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Next month in South Korea, sportscaster Mike Tirico will be filling the shoes long worn by Bob Costas as host of NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games.
Tirico joined NBC Sports Group in 2016 and has worked on the network’s coverage of the NFL, horse racing, golf and Notre Dame football, as well as the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero.
He’s no stranger to high-profile events: In his 25 years at ESPN/ABC Sports, he’s worked on Monday Night Football, The Masters, the NBA, college sports and the FIFA World Cup. As the Olympics approach, Tirico fielded a few questions from B&C about what he expects from this year’s games. Here’s an edited transcript.
How important was the Olympics in your decision to come to NBC? So far, have the Olympics lived up to your expectations in terms of their scope and the amount of preparation you need to do?
It was very important. The portfolio of events I was working at ESPN was tremendous, but nothing compares to the Olympic Games. There were many reasons to make the move, and a role in our Olympics coverage was certainly a major reason. The Rio experience, as one of the daytime hosts, certainly lived up to my expectations.
As for the preparation, there isn’t enough time to get to everything I would like to cover. Whether it is watching past NBC Olympics broadcasts, reading the material our great research team has prepared, speaking with athletes, attending and watching U.S. Olympic Trials in certain sports, there is no shortage of boxes to check before Feb. 8.
Is there a winter sport that you’ve really warmed up to?
I had the opportunity to spend a weekend hosting the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose and it was a great opportunity to experience the sport up close. The chance to not only see the skaters at ice level, but pick the brains of our experts, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski and Scott Hamilton, really has me excited about the competition, which we will see plenty of in primetime.
Do you have an early Olympic memory? Maybe a favorite non-U.S. Olympic athlete?
As with most people growing up in the 1970s and 80s, my early Olympic memories include a slight recollection of Mark Spitz’s incredible performance in 1972 and the Montreal gold medals of Bruce Jenner and Sugar Ray Leonard four years later. But the standout Olympic moment of my teenage years would certainly be the ‘Miracle on Ice’ 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and that unforgettable weekend in Lake Placid.
If you ask for a favorite non-U.S. Olympic athlete, it would have to be [Austrian alpine ski racer] Franz Klammer. If I close my eyes, I can hear [ABC sportscasters] Frank Gifford and Bob Beattie calling that famous Klammer downhill run from the 1976 WinterGames.
Are you keeping track of the diplomatic news involving North and South Korea? How big a part of the broadcast will that be?
During my time at Syracuse University I was a broadcast journalism and political science major, so the story of relations and the ever-changing saga on the Korean peninsula would have my attention even if we were not heading over for the Games. Having said that, yes, I have been paying very close attention to the political maneuvering between the two sides and like many wait for the latest news from North Korea on a daily basis.
The story of the host country is always a part of the fabric in an Olympic broadcast. Undoubtedly on the first few evenings, especially during the Opening Ceremony, the story of Korea will be a part of our editorial content. However, we are keenly aware that people are tuning in primarily for the competition, and will balance the story of the peninsula as needed.
Is there one thing you’re determined not to do or say while hosting the Olympics?
I try to go into any event thinking about what to say, not words to avoid! This is live television for 18 straight nights and we operate with a blank canvas … so no promises.
During the Games, how closely will you be following sports back in the U.S.? Do you have a system?
Super Bowl Sunday will be Super Bowl Monday for us in PyeongChang, so I am looking forward to watching the game kick off at 8:30 in the morning in South Korea. Beyond that, I am sure I will keep an eye on the other big happenings in sports, but not in great detail. The internet certainly makes following U.S. sports overseas a lot easier than 20 years ago. The only thing I can guarantee is that I will be staying up to speed on my alma mater’s basketball games. It isn’t a true winter in my life without Syracuse basketball, no matter where I am.
How many times have you been to Korea? Have you found any favorite places to eat?
My only trip to South Korea was this past November for our coverage of 100 days to the start of the Games. It was a great opportunity to see most of the venues, get familiar with our broadcast location and experience Seoul as well. It was a truly beneficial trip in the midst of football season. There are no favorite restaurant stops from that brief visit, but as long as they are serving kimchi, I’m in.
What pastime would you say you’re a gold medal winner at?
I am probably a gold medalist in the sport of “traveling America.” After 20 years of spending approximately 150 days a year on the road, I think I have a good handle on most of the airport shortcuts. But if you know of a new one, please do share.