London 2012 (08.04.2012) – A Super (Live) Saturday

It’s the host country’s duty

At any sporting event, there is something special about winning at home. It’s why home field, home ice, or home court advantage is so crucial. There’s a reason why it’s very difficult for many visiting basketball teams to win at the Carrier Dome.

And the success to a global event of this magnitude depends on the performance of a host nation. I think a lot of people can remember where they were when South Africa scored a goal against Mexico in the very first game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

In the Commonwealth Games (contested by nations within the British Commonwealth), two years ago in front of a packed house in Delhi, India, the women’s 4x400m relay team staged a remarkable performance in a race that will live on in the minds of many Indian fans.

In the Olympics, I remember when Cathy Freeman of Australia won gold in the 400m during the Sydney Games of 2000, after lighting the Olympic Cauldron during the Opening Ceremony.

This was the defining moment from Athens 2004 for the host nation:

And you don’t need to learn a word of Italian to know what Enrico Fabris did for his country during the Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games:

Point being, many of the moments that are remembered in sports involve the home team, or the athlete that the home crowd can root for. And at London 2012, that defining moment for Great Britain came on Super Saturday.

25 Gold Medals Awarded

It’s the busiest day of the games so far, with action happening at both the Aquatics Centre and at Olympic Stadium. In fact, every Olympic Venue within Olympic Park, with the exception of the BMX course, is being used.

By the numbers:

– Athletics: 6 finals

– Rowing, Swimming: 4 finals each

– Badminton, Shooting, Tennis: 2 finals each

– Track Cycling, Fencing, Trampoline Gymnastics, Triathlon and Weightlifting: 1 final each

Americans celebrated victories at Wimbledon, thanks to Serena Williams capturing her first Olympic singles title and the Bryan brothers defeating French pair Jo-Wilfred Tsonga/Michael Llodra.

The highlight for Team USA (and NBC) today was the final Olympic race of Michael Phelps’ career, in the final of the men’s 4x100m medley relay.

Live from Park Live, It’s (Super) Saturday Night!

Our live shot location within Park Live.

Like I mentioned yesterday, today I went with one of the Sports Desk crews to set up a live shot for Jim Cantore. Best known for his work on The Weather Channel, the joke is that it’s never a good thing when he appears in your town because it means that bad weather is coming. TWC even made a promo out of that concept.

During the Olympics, Cantore has been serving as a correspondent, mainly in charge of doing live shots during NBC’s Daytime Coverage. SportsDesk is responsible for setting up the locations for those live shots, assigning crews and coordinating the shot with the producers of the show. Cantore has done his live shots from various venues, including the Orbit Tower adjacent to Olympic Stadium and the London Eye.

Yesterday, I helped out the crew with finding a suitable location for this shot within Park Live, which is where the big screen is set up for spectators who either don’t have a ticket to a venue or just want to kill time before or after their event. The producers wanted a shot that can show a lot of people and activity happening, but can also allow Cantore to refer to the big screen.

Today, we went back to that location, but little did we know how much busier it would be compared to yesterday. When we arrived, Park live was packed with queues forming just to get inside. Nearly every piece of grass was taken and new spots were created among the trees and bushes along the side. Volunteers were tasked with keeping the traffic moving and visitors were being moved around as some pathways were either exit-only or enter-only. Walkways allowing two-way traffic were few and far between.

When I left the IBC, I had to track down the crew members, who were making their way towards the location on their own from the opposite direction that I was coming from. Eventually, I caught up with them at an exit-only checkpoint where we had to show our credentials and IDs to get in.

Once we re-adjusted and settled at our location, I had to go track down the guy with the digi-backpack. Without him, we would just be a camera, tripod and audio set-up with no way to actually send the signal back to the IBC. He was on the other side of the river but eventually found his way to where we were. I felt bad because he had a huge suitcase to lug around but he didn’t seem to mind.

Then we had to track down the talent. Cantore was escorted separately by one of the other runners, so I had to coordinate with her to navigate through the sea of spectators was in Olympic Park. I met up with him at the same checkpoint that still served as exit-only. Thus, I had to tell the volunteers that were manning the checkpoint that Cantore was also with NBC and needed to get through.

Once he finally got inside Park Live, I naturally just started some small talk, mentioning how busy the Park is today and how many medals were being awarded. Little did I know that I was feeding him the information he would use in his live shot.

“It costs like 15 pounds to get into Olympic Park if they don’t have a ticket to a venue,” I mentioned.

He then wanted me to give the exact cost.

“Ah, don’t quote me, but I think it’s 15,” I said.

Cantore wanted to know for sure, and that’s when I realized I would become the de-facto researcher for this live shot. After accepting the job, I started investigating, first talking to one of the volunteers, hoping he would know.

He said that tickets cost £10 for access into Olympic Park without a venue ticket. So I got one source, but for proper journalistic purposes, I needed at least one more. He told me to check the website, but since my cheap phone is from the pre-mobile Internet era and my iPhone had no data service without WiFi. My next option was to call the ticket box office.

Trying to get information by taking pictures of a Games Programme with my iPhone.

I call one of the other interns back at Sports Desk and I ask for the phone number to the ticket box office. As I wait, I’m trying to get other information that Cantore could use. I go to a couple sitting on a small hill in Park Live and ask if I could borrow their Games Programme magazine for a second.

They grant me access and I start furiously shifting through pages, looking for information about how many gold medals were being awarded, and how that compares to other days. I find some pages and start taking pictures of it with my iPhone, so that I can refer to it when I present my research to Cantore.

