Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir, Bode Miller, Jim Bell
February 6, 2018
THE MODERATOR: Thank you everyone for joining us today. In a moment we’re going to hear from NBC Olympics Executive Producer, Jim Bell, our new alpine skiing analyst, Bode Miller, and our figure skating analysts, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski.
I think as everybody knows these will be the most live Winter Olympics ever for NBC. We’ve got 24 hours of coverage. We will be live in primetime across the country, all time zones live. I think as you probably have heard, we’ll have coverage in primetime on NBC, NBCSN, and streaming, which is a first for Winter Games. And we’ll be aggregating all of that viewership to provide what we call TAD, Total Audience Delivery.
It all begins actually on Wednesday 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN we’ve got some curling coverage, but then the primetime show on NBC begins Thursday at 8 p.m., figure skating and freestyle skiing will be featured. Then Friday, of course, 8 p.m. ET on NBC is the Opening Ceremony.
Let’s begin now with our Executive Producer of NBC Olympics, Jim Bell.
JIM BELL: Thanks, Chris. Thanks everybody for joining this morning. Briefly, I’ve been around the Olympics for 28 years, and I think because of the unusual juxtaposition of geopolitics with the world’s biggest sports event, we’ve got ourselves a pretty astonishing moment in time, one that perhaps the Olympics hasn’t seen since 1936 in Berlin.
That said, our responsibilities here are critical as ever. People are tuning in to see the athletes and hear their stories. I think though in this instance, given the location, there is an added layer of curiosity, and I think there is an added layer of responsibility on us to provide some context about this situation.
I am really thrilled to have these analysts who are joining us here today to provide both that, both a sense, of course, of the competition and the athletes, but also the bigger picture when it comes to things like how it’s going to feel to be marching in the Opening Ceremony, or what it’s like to compete in these circumstances. I know we’re all thrilled to kick it off on Thursday night.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jim. Let’s turn it over to Bode Miller.
BODE MILLER: All right. Thank you, guys. Thanks for coming on the call. I just barely got over here to the venue at the downhill, or the Super G, downhill speed events. I think it’s really kind of interesting, obviously. I’ve been to a bunch of Olympics as a competitor, and since I was born there’s been five that I didn’t participate in, and now this will be my sixth one that I did participate in only not as an athlete.
But what stands out to me is kind of the atmosphere, the feel, the feel of the area. I’ve been fielding questions now for a few months on what my thoughts are of this spot. And we used to have races here in the late ’90s that I participated in for World Cup, and it was also following the Nagano Olympics, that I competed in. I had a really interesting, I think, experience over here, and I have a deep appreciation for the culture of this area. I always marvel at the Olympics as a tool for humanity and for culture more than as a sporting event, because I think there are lots of sporting events out there, but there are so few that as stated transcend the geopolitical atmosphere and help to bring people together like the Olympics do.
This area has been booming in terms of the ski world. I don’t know about every other Olympic event, but they’ve embraced snow sports and skiing like very few other places in the world. I really look forward to seeing and hopefully adding something to it from a commentary standpoint, just seeing what they get out of this experience.
It really is not part of their culture from a physical standpoint, but that’s part of the purpose of the Olympics in my mind is to bring new stuff to areas of the world where it hasn’t been part of their culture. I think it could be a really exciting Olympics in regards to that. And I think it will be really fun for the rest of the world, as was said, to sort of the pull the curtain back, because I don’t think a lot of people know that much about this area of the world and there is a lot to know.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Next, Tara Lipinski.
TARA LIPINSKI: Hi there. Well, just walking around in this area knowing that the Olympics are about to start, it gives me chills. I feel like I’ve started my second career now as a broadcaster and an analyst. We’re still just kind of cooped up down here in the hotel, and we finally saw the venue yesterday. It’s the moment that you walk into an Olympic arena that it feels so much bigger than any other event that I’ve ever participated in, competed in or have been an analyst for.
I feel like I started at such a young age going back to my first Olympics. I was only 15 as a competitor, and it was the only Olympics I ever competed in. Just from that perspective, walking in in the Opening Ceremony and staying in the Olympic Village and getting to know all the other athletes, and it’s not about your sport anymore. It’s not about just your performance. It’s so much bigger. It goes on for two and three weeks, and the excitement is like no other. It’s palpable. I can remember those memories – gosh, I’m old now, 20 years ago – as if they were yesterday.
What always strikes me is I’ve been to other Olympics, and this is my second Olympics as a broadcaster. The feeling never changes. I still feel like I did at 15 when I see the Olympic rings or I hear the music, or I walk into an arena, or I think of what those athletes are going to feel like when they walk into Opening Ceremony. I think that’s the most magical part about the Games.
Bode touched on it and Jim touched on it, it’s so much more than just your sport, your personal journey and goal. It’s coming together, and you really do feel that. I think I’m just excited and honored to be here with Johnny Weir by my side and Terry Gannon this time around as the primetime commentators. We’ve been waiting to sit in that seat for quite a while. We’re excited to see good skating.
Obviously, Johnny and I will be able to speak on that. But I think it’s some of the best skating that we will have seen in a long, long time, especially in the men’s event. What’s happening is absolutely incredible with the so-called quad revolution, and Nathan Chen from the United States coming in, not just as a medal contender, but as a gold medal favorite. That’s sort of been this whirlwind that’s happened over the last year and a half.
As an athlete, stories like that get me so pumped and have me at the edge of my seat. All the audience in the arena, and at home, and the viewers are going to be just like me. I’m going to be sitting on the edge of my seat watching these incredible performances from all over the world, from all of these skaters that work and sacrifice their entire life for a singular dream, and we get to watch that unfold, and especially in skating in a matter of six minutes.
I know that I’m so excited to be a part of an Olympics, and feel lucky that I was able to be a competitor, and now as an analyst sitting on this side of it is just as exciting.
Again, all I can say is the Olympics are magic, and I can’t wait to be part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Now we’ll go to Johnny.
JOHNNY WEIR: This is my fifth Olympics. My third as a broadcaster for NBC, and I competed in 2006 and 2010. The thing that sticks out to me about the Olympics is that while they’re all the Olympics and it’s all about peace and celebrating the young people just living their lives, their best lives in front of us, trying to make their dreams come true, it’s just the most amazing, magical event, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.
Now as a lead broadcaster with Tara and Terry and figure skating in primetime, I’ve been waiting for this moment for four years. Every Olympics is special. Everyone should experience them at least once in their lives. I think it’s a huge honor and privilege to be able to shape the stories of young athletes who compete in these sports that many people only pay attention to every four years. To help people understand what they’re watching and help them get behind the skaters that we’re seeing. Because Tara and I have been there. We’ve been those skaters in the little niche sport that people only watch every four years. So, for us, it’s a big responsibility and a major honor to be able to craft those stories.
I’m so excited to be in PyeongChang. I’ve had the true honor of touring South Korea on the ice before, and the fans here are outrageous. I can’t wait until we get into the figure skating venue and hopefully Tara and I will get to see some other events as well. But just to see how supportive the South Korean fans are of the Olympic movement and of these athletes, and to really be a part of that mob that is just cheering on the world. It’s a huge honor to be here.
I was watching “I, Tonya” over the weekend, and it made me wonder to what degree do Olympic judges take into account their personal preference of a skating style or their perception of a skater with no reputation or reputation when it comes to scoring, or is that a thing of the past?
TARA LIPINSKI: We literally both said figure skating at the same time. But what I was going to say is figure skating is a subjective sport. It has been and I think it’s just part of that delicate balance that the judges are always looking for. We don’t have a clock, we don’t have a finish line. We’re that unique sport where you are judged half on your technical skill and half on your artistic skill. Especially when it comes to something like artistry that can be a very personal preference. In the past, that has been shown, I think.
Again, skating can be political. It can be subjective. Over the years as we’ve seen with the judging scandal in 2002 there has been marked improvement where they have changed the judging system completely. They’ve broken it down and restructured it. It’s a little bit more complicated to understand. Back in the day it was 5.9 when you were talking about Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, that age. Even when I skated it was 5.9, 6.0, and it was very easy to understand as a viewer or a fan. But, at the same time, it left a lot of room for the judges to judge just on their own. This performance felt like a 5.9.
I’m so glad at this point in 2018 and in this incredible sport that I love that the judging system has changed. Almost every point is accounted for. Every step a skater takes, every element, spins, jumps, they’re racking up these points as if it’s a math game. There are cameras and technical specialists. A lot has gone in to make this sport a fair sport.
But at the end of the day, even at this time, there’s still personal preference. There are still things that happen when it comes to skaters paying their dues and being in front of judges long enough for them to really get a grasp on their skating and for them to build and mature.
So I think overall it has improved greatly, but, again, at the end of the day sometimes we see this happen.
JOHNNY WEIR: The great thing there is that the American audience has Tara and I to call the judges out if it’s the wrong call.
Jim, I think there’s four new sports that are debuting, and a couple of those sports are obviously some sports we already know. From your perspective, what do you think has the best chance to hit with the American audience of the new winter sports that are debuting?
JIM BELL: I think the Big Air is pretty cool. I think it’s visual and I think it’s young. I think when you think about having another Winter Olympics in Asia, the last one was 20 years ago in Nagano as Bode had mentioned, and that’s where snowboarding made its debut.
It’s funny to think that there was an Olympics before where there wasn’t snowboarding, because it has become such a key part of the coverage. So if I had to pick one, I’d probably say the Big Air in snowboarding has the best chance to catch on.
Johnny, I noticed that when you re-watched Tara’s 1998 performance back during Nationals you made a comment. You said “I’ve seen how hard you work just to commentate. How many triple run-throughs you do just to commentate. I can’t imagine what kind of a nut you were back then.” I was just curious, do you have any examples of working with Tara as a commentator of that fanatical preparation, and just what you bring to the performance?
JOHNNY WEIR: Well, I think as on limb pines, I don’t know Bode as well as I know Tara, but as Olympians we have an obsessive/compulsive sort of need to be prepared for things. And I think Tara and I do the work that’s required of our broadcasting position. I mean, we have to bring figure skating to millions of households across the United States and around the world really.
I thought it was really cool when I found out that the Army bases in South Korea actually get the NBC broadcast, so we’re broadcasting all over the world.
Tara is an Olympic champion for a reason. She takes it one step further. I started to make a joke that she’d have to spin out, like I’d have to let her outside in the hallway and she could spin in the hallway just to calm herself down. The examples I have are just the late nights that Tara puts in with her notebooks, reading everything that there is, on YouTube, watching old performances.
I can’t say that I don’t prepare or don’t work hard for our broadcast, but Tara definitely is extreme. That’s why she’s been so great as a broadcaster and as an athlete. She makes me up my game which really means that Tara’s a great partner.
Bode, how do these courses compare to the World Cup courses that skiers compete on year after year?
BODE MILLER: Oh, it’s always different. Obviously the courses, I make one sort of continuous comparison is Kitzbuhel one year to the next is a bigger difference than Kitzbuhel to Chamonix or Kitzbuhel to Borneo. Conditions are that much of a factor. It’s the significant moving part of what we do. The hills are virtually the same every year. The course does vary a little bit, but the conditions make a huge, huge impact. Everything from equipment to conditioning required you know who will be favored.
On the tech side of things there are some good pitches. The hills are both, I would say, comparable to things we run on World Cup. On the speed side I can’t say as accurately because I haven’t run the courses, but I think they’re on the more tame end of things. They certainly run Lake Louise every year or we tried to. The last Olympics up in Vancouver wasn’t really the most technically demanding or steep.
But, again, I just want to reiterate it’s the conditions that are going to matter. I think the conditions here are on the easier side from what I gather. Low altitude, really cold conditions means the ice doesn’t set up as well, injection doesn’t work as well in terms of making ice. It just makes really grippy snow. The guys tend to ski pretty well on that. The women excel on that.
I think it’s great for viewership because everybody looks really good. It’s really difficult for racing because it’s hard to create much separation between the field.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you everyone for joining us today. We’ll have a transcript in a few hours. The Games begin Wednesday, and primetime this Thursday on NBC.