An array of Peorians anticipate the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
With just over a month to go before the opening ceremonies of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, excitement is building. Despite looming tensions with North Korea, everything is proceeding as planned. Facilities and arenas have been completed, the Olympic torch is on its way, and participating nations are looking forward to watching their favorite athletes go for the gold.
The U.S. will send approximately 245 athletes, competing in 15 different winter sports—and Americans everywhere will be cheering them on. Here in the Peoria area, several organizations and individuals with special connections to these Winter Games may cheer a little louder than most!
Dr. Paul Gullifor, a Bradley University professor holding distinction as the Henry Means Pindell Endowed Chair in Communications, was instrumental in helping develop the university’s sports communications major. Now considered one of the best in the nation, the program was named in honor of Charley Steiner, the renowned sports commentator and L.A. Dodgers play-by-play announcer, who happens to be a Bradley graduate (‘71). “The Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication is the first ‘named’ sports communication school in the nation,” Dr. Gullifor explains. “This program offers Bradley students opportunities they can’t get elsewhere.”
Eight years ago, when the university was anxious to add an international aspect to the new major, Dr. Gullifor set his sights on student internships with NBC and the Olympics. Competing against prominent schools such as Notre Dame, he persisted and “finally wore them down.” At the London Olympics in 2012, ten Bradley students participated—some in London and some at the NBC Sports Group headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. Dr. Gullifor says he continually stressed to the interns that the future of these opportunities at Bradley depended on their performances. After the Games, when he requested an evaluation from NBC, he was assured, “Whenever we want interns, we will contact you first.”
Since then, Bradley has had student interns at every Olympics. In 2018, seven will go to South Korea and five to NBC in Connecticut. Of the 12, ten are from the sports communication program, one is a public relations major, and one majors in television arts. At present, the interns are paid; they receive three hours college credit; and their expenses are covered by NBC. Their responsibilities include providing operational support in a range of areas, serving as runners, shot selectors, loggers, production and editorial associates, and more.
Austin Shone of Grapevine, Texas, will be traveling to South Korea. An honors student who was accepted at several top schools, he admits that the sports communication major and the possibility of securing an NBC Olympic internship influenced his decision to select Bradley. He will be in South Korea from the end of January until the end of February, and won’t know what he will be doing until he gets there. He’s not concerned about traveling to that part of the world, but admits his parents are “a little nervous.” Austin is also an intern for the L.A. Dodgers and hopes to pursue a career in sports broadcasting or marketing after graduation.
Nathaly Trujillo of Dalton, Georgia, was an NBC Olympic intern in Stamford, Connecticut during the 2016 Summer Games and will return there for the 2018 Winter Games. That makes her a repeat, which says a lot about her performance! She previously worked as a digital sponsorship integration specialist; this time, she will intern as a shot selector. The opportunity to travel to a new country would have been exciting, she says, but she’s just as excited to return to Stamford for the “welcoming, energized and positive work environment that NBC Sports offers everyone, including their interns.” She’s also anxious to reconnect with familiar faces.
At