I find out that this is the second busiest day of the Games (next Saturday would be the busiest with 35 gold medals to be awarded). I also learn that this year’s gold medals are the largest to be awarded in Summer Olympic history in terms of both weight and diameter.

Whether or not he uses this info is up to him. He’ll have about a minute on camera, and half of that is used in actually forecasting the weather. But it’s better to have more info to work with than less.

Meanwhile, I get a call back from SportsDesk, but instead of the runner who I called for the ticket box office phone number, it’s my supervisor. She asks me why I’m asking about a phone number. I explain the situation and eventually, I get a call back with confirmation that adult tickets are £10 and children can get in for £5.

Then I get a learning lesson from this internship experience. I’m told that if there’s any fact checking or information that I needed, especially for something like a live shot, I should call my supervisors, not a runner at SportsDesk. Lesson learned. I realize that this is a news operation and it’s important to get the facts accurate, no matter what kind of details they are. Whether it’s how much tickets are or how to pronounce the name of a venue, the integrity of NBC News is at stake.

With that green light, it doesn’t take long for me to call back my supervisors because Cantore has asked for some more information.

How tall is the big screen sitting in Park Live? What are the dimensions? Who will the British mixed doubles team face in the final tomorrow? The crowd here just saw them win their semifinal match.

And what time is our live shot? Now that’s a big question that I don’t think anyone at SportsDesk could answer. We’ve been set up for a few hours now anticipating a live shot at around 7:10PM.

7:10PM passes and no word of when we’ll be on. We’ve rehearsed already and tested the shot as well as the audio. Cantore has done a complete walkthrough. He’s even had a whole conversation with an American fan.

Cantore poses with an American fan for a picture.

We even witnessed Team GB win another gold medal and hear them sing their national anthem.

Then someone receives an e-mail that simply said, “If the volleyball match goes to five sets, the live shot would get pushed back to around 9PM.”

It doesn’t take long for it to click in my head. NBC is airing a U.S. volleyball match and it’s running long. I call my colleague at SportsDesk just to ask what the score is. Turns out the Americans have a two sets to one lead but are trailing in the fourth. Meanwhile, a U.S. water polo match is slated to begin at 7:40PM. The window for the live shot is running out.

Then someone receives a second e-mail. The live shot has been pushed back another hour to around 9PM. The U.S. volleyball team has gone into a fifth set (they’d eventually lose to Russia in that final set) and the water polo match is about to get underway. My guess is that they’ll try to get Cantore in for a live shot during halftime.

Day turns into night. It gets a bit colder and Cantore has left to go grab his jacket. Meanwhile, events continue on this Super Saturday from both the pool and the track. The semifinals of the women’s 100m take place with the final to determine world’s fastest woman on the track. Then Sanya Richards-Ross qualifies for the final of the 400m to take place tomorrow night. Cantore comes back in time to watch Phelps win his 22nd career Olympic medal. I have to remind him not to refer to that in his live shot since the race won’t be seen back in the states for a couple of hours during the primetime show.

About a half hour until our approximate live shot time and we rehearse again, practicing where Cantore will move and how far down the path and on the grass he’ll walk. Not only is Cantore walking, but also the audio guy, the cameraman and the man holding the lighting fixture. Then we have a few others (including myself) who are trying to clear Cantore’s path from traffic as spectators continue to move around in Park Live.

We get the 10-minute warning and start to set up. A spectator in the park asks if we’re going to be standing there for awhile. An intern says “We’ll be moving soon, but I can’t promise when.”

She responds, “Jessica Ennis is going to be running for gold soon!” And by soon, we mean a little past 8:35PM. She’ll be in the fourth heat of the heptathlon’s 800m race.

And finally, the live shot happens. Cantore gestures towards the big screen and then moves toward what’s left of the crowd. The crowd responds, cheers and waves. The whole thing takes less than a minute. I’m making sure that pedestrian traffic is not in the way, all the while wondering if any of the information that I’ve given him was used in the brief time he was on camera.

Jim Cantore rehearsing his live shot for NBC.

That remains a mystery as the live shot ends. Handshakes and thanks are given all around. Hours of waiting to make sure that a minute-long live hit is absolutely perfect. For me, it was definitely worth the wait.

Every one packs up and starts to head back to the IBC. I decide to stay behind for a few minutes so that I can watch Jessica Ennis race.

‘The Greatest Hour of British Sport’

Ennis is a heptathlete and has been favored to win the seven-event athletics competition, making ‘Super Saturday’ one of the most anticipated nights of the Games.

She rose to fame after winning gold in the 2009 world championships and then at the European Championships in 2010. She had stress fractures in her right foot following the 2007 world championships in Osaka, forcing her to miss the Beijing Olympics. It’s one of those comeback stories that you can’t not like.

She had a strong lead heading into the final event and didn’t need to win her heat. Here is how she won gold (skip to the 20:58 mark).

Now watch how the crowd at Park Live reacted as she claimed gold.

The pride of Great Britain showcased tonight and to witness the flags waving and the cheers for Ennis was an incredible sight. And it didn’t stop there. As I walked back to the IBC, the cheers continued for Greg Rutherford, who unexpectedly won gold in the men’s long jump. And with Mo Farah capturing gold in the men’s 10,000 meters, Team GB had captured top podium finishes three times within an hour.

It’s being called “The Greatest Hour in British Sport”.

A Super Saturday indeed.

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