Monday, August 22, 2016

That's a Wrap!

None of the sports I was assigned are "primetime" sports. They are rarely shown live on TV. Most are streamed live online, often without commentary. A color analyst and play-by-play guy are calling it live from a booth in Stamford, but this commentary won't be heard until the event is shown later on tv, likely in a much shorter segment.

But if an American is on the verge of winning a medal or if they simply need to fill time, my sports will occasionally be shown live on one of the myriad of channels in the NBC family. It's always surprising and exciting to see my sports on TV and to hear the analyst repeat a bit of information I gave him minutes before. It's a rare glimpse of the finished product I helped create and makes this massive operation feel more real... and then a Mongolian wrestling coach takes off his clothes.

Overall, the U.S. won 13 medals among the 6 sports I covered. Here are the highlights:
  • Judo - The dominance of Kayla Harrison: No American in my sports came in with such high expectations and then exceeded them like she did en route to gold.
  • Boxing - The rise of Shakur Stevenson: From his Powerade commercial to his recruitment by Floyd Mayweather to his silver medal, this is not the last we'll hear from the 19-year-old.
  • Wrestling - While some big U.S. names faltered, upstart Helen Maroulis made up for it with a gold medal win over three-time Olympic Champion Saori Yoshida of Japan.
535 days until the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea

Monday, August 15, 2016

In a Connecticut State of Mind

Best thing about Stamford? It's close to New York. I've made three trips into the Big Apple so far to see friends and family.

It's a super easy 40-60 minute train ride to Grand Central Station. That said, I got on the wrong train the first time.

Manhattan is a wild place with people moving in every direction like ants. I wish I had more time to explore but I've enjoyed being amongst the craziness.

Best part about it is the people I make the trip for. They give me a welcome break from the Olympic bubble I've been living in.

Some of the interesting storylines in the sports I've been assigned:
  • Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab, then won bronze in the team sabre event. 
  • American judo athlete Kayla Harrison overcame sexual abuse from a former coach to win her 2nd Olympic gold medal in Rio. 
  • Three-time Olympic kayaker Kazuki Yazawa of Japan is also a Buddhist priest.
  • Belgian taekwondo athlete Moored Laachraoui is the brother of Najim Laachraoui, one of the suicide bombers who killed 17 at a Brussels airport. 
  • Two Muslim judo athletes have caused a stir with their actions (or inactions) towards Israeli athletes. One allegedly pulled out due to "injury" rather than face an Israeli opponent while another competed and lost to an Israeli and then refused to shake hands afterwards - a major breach of protocol in judo.

Monday, August 8, 2016

It begins...

It's day 3 of the Olympics. I'm not yet running on fumes. The adrenaline of the games is keeping me energized.

Four of my six sports have started. Since I have only smaller profile sports and none of them are team sports, it can be dizzying trying to keep up with every canoe race and boxing match. Luckily I have a lot of tv monitors and a chair that swivels.

Yesterday, fencer Alexander Massialas won a silver medal, the first individual fencing medal for a U.S. male in 32 years and the first in that particular discipline in 104 years. These kind of stories make the long days all worth it.

And it's not just the Americans we research. It's the judo athlete from Kosovo who won her country's first medal in any sport - in the country's first ever Olympics after declaring independence in 2009.

If you're watching the Olympics and the color analyst drops an obscure stat or personal story about the athlete, chances are that info was provided to them by the research room, where I reside. We are like human Wikipedia, except hopefully a bit more credible.

Olympic vocabulary:
ippon - like a knockout in boxing, but in judo
parry riposte - to deflect and counter strike in fencing
second - any coach/trainer/hypeman in your corner in boxing
taekwondo - Korean for "the way of hand and foot"
par terre position - starting on your hands and knees in wrestling, if penalized

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sports Factory

Who says Americans don't make anything anymore? For the next three weeks, this factory will produce highlights, world records and household names.

Hundreds of permanent and temporary employees make up the NBC Sports "at home" team during this Olympics. This includes on-air talent, play-by-play announcers, producers, statisticians, graphic designers, writers, editors and researchers. Another couple hundred employees will be based in Rio.

More so than any other job, my job as researcher is to watch sports. I am basically supposed to be a "smart fan" who knows all the medal favorites, human interest stories and, most importantly, how to pronounce each athlete's name.

It's a tough gig but somebody's got to do it.

To learn about 5 of my sports, watch these short video guides: Canoe/Kayak, Fencing, Wrestling, Judo, Taekwondo.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Back in the Games

One year after the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, I'm returning to the sports world to work the Rio 2016 Olympic Games... in sunny Stamford, Connecticut! That's where the headquarters for NBC Sports is located. Somewhere within the compound is the Research Room - my home for the next four weeks.

I've been assigned as a researcher for six sports - canoe/kayak, fencing, boxing, taekwondo, judo and wrestling. The first two I'm very familiar with, having previously worked as Media Director for USA Canoe/Kayak and USA Fencing. The other four - not as much, but I look forward to becoming an expert on them.

My job will be to assist the on-air talent and producers with storylines, stats, records, pronunciations... you name it. I've never had this particular role before but I'm excited to see the Olympics from the broadcast side of things. It'll be the first Games that I work for remotely. I'm sad to miss out on the excitement and beauty of Brazil but happy not to have to be away from family and work for any longer than I already am.

Be sure to follow along on NBC, NBC Sports, CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Bravo and Telemundo!

Fun facts about Stamford: it's a 50-minute train ride from NYC

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In the Final Stretch

I've now finished my 2nd venue - canoe/kayak slalom at the Minden Wild Water Preserve. The course was set on the Gull River 3 hours northeast of Toronto. Luckily, I had a place to stay in Minden and didn't have to make that daily commute. The venue was so natural and unlike any other I've been to. The Venue Media Center was a tent with no air conditioning and more bugs than reporters. But it was also refreshing and fun riding a golf cart through the woods from one end of the venue to the other.

Now I head to soccer, which has already been going on for 10 days. This will be the first venue that I'm not running the (media) show. I'll be helping out the Venue Press Manager and he's got a team of volunteers that already know what they're doing. It's a much slower pace, with athlete interviews taking place only once every couple of hours, but it has the potential to get crazy during the medal rounds.

I'm loving my experience so far, but I'm excited for my 4-day vacation coming up where I get to be a tourist in Toronto with Teresa. I'm meeting a lot of great people (see my canoe sprint volunteer supervisors pictured above) and learning a lot about event operations. It's like some sort of Olympic summer camp.

Follow me on Twitter @nickolivier

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

One venue down, 2 to go...

After 4 days of racing, I said goodbye to the Welland Pan Am Flatwater Center. The Venue Media Center was packed each day as Canada, Cuba and Brazil racked up the medals. Everything went smoothly for me, except for a few late buses back home to Toronto.

An average day of Canoe/Kayak Sprint included taking the 4:45am media bus from the Main Press Center to Welland. I arrive 2 hours later and I'm on my feet for the next 7 hours, running across the venue, talking to media and coordinating with my volunteer team. I had the best team of 16 volunteers that anyone could ask for!

Now I've got one day off before heading out to the Minden Wild Water Preserve for Canoe/Kayak Slalom. What did I do on my day off? Slept, watched some PanAm squash, and rode Toronto Bikeshare, naturally.