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Managing a Crisis – Five Lessons to Learn from the Winter Olympics

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With the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics early next month, we lookback at five historic crises that hit the Winter Olympics to see what we can learn from them.

1. 1968 French Winter Olympics The mysterious man in black.

During the slalom ski final of 1968 Austrian skier Karl Schranz claimed that mysterious manin black had blocked his path downhill causing him to stop. He had been racing against localhero Jean-Claude Killy, who was subsequently awarded the gold medal following asuccessful appeal and Schranz disqualification. Many commentators have questioned whether the man in black was put there to ensure the local favourite won.

Lesson: Expect the unexpected or get caught out – a crisis is likely to happen in away and at a time you would never have imagined it to.

2. 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics Banned for receiving sponsorship.

If 1968 wasnt hard enough on Karl Schranz the following Winter Olympics saw him
disqualified from the competition for receiving a $50,000 a year (around $0.5m dollars today)sponsorship deal with an Austrian ski manufacturer. At the time all participants in theOlympics had to be amateurs and the discovery of a professional athlete was consideredscandalous.

Lesson: Know when to play by the rules, or it could backfire on you.

3. 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics Denver votes no.

In 1970 the Olympic Committee awarded Denver Colorado the 1976 Winter Olympic Games. However, no one thought to check with the residents of Denver if they fancied hosting theevent. When local tax payers realised they would be expected to foot the bill for the gamesthey voted overwhelmingly by a 60-40 margin to give up the host city status, which instead was switched to Innsbruck with just three years notice.

Lesson: Make sure you understand the strength of public opinion.

4. 1980 New York Winter Olympics Turning the Olympic facilities into a prison.

While most former Olympic Parks are opened up to the public the facilities for the 1980 LakePlacid Olympics serve a slightly less welcoming function. Following the end of the games thedormitory facilities at Camp Adirondack became the Adirondack Correctional Facility whichtoday plays host to around 700 prison inmates.

Lesson: It pays to think long term – consider the reputational legacy you are creating.

5. 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics Attacking a rival.

The Olympics is supposed to represent the pinnacle of good sporting behaviour, but in therun up to the 1994 contest one American figure skater tried to take out one of her keycompetitors by attempting to have her legs broken. Figure skater Tonya Harding was foundguilty of having prior knowledge of an attack on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Both wenton to compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics where Kerrigan (by then recovered) took thesilver, whilst Harding finished eighth.

Lesson: We all want to be on top of our competitors, but be a good sport while trying to get ahead.

Tom Curtin is the CEO of crisis management consultancy Curtin and Co.

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