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Follow the Pac-12 to Rio: Pac-12 Networks Track & Field
This week, Pac-12 Networks Insider features three of our on-air personalities who have made their marks in track & field broadcasting and production:
- Tom Feuer, has worked 11 Olympic games
- Lewis Johnson, has worked eight Olympic games
- Dwight Stones, has worked eight Summer Olympic games
What goes into your preparation for Olympics broadcasts?
Tom Feuer: “Track & Field is probably the toughest to prepare for. There are so many people involved, and you really have to button up and do your research. You have to read up on international athletes, use books and track and field websites; it’s a 365 days a year thing. There’s a publication I read during the year to make myself familiar with the athletes. I read all the results. That’s one of the best places to start, to read the results of the up and coming athletes. Also, just talking to the coaches and connecting with people, it’s that stew that makes you smarter and connect with athletes.”
Lewis Johnson: “For me, it’s all about relationships. What you’re trying to do is build a bond and trust between reporter and athlete. And that doesn’t happen in a moment or a meet, it happens over time. From the meets during the regular season to Olympic trials to track and field camp, these things have been going on for 8-10 years, now 21 years in my career. I’ve worked hard to build solid relationships with athletes. When they’re in the most pressure moment of their life and everything goes great, they come off the track and turn the corner in the mix zone and they see me, they’re ready to come open their heart up about what happened, so that the people at home can get that. But when it’s been a disaster, and when their dream has been crushed and smashed in front of the whole world, I want them to feel comfortable enough to come over and share their heart about that moment too because that’s just as important.
It’s important as a reporter to be a bond-builder, it’s important to do your homework, and research and read. It’s important to build those connections and relationships by going to training camps and practices and getting to know people away from TV. We have storylines that are a part of it. So it’s all about relationships and it’s all about connecting with human beings; that’s the way I really try to treat my job no matter what sport I am doing, whether it’s the Olympics or it’s Pac-12 football.“
Dwight Stones: “Primarily it comes down to the trials and researching up the events I’ll be broadcasting. It will change this time around, I’ve been primarily a field event analyst at the Olympic level since 1984 and now I’m more of the race caller. I want to be prepared to steer my analysts in the right direction in case there’s something that I feel should be talked about or is worth exploring, so I can still prep them or push them in that direction, so that it can get out there to the audience. It’s seeing how people look in qualifying, who appears nervous, who appears peaked. It comes down to knowing what to look for and what not to pay attention to.”
What are you looking forward to in this year’s games in Rio?
LJ: “For me, as a broadcaster, the Olympics is the ultimate storytelling stage. That’s always been my connection in television to sports; it has not been about the numbers and the stats. It’s about the people. [Most] sports have a championship opportunity every year but the Olympic opportunity and the Olympic stage is only available to athletes every 4 years, which makes the pressure even greater. The most compelling story I think of these games in Rio will be Usain Bolt’s last Olympic appearance. As he tries to do something no one has ever done, and that’s go back-to-back-to-back gold medals in 100 and 200 meters, individually, and in the 4x100m relay for his nation. I think those will be some of the greatest moments we’ll see in Rio, no question.”
DS: “I think there’s a lot of athletes who may be a fifth or sixth place in the finals, but without the Russians in there, I think there will be some medals that will be won by American athletes that would not have been won if that situation would not have occurred.”
TF: “University of Oregon alum Ashton Eaton in the decathlon. He’s the world-record holder. For him to win back-to-back medals, he’ll truly be the world’s greatest athlete. Allyson Felix attempting a 200 and 400 meter double, which is really hard. It’s only been done a couple times in the history of Olympic Games. Usain bolt - can he win 3 Olympic gold medals again? There are a lot of Pac-12 people who will make a huge impact at the games. I’ve done 18 Pac-12 Championships and one of the great things is you now you’re going to see people doing it at the next level.”
What was it like when you first knew you would be working the Olympics?
