Jayne & Lucia: Media chiefs for London, Vancouver

Updated: July 24, 2009, 12:16 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- One is quintessentially English, the other a fiery Roman. One is realizing her dream job in her native country, the other pursuing a globe-trotting career halfway around the world.

What Jayne Pearce and Lucia Montanarella hold in common is this: a love of the Olympic Games and groundbreaking roles in organizing the massive events.

They are the first women to serve as heads of press operations for the Olympics -- Pearce for the 2012 Summer Games in London, Montanarella for next year's Winter Games in Vancouver.

"We are different characters," the 46-year-old Pearce said. "We represent the Italian and British approach. I'm quite English, really. She is a bit more colorful Italian. But we are both straightforward. We both value attention to detail and good old-fashioned hard work."

Montanarella, two years younger than Pearce, considered her colleague a role model when they worked together at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"We are probably obsessed about the planning and attention to details, but we're different," Montanarella said. "Me being Italian, I'm a fixer."

Although they work behind the scenes, their roles are crucial to the overall success of the games. They are responsible for ensuring world-class working conditions and facilities for thousands of photographers, text reporters and editors -- 5,600 for summer games; 2,800 for winter.

Among their responsibilities: the computer results and information feed for the media; the organizing committee's own Olympic news service; accommodation and transportation for journalists; the running of the main media center and press facilities at all the venues.

"It's all about organizing and attention to detail," Pearce said. "One line off a spread sheet can mean one missed parking pass and an angry journalist."

Angry journalists are the last thing an organizing committee needs. Pearce certainly knows that from her first experience in Olympic press operations at the 1996 Atlanta Games, where breakdowns in the results and technology system provoked negative media coverage around the globe.

"I felt like the end of the world is nigh," Pearce said. "I knew we had huge problems, but couldn't fix it. It was quite a difficult period. I learned more there than at any event before or since."

Both women have been involved in numerous Olympics and other major sporting events over the past two decades. Each has traveled the world while bringing up young children.

"Both are women of their time," International Olympic Committee press commission chairman Kevan Gosper said. "They are quite different characters, but equal in professionalism, drive, commitment, energy and passion. Without those qualities, you can't deliver to the media."

While Pearce has three years to deliver in London, Montanarella has less than seven months to get ready for the opening ceremony in Vancouver.

Things aren't going quite as smoothly as she'd like.

Montanarella, whose current staff of 24 will grow to 164 paid workers and 587 volunteers during the games, has had to make concessions in the face of budget cuts during the economic downturn.

"Being in the pilot seat for the first time, it's frustrating because you have to compromise a lot," she said. "My vision is gone. I live in damage control now. All the 'nice to have things' -- you lose them. Going through budget cuts is not unusual, but it's much harder this time."

Among her biggest concerns is finding enough accommodations for volunteers and staff at the mountain venues in and around Whistler.

"The most frustrating thing for me in Torino was that we got the accommodation wrong for the work force," she said. "I was determined not to let it happen again in Vancouver. We are still struggling to have beds in Whistler."

Overall, Montanarella is worried about living up to the world's high expectations for the Vancouver Games.

"For Athens and Torino and maybe Barcelona, we all went without high expectations and we enjoyed it more," she said. "With the high expectations for Vancouver, it makes it more difficult to match."

"I think they will be good games," she said. "Not spectacular."

Pearce also must contend with trying to trim costs without impacting essential services. Ensuring reliable media transportation to and from the Olympic Park and the other venues across the capital will be one of London's biggest tests.

Pearce's staff consists of herself and a handful of assistants. By the time the games open in 2012, the department will soar to 2,400 people, including 500 paid personnel and the rest volunteers.

Like Montanarella, Pearce knows there will be challenges along the way -- from arranging arrival services for the media at London's various airports and rail stations to dealing with journalists' complaints of being subject to the daily 8-pound ($13) "congestion charge" for driving in central London during business hours.

But Pearce already has a rosy vision of how things will run in July and August of 2012.

"I want to be able to look around the MPC (main press center) and see journalists working, heads down with tired but smiling faces," she said.

Both women are juggling their Olympic duties with motherhood.

Montanarella, who is divorced, is raising her 12-year-old son, Pietro, and a 2½-year-old daughter, Agnese.

"I have two flexible, adjustable kids," she said. "If I've been successful, it's because I have a very complete motherhood."

Pearce and her husband, Andrew McMenamin, have a 5-year-old daughter Fionnuala.

"I'm a recovering workaholic," Pearce said. "I leave the office every day at 5:30 p.m., cycle home and spend time with my husband and daughter. Otherwise, I feel like could work five more hours every day. Getting the balance right is very hard. It's a great leveler to go home and see my daughter."

Being at home is a change for Pearce after a career which has taken her from country to country, including roles in Atlanta, Sydney and Turin, the 1998 World Cup in France, among other events.

"London is my dream job," she said. "It is what I always wanted to do. This is the absolute pinnacle of my career."

If Pearce is enjoying a homecoming of sorts, Montanarella -- who learned her trade in Sydney and headed the Olympic News Service in Turin -- is proud of being the first foreigner to lead press operations at an Olympics.

"I'm very passionate about it without being Canadian," she said. "It's still my baby."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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