind The Scenes: An 18-Hour Workday

Thirty Egyptians are down at the Goodwill Games accreditation center seeking lodging at the Athletes Village and badges for karate competition. One minor problem: There is no Games karate competition.

Next subject: Someone needs to cover up the Marlboro Man, the wooden advertisement towering above Tacoma's Cheney Stadium, site of Games baseball. Marlboro, like other cigarette companies, is not a proud sponsor of the Goodwill Games.

Yikes. Still trying to get the Athletes Village wired for cable television so athletes who have been there for days can finally watch the sports events on TV.

Behind the scenes, Jennifer Potter has little time to contemplate concepts such as world peace and international goodwill. She and other members of her Goodwill Games operations team are too busy coping with all of the above - and toilet paper.

According to the daily report from the Tri-Cities, the owner of the Coliseum has had all rolls removed from the bathroom stalls. The Seattle Organizing Committee representative there wants $1,100 worth of toilet paper for ice hockey spectators. ``Or,'' says the report,

``he'll walk.''

A sensitive subject on one more day in Potter's fast-forward life: Nearly 30 people have left their jobs in technology and communications services, creating a huge gap in the Games' daily operations.

But as she confidently tells her staff in the morning operations meeting, the Games' ``whatever it takes'' credo has been activated.

The marketing and personnel vice presidents now are in charge of technology and communications. The advertising director has moved over to publish the daily sports program.

``The bottom line is we are covered, we are operating, we are just fine,'' says Potter, fidgeting with the royal blue glasses that hang around her neck. In place, they make her look more like an English literature professor than the woman who seems to be running the Games, hour to hour.

Games President Bob Walsh may have put his career on the line for this event, but it's Potter, vice president of operations, who is making certain all the little pieces fit together.

The public symbol of these Games is a ribbon wreath of red, teal green and royal blue. Behind the scenes, with Potter and 250 other paid staffers, the symbol could be the cellular phone. ``It's almost between the pillows,'' complains Potter's husband, architect David Wright.

From 6 or 7 a.m. until midnight and sometimes beyond, almost everybody seems to want to talk to ``J.P.,'' the name she uses when answering her constantly ringing new appendage. Yes, it has call-waiting.

The topic on Line 1: Seattle Police object to a rock 'n' roll band on the street outside The Bon department store. On the other line: The caller wants to talk about whether organizers may inadvertently be paying to feed extra people who arrived with the Cuban sports delegation. It is up to the various athletic organizations to pay for extras.

Beep, beep. Barnett Lipton, producer of Games welcoming ceremonies, is calling for 20 cars when he and his crew return for closing ceremonies.

Cool-headed Potter handles it all calmly, often with a hearty laugh and a knowing look at Joe Borden.

Borden, an assistant vice president of operations, and Potter were driving around last Wednesday, Day Six of the Games, inspecting sports venues in Tacoma and Enumclaw where events would soon start.

After a couple of quick calls and a chat with Borden, she declared the outdoor band ``history,'' concluded that organizers were not paying to feed more people than they are supposed to, and decided Lipton must make do with a dozen cars.

Potter is the living embodiment of the saying that if you want to get something done, give it to the busiest person you know. She does it by delegating responsibilities, by hands-off management and by depending on the technological toys of the Games.

The former city bureaucrat-turned-developer of classy projects (she did the Queen Anne High School apartments) began her day frantically.

It wasn't so much that the technology and communications people she had worked with for years at the Games had left their jobs, some in tears. The staff shuffled assignments in the 8:30 a.m. management meeting. It wasn't her foot-long to-do list. It might alarm most people, but she ripped through much of it in two hours.

It was the pager she thought she had lost.

``I'm devastated without it,'' Potter said. ``I have to be accessible. I slept through the beeper the other night. Nobody could figure out what was happening with the start banner for the marathon.'' Then, laughing, she said, ``They handled it.''

After the back-to-back meetings, the first stop of the day was Seattle Center where somebody - glory, glory - had found Potter's pager.

Her frenetic walking pace, her rapid-fire conversations, her special-for-the-Games word abbreviations - ``ops'' for operations, ``deets'' for details - make it seem as though Potter runs on buckets of lattes. Actually she drinks an unremarkable two or three cups of coffee a day.

Instead, the official fuel of the Games seems to be batteries, for the cellular phones.

``Oh no, low batts,'' she yelled at one point in the day, humorously punching herself in the heart. ``I think I just died.''

Then she elbowed Borden, pleading for his coveted extended-life cellular phone battery. Apparently, there are only a few of these around. The other batteries fade after several hours.

No deal, said Borden.

Potter, 46, and Borden, 35, may move much faster than most people, but they are never far from humor and ``atta-boys'' for whomever.

``Joe, it looks beautiful,'' Potter said, shaking Borden's hand after inspecting Cheney Stadium. Like other sports venues, Cheney is covered with the Goodwill Games ``look'' - banners, signs and an aqua-and-pink vinyl wave outlining fences and buildings.

The wave is a visual pun, Potter explained. It represents the water of the Northwest and ``the wave'' stadium stunt begun here. The Games ``look'' is one of nearly 40 responsibilities under Potter's name on the committee's organization chart. That was before closing ceremonies were added to her list.

Potter was pleased with Cheney, but it would be another day before the Marlboro Man, who stands 25 feet above the baseball diamond, was covered with a plastic rendition of ``Unitus,'' the lion mascot of the Games.

As for the Egyptian karate team, no one at the Games knew quite what to make of it, but security officers made sure they didn't get badges and didn't register at the village.

``It's the weirdest thing I've seen since the Games began,'' said one accreditation employee.

Back on the road, heading for Enumclaw, site of the modern pentathlon, and then back to Seattle, Potter and Borden both took the extra breaths they seemed to need much of the day.

Potter paused to call her husband. She wanted him to meet her at Husky Stadium, where she would present medals to the women's long-jump winners at the evening's track and field session. She was a stand-in for Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who couldn't make it.

Borden reminisced about Soviets who become ``mad dogs with new toys'' when they see the keys left in golf carts used to transport baggage and supplies around the Athletes Village.

``The Soviet athletes grab the golf carts and zoom around,'' said Borden. ``They conveniently forget their English when they are told to stop.''

By 4 p.m., Potter wanted to check in at the village. What about that cable television for the athletes?

Part of the problem is that the communications and technology workers, the ones who quit, were working on that, explained Leslie Brown, assistant vice president of operations in charge of the village.

But Barry O'Donnell, a Turner Broadcasting System official, was working to get the broadcast wired into a television tent at the village.

Ten minutes later, O'Donnell called Potter: ``Babe, it's done.'' The TBS broadcast feed and program would soon be in the village. ``Barry, I love you,'' Potter said quickly.

After months of working together in sometimes tense, sometimes frustrating, sometimes humorous conditions, organizers now seem to belong to one giant fraternity.

TBS employees wear a shirt with the Games emblem. Organizing committee staffers wear a uniform - khaki slacks, shorts or skirts and white golf shirts with the Games emblem.

When they see each other, they tell war stories about the limited sleep they got the night before. They talk about the workers who left.

Some of them hug in a sort of tension release.

The cable problem handled, Potter rushed down to Husky Stadium for the awards program and to meet her husband and one of her two teen-age sons. They planned to watch some of the competition and attend a VIP party.

With the Goodwill Games theme song blaring, Potter's face tensed with the look of someone on a serious mission. She marched onto the field with other members of the evening awards team.

As the winners of the women's long jump were announced, Potter placed the medals around the necks of the first- and second-place winners, both from the Soviet Union. The third-place winner, from the U.S., wasn't there.

Instead of the more popular handshake, Potter reached up, smiled and kissed the women on both cheeks, the common greeting in Europe.

``I think it's more personal than the handshake,'' she said afterwards, with an engaging grin.

And then, in true Potter form, she didn't just saunter off to meet her family. She race-walked.