TF: “It was one of the greatest days of my life. In 1988, I got a call from a producer who asked if I wanted to be a spotter in the production truck for the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. That got me going, it was my first TV Olympics. It was live,and when you’re live, there’s no margin for error. You have to think before you say something.”
DS: “It had been told to me the previous year before the 1984 Olympic Games that they wouldn’t hire anybody who has Olympic eligibility. They didn’t want to be accused of making an athlete make a choice between competing or broadcasting, or having their ability to compete at the highest level compromised in any way because they’re doing the broadcast. I thought it was kind of ridiculous because I had been doing the broadcast and competing in the same meet for seven years. I had given up on the idea because I knew I was going to make that team. Maybe two months before the Olympic trials, I get a call saying there’s been an exception made for one person on the policy of not wanting to use Olympic-eligible athletes. They said, ‘this phone call is to ask if you’d be interested in working for us at the Olympic trials and the Olympic games regardless of whether you make the Olympic team or not.’ I worked every day except for the morning of my qualifying and the day of my final.”
LJ: “I returned for the Olympic trials in 1992 and I did not make the team. I was a semi-finalist for my event, which was a bone-crushing situation because I wanted to be an Olympian so bad. But amazingly in 2000, I had auditioned and won a role as an analyst at the Olympics in Sydney. When I got to Sydney, I looked at the Olympic rings on the Harbour Bridge and saw the Opera House; I realized that my Olympic dream had come true. Not as an athlete, but as a broadcaster. When I get to Rio, that will be the ninth time that I will have been fortunate enough to. A guy who had no high school scholarship, walked on the team, became an All-American, went to Europe for track and field, and then made the transition to TV. It’s just all been an incredible experience.”
What is one of the most memorable moments you’ve witness in the Olympics?
DS: “For me, in London, it was the victory of Felix Sanchez in the 400 meter hurdles. His victory in 2004 was expected but his victory in 2012 was not. With his grandmother dying, and the whole story leading up to his victory, to run the same exact time he did years earlier, it’s one of my most memorable and favorite moments of Olympic track and field.”
TF: “I’m a big distance running fan. The best thing to watch is a really good 10,000 meters, the worst thing is a bad 10,000 meters. In Sydney, there was a really good one between Ethiopia and Kenya in the men’s. The guys were really duking it out. They were neck and neck after running 9,400 meters. It was amazing to see these two guys flying at the end of the race.”
LJ: “My first games was Sydney, and it was incredibly emotional because of my own personal story of not being able to make a team twice, being fortunate enough to be selected as an analyst for those games, and being in the booth the night of the women’s 400 meter final when Cathy Freeman of Australia got into the blocks. Our play-by-play man Tom Hammond said, ‘Cathy Freeman has waited for this moment for four years, the Australian people have waited for this moment since 1964, and her aboriginal people have waited forever.’ Chills went up my spine because he gave a three-tiered perspective as to what this moment meant. And then I understood that as that entire stadium of 110,000 people went dead silent. Not only did the country go silent but the continent went silent, everyone stood still. And when the gun went off, the crowd exploded and she came around the track, at the home straight away she took the lead and she won, and it was overwhelming. I learned a lot of things in that moment about the power and value of being able to write because Mr. Hammond had some specific thoughts to really put the moment into perspective. I learned the value as a broadcaster when to shut up. There was three people chomping at the bit, but he put his hands up so no one would say anything after she finished the race. And he kept them there. The power of the natural sound, and the director changing the pictures was all you needed to see. It was unreal.
I learned so much in that moment. The magnitude it had on that woman, on the nation, and on her aboriginal people who had struggled and suffered in Australia for so many years. I would describe it as a sea of emotion that began to splash people in the stadium. All of us had tears coming down our face. It was that powerful.”
Stay tuned for our next feature on men’s water polo with Chris Dorst and Adam Krikorian coming up later this week.