Few announcers have the task of covering two Olympic sports during a single games. Julie Swail is one of those individuals as NBC's analyst for both water polo and the triathalon. But, she's well suited for the job as one of few athletes to compete as an Olympian in two different sports. Julie captained the USA team to a silver medal in water polo in 2000 and competed in the triathalon in 2008 at Beijing. She chats with AA about the challenges in calling both sports from London.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in preparing for calling these Olympics, especially considering you're calling two sports.
A: The biggest challenge in preparing to call water polo is getting familiar with the other countries. I'm familiar with the U.S. team and the players, but I don't get to watch a lot of international water polo. It is similar to studying for final exams. I try to research team tendencies, players, strategies, strengths and weaknesses so that I have an idea of what to expect going into each game. There is great parity in women's water polo now though, so any one of the top seven teams could come away with a gold. It makes it exciting, but also requires in depth research on all eight teams.
The biggest challenge in preparing to call triathlon is the unknown. The same field could contest a race four consecutive times and come out with a different podium each time. There are 10-12 women who could win and have been on the podium in the last year. It is a matter of whether or not there will be several smaller groups (where a swim/bike specialist could win) or one large group (where a run specialist would excel.) In predicting the medal favorites, it changes with the weather conditions. Some athletes that excel with cold, wet weather, melt in the heat. While some who thrive in the heat, get too tight in the colder elements.
Q: How is the Olympic environment different versus other events you've worked or been a part of?
A: The Olympic environment is much different from other venues. Access to watch practices and interview athletes is very limited. Talking to athletes prior to their arrival and using other means (phone, Facebook, email, etc.) is the best way to keep in touch with athletes once they've arrived in London.
The energy at the Olympics is very different than other competitions like World Championships. While those competitions are important, the Olympics come only once every four years so it is the most special, most coveted medal or title out there. Often friends and family that might not otherwise watch an athlete compete, come out of the woodwork for the Olympic Gmaes. For friends and family, it is much a reunion as it is about the Olympics.
The environment in the city is electric. All newspapers highlight the Olympics, people talking on the streets are interested in talking sports and the whole world comes together to celebrate the victories of the athletes, regardless of their home nation.
Q: What's the most memorable aspect of being a part of the Olympic broadcast?
A: The most memorable part of being part of the Olympic broadcast is meeting all of the other people on the broadcast team The Olympic alumni that I watched compete on TV, many of whom helped form my Olympic dreams, the sports broadcasters that I listen to at home, the anchors that I watch each morning on the Today Show, and working alongside Doc Emerick, who is the best role model possible for this job.
Q: How much of the Olympics are you able to take in as a fan? What else will you try and take part in outside the booth in London?
A: I won't have much time to take in other events live. My days are pretty long, 10-11 hours, so I watch a lot of it on TV. When I have free time I like to go the USA House to watch the events. To be there, alongside other Americans, cheering for Team USA makes me so proud to be an American. During medal ceremonies, a silence falls over the room, viewers stand as the flag is raised and the room celebrates as if they were there at the venue.
Q: How does London compare to other Olympic venues?
A: London is similar to the Sydney Games, in that both are big cities, both redeveloped an area on the outskirts of town for the Olympic Park, and the Athletes Village was in the Olympic Park. Signs are in English so there is a familiarity about it all. Both the Brits and Aussies didn't embrace the Games when they began, but once underway the country fell in love with it and really rallied behind their athletes. Beijing was very different. It wasn't familiar in language or feel. It was much more difficult to get around than in London and we didn't have the same freedoms to eat and visit wherever we wanted.