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Italian journalist Lucia Montanarella currently leads all issues dealing with infrastructure and services to enable the best media coverage for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Back when she started her career in sports journalism in Italy, Lucia herself depended on these very services in order to write her articles for Italian newspaper Il Tempo. Based on the experience she gained in nine editions of the Games, Lucia talks about how it is to live both sides of the coverage of the world’s greatest sporting event. Check out the exclusive interview.
Rio 2016: Tell us a little bit about your professional career. How did you get here?
Lucia Montanarella: I used to be a journalist. I covered three editions of the Games as a journalist: Albertville 1992, Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996. When I left my newspaper in 1999, I started working in press operations for Sydney 2000 and since then I’ve been working for the Games. I worked for Sydney, Athens, Torino and Vancouver Olympic Games and for Singapore and Innsbruck Youth Olympic Games. Since 2008 in Vancouver I have held the same position that I have here; I was the head of press operations there. Because of this I was made an offer to come and help as a consultant for the 2016 Games bid and then, after the Vancouver Games were over, I was contacted again.
Rio 2016: How was the transition between covering and organising the Games?
LM: It’s a great advantage to do the job that I have now properly. Having been a journalist, I know exactly what is needed. I have my own experience to guide me. I know how important transport, accommodation and technology are because I’ve experienced all that while I was working. I think it’s very useful. It has helped me understand the job better and, of course, to better deliver for my colleagues.
Rio 2016: Did you always know that you were going to work with sports news?
LM: I never wanted to be a sports journalist. I actually studied Italian literature and I always saw myself writing theatre critic reviews. But it’s very complicated to get a job in a newspaper in Italy. The only position I was offered was at the sports desk of the Italian newspaper II Tempo. It was not what I wanted but everybody told me how hard it was to get a full-time job at that time and that this was one of the major newspapers in Rome. I was very young, still at university, and I started there thinking that I could move to the theatre pages at some point. It never happened. I started covering skiing and there was a very famous Italian skier called Alberto Tomba and I got to cover him and go to the Albertville Games. From there I decided that covering sports was what I wanted to do.
Rio 2016: When did you first leave your country to live somewhere else?
LM: The first time was in Sydney 2000 and I spent nine months there to work in press operations for the Games. After that, I basically never came back to Rome. I’ve lived in Spain for another job, then Turin, Vancouver, Beijing for a short period, then Vancouver again and now I’m here.
Rio 2016: How is it for you to live in such different places?
LM: It’s nice! I think it’s part of the appeal of this job. There is a group of us that do that. We are called “Olympic gypsies” because we are always moving from Games to Games. I like exploring new places, working in different environments and understanding the culture of every place.
Rio 2016: What about Rio?
LM: I love Rio. I knew a bit from the period I worked for the 2016 bid and I really do think that Brazilians are quite similar to Italians, since we all know how to enjoy life. I think Italians perhaps can understand the Carioca culture better than people from other nationalities because we are very much alike.
Rio 2016: Do you miss covering the Games?
LM: Sometimes. It doesn’t happen very often. There was one moment in Vancouver when I went to visit a venue and saw all the journalists working. I confess I got a bit jealous of them! But I love my job now. There is also a project within press operations that is called Olympic News Service. It’s a news agency set-up by the press operations team and that’s very close to being a journalist. So that gives me the idea that somehow I am still involved in covering the Games.
Rio 2016: Do you remember any particular stories from that time?
LM: My favourite edition of the Games was Barcelona 1992 because I got very good headlines for my newspaper. It was actually the first time that I had my name on the front page. Italy had won gold in a Water Polo match against Spain. Since Spain was the hosting country and King Juan Carlos I was watching the Games, it was a big deal at that time. The other one that I remember was when Mountain Bike was in the Olympic programme for the first time in Atlanta 1996 and the first competition was won by Paola Pezzo, an Italian Mountain Bike racer. I got to write a big piece on this and there was a great deal of drama because the time difference between Atlanta and Italy was six hours. My deadline was very tight and, believe me, we weren’t using the internet. I remember having to dictate all my pieces for hours because there was no technology. Atlanta was actually the last Games edition where we had to dictate.
Rio 2016: This sounds unbelievable. How was that?
LM: When you think about it it’s really incredible how we managed to work without technology. There were no e-mails! It’s unbelievable. My son cannot imagine this and actually now neither can I.
Rio 2016: Do you think your children will follow in your footsteps, since they’re growing up in the Games?
LM: I actually don’t know. My son Pietro was three in Sydney and until now he’s been to six Games already, so he knows the Games pretty well. But he’s into technology. And the little one is only six. I don’t think they’ll be journalists. But, yes, they’re growing up in the Games.
Rio 2016: How about your role in the Rio 2016 Games. When did you get here?
LM: I started at the Rio 2016 Organising Committee part-time in March 2012 and began full-time in January 2013.
Rio 2016: Tell us a little bit about your team’s main goal.
LM: Our main goal is to make sure that the 5600 reporters and photographers that will be here in 2016 can provide the best coverage of our Games because they’ll have good working facilities. My success is measured by the fact that the media will be happy and that they will be able to do their job very well. All we have to do is to make sure that they have absolutely everything they need to do this.
Rio 2016: How different will it be for your team at ‘Games time’?
LM: Basically, now we have to plan and make sure that the entire Committee plans for the media. At Games-time it will be basically managing people, because then we need to deliver it all. We’ll have to hire a big team. Press operations will have 2500 people on board for the Games and quite a number of volunteers.
Rio 2016: You’ve just delivered the World Press Briefing. How was it?
LM: It was very good. It was the first time that the media came here and they had an introduction to the project and all the planning that we are doing for them. They come here and they have to understand about their accommodation, transport and the entire infrastructure for them to work during the Games. It was a very good event. We will have another one next year and possibly another one in 2015.