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VISA Sends Young Artists to Olympics

Artistic talents and creative imaginations will send five children from the United States to the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan next month. Winners met the challenge of the “Visa Olympics of the Imagination” international art competition, a contest inspiring thousands of children worldwide — between the ages of nine and 13 — to submit original artwork illustrating a special person they admire participating in an Olympic Winter sport.

The five U.S. winners selected from thousands of entries nationwide are Philip Tanedo, Los Angeles; Alyssa Wehr, Grinnell, Iowa; Shuki Merlis, Atlanta; Zareen Mehmud, Brooklyn, New York; and Sadek Ghaznavi, Brooklyn, New York.
“We are proud to be able to bring together the worlds of sport and art by honoring artistic talents and imaginations of schoolchildren in true Olympic style,” said Michael Beindorff, executive vice president of marketing and product management, Visa U.S.A. “‘Visa Olympics of the Imagination’ is an opportunity to unite people from around the world in a celebration of the human spirit and Olympic competition.”

The five young artists from the United States join 21 children from 13 nations on an all-expenses-paid trip by Visa with a parent to witness the pinnacle of athletic competition. Children’s artwork created for the contest will be displayed at an international art exhibit in the Olympic city of Nagano, Japan.

Winning United States entries can be found on the Visa Olympic of the Imagination Internet site at http//

Entries include

“Jonathon Larson La ‘American’ Boheme”

Philip Tanedo, age 13 from Los Angeles, portrays Jonathon Larson, the composer of the Broadway musical Rent, figure skating because he is a true artist and figure skating is one of the most artistic Olympic sports.

“Mother Teresa An Eternal Legacy”

Zareen Mehmud, age 13 from Brooklyn, New York, portrays Mother Teresa as a hockey player fighting the opposing team’s defense to make her goal symbolizing how Mother Teresa was a fighter for her beliefs.


Alyssa Wehr, age 13 from Grinnell, Iowa, admires her sister Katie and portrays her figure skating symbolizing her efforts to never give up.

“Koss Skates for Olympic Aid”

Shuki Merlis, age 11 from Atlanta, portrays Johann Olav Koss the great Olympian speed skater who started Olympic Aid, an organization that raises money for children that need help all over the world.

“‘Air’ Olympics ’98”

Sadek Ghhaznavi, age 13 from Brooklyn, New York, portrays a famous basketball player competing in a variety of Olympic Winter sports symbolizing his reputation of athletic prowess and talented ability to master any sport.

United States winners were selected by a prestigious panel of judges at an event sponsored by Visa in conjunction with the International Children’s Art Museum in San Francisco, which specializes in the exchange of children’s art from around the world. Judges included Bay Area Olympian Matt Biondi and world-renowned artist Alexandra Nechita, 12, who is touted as “Mozart with a paintbrush.” Judging of entries was based on originality, imagination and artistic merit.

Winners of the “Visa Olympics of the Imagination” art competition will attend the 1998 Winter Games as guests of Visa from February 5-11. The young artists will observe the Opening Ceremonies and be spectators at Olympic events such as Women’s Ice Hockey and Speed Skating. In addition, they will be involved in a number of Japanese cultural activities and exchanges including creating a gigantic mural painting with children from all around the world.

On the evening of February 7, Visa will unveil an outdoor exhibit of the children’s art and award the “first medals of the Olympic Games” as part of a special presentation on the Olympics ceremonial stage. The grand prize winner will earn a “Best of Show” award and earn a trip for two to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Visa, a worldwide sponsor of the Olympic Games since 1986, is the official payment system of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and will continue as the exclusive card and official payment system for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Visa is the preferred payment brand and the largest consumer payment system worldwide. It plays a pivotal role in advancing new payment products and technologies to benefit its 21,000 member financial institutions, their cardholders, and the global economy. Visa is the only consumer payment system to facilitate $1 trillion worth of purchases of goods and services in a fiscal year. Visa’s nearly 600 million cards are accepted at more than 14 million worldwide locations, including 380,000 ATMs in the Visa/PLUS Global ATM Network. Visa’s Internet address is

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