MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Ready for Rio, preparing for the grind

Eight years ago this week, I received my first opportunity to cover a major national event … and thus my first experience with, for an extended period of time, working to the limit.

I flew to Denver to report from the 2008 Democratic National Convention and the eventual nomination of our current president, Barack Obama. I operated by myself in a sea of tens of thousands, lugged 50 pounds of equipment to and from my workspace each day, turned roughly a dozen stories, and used any brief window of free time to gobble down enough food to sustain me for the next few hours.

Exhausting, right? Not enjoyable at all, right?

And yet, when I returned home, I wrote this — in all sincerity — to my boss:

This was one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. I ended up working some 60 hours in four days in Denver, and it was partly because I kept looking for new things to cover, because I didn’t want to waste a minute of the experience.

Yup. When the work is that riveting, I actually crave it. And as I stare into my immediate future, I spy another extended brush with extended hours:

On Saturday I head to Rio de Janeiro to cover the 2016 Summer Olympics.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: No shame in silver for Elana Meyers

The Olympic spotlight is extremely bright but cruelly brief.

It shines on an event, and that event’s mostly anonymous athletes, for a few days before zooming to the next.

Win a gold medal? You might earn another day before the spotlight leaves you dark.

Win a silver, and you fade even faster. And the viewing public will have barely learned your name, let alone everything you have battled to reach the Olympic Games.

In the case of Elana Meyers, that is truly a shame.

The Douglasville, Ga. native is an inspiration, someone who may not have won a gold medal, but is so worthy of the golden spotlight.

Meyers, despite standing on gold’s doorstep, took silver Wednesday night. The 29-year-old, alongside partner Lauryn Williams held the lead in women’s bobsled through three of four heats. Only in their final run did they make one costly mistake – bumping a wall on an early curve – to fall into second place. The headline, for some, may read: “USA Women’s Bobsledder Loses Lead, Misses Out on Gold”.

That may be a correct headline, but it is not the right one.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Culture shock? What culture shock?

I like to travel.

A lot.

And when I do, I seek the authentic – often to an absurd level.

When I toured Japan, I walked around one village in a white robe because to do otherwise would have been considered impolite. (It felt wonderful.)

When my girlfriend and I visited Italy, I demanded that we stop in Naples for the sole purpose of dining at the world’s oldest pizzeria. (It was delicious.)

And when I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, I got so sick from food poisoning and altitude sickness that I had to spend two nights in a Peruvian hospital. (This one was not intentional.)

So naturally, when I got the call to go to Russia for the Olympics, I imagined numerous opportunities to scratch my authenticity itch.

After half a week, I’m still itching.

To be sure, the Olympic venues in Sochi are remarkable in many ways. The mountains are both imposing and impressive; the coastal cluster is full of fancy, brand-new arenas that look every bit as expensive as advertised.

But those sites seem more Olympian than Russian.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Some final thoughts before Sochi

From the beginning, I knew it was going to be different.

The 2014 Winter Olympics have long carried a different air about them than the 2010 Games. I covered those Olympics in Vancouver, and I remember my anticipation for how they would unfold. I expected a madcap, dizzying three weeks in Canada, featuring daily discoveries and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Sure enough, within days I was chronicling the local foodspotting NBC celebrities, and wholly enjoying the long days and crazy hours.

Here is what I wrote back then:

This is one of those assignments where you know exactly what you are signing up for when you accept it. You know the days are going to be long, the free time is going to be short, and the days off are going to be none. But you also know you are going to have an amazing, unique experience and receive access most would crave.

If those Olympics were wild and free, these Olympics appear to be anything but.

This time, I thought I knew exactly what I was signing up to do, especially since I had already done it once before. But this time, the Olympics are in Russia, not Canada. This time, the Games were preceded months in advance by controversy surrounding the Russian government, from its policies on gay rights to its behind-the-scenes machinations involving the Games.

And this time, most disturbingly, the Olympics have been besieged by threats of terrorism.

A quick Google search shows how serious these Games have become.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Preparing for Sochi, remembering Vancouver

I have some exciting news to share.

In a few weeks, I depart to Sochi to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics.

I have known about this for a few months, but only in the past few weeks has it truly started to feel real. I will be representing my station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, as well as other stations in the Gannett family. We received our press passes and flight schedule in the mail this past week, and we have started to discuss in-depth how we will cover this gargantuan event.

As I look forward to the Olympic experience, I cannot help but think back to my last one.

In 2010 I was one of several journalists selected by our company to cover the Vancouver Olympics. I had arrived in Atlanta less than a year earlier, and I remember my sincere shock in being given the Olympic assignment.

The experience exceeded my expectations.

Nearly four years since, here is what stands out: