During the 2012 U.S. Olympic Media Summit, media members were split up into print and broadcast groups, as was our class. I went to the broadcast side, where we would get Olympic athletes of all different kinds ushered in and out of our room over the three days. Unlike our partners on the print side, we were much more jammed for time. As opposed to bringing all of the writers to the athlete, they had to bring the athlete to the broadcasters. This meant we had a time limit—six minutes—from when they walked in to when they walked out. This provided an incredible challenge. It usually took about a minute to get the athlete all wired up and get the cameras focused. All of a sudden we were down to five minutes.We shared the room with the Armed Forces Network and WebMD. The AFN crew needed a personal message from the athlete to the troops and then for the athlete to do a station ID. This took about two minutes, meaning we and the WebMD folks had a whopping three minutes, whether it was with a hopeful for the final spot on the gymnastics team or U.S. Soccer star Alex Morgan.This meant our questions had to be from the cream of the crop, and it was tough to get them to give us information. This also meant we had to be prepared. We couldn’t simply ask questions to gather information about an athlete’s background. We had to know the background or else we would run out of time before we even had a chance for a quality question.On average we would get two questions from the athlete. Sometimes we lucked out and got three, other times only one, and occasionally if running late, we wouldn’t get a question at all. There were about 50 broadcast media, and as you can imagine, “BSU at the Games” wasn’t a top priority (although the fact that we were a priority when ESPN, NBC and Sports Illustrated were within shouting distance was more than humbling).
A common question we would ask is, what does wearing the red, white and blue and representing your country mean to you? It was incredible hearing all the different answers. Responses ranged from “it’s pretty cool” and “it’s an honor” to having the athlete nearly in tears.
Often we were able to quickly research the athlete when they walked in the room and find an interesting angle for our story.
For example, Wallace Spearmon is the U.S.’s top runner in the 200 and has beaten Usain Bolt. But what we were able to dig up was that in 2008 he won a bronze medal only to moments later have it taken away due to being disqualified for stepping out of his lane. As you can imagine, even four years later, he still is emotional about it.
We also found stories of a swimmer who had heart surgery and was forced to keep a defibrillator on site whenever she swam because doctors said her heart could give out at any time.
We heard stories of athletes growing up in poverty to make it, stories of athletes who were caught in drug scandals and have turned their lives around, stories of Paralympic athletes who lost limbs in the military and still compete at the highest levels of their sports.
It was an incredible process over the three days that saw us interview more than 100 athletes. Some personal highlights, of course, were the big names like Nastia Luikin, Maya Moore, Wallace Spearmon and, my personal favorite, Alex Morgan (guys reading won’t be asking follow-up questions as to why she was my favorite interview).
Coming to Dallas I was a bit apprehensive that I didn’t have enough material for London. Now we have so much material and so many story possibilities that we’re going to have to cut out some very good stories.
Be on the lookout for these interviews on the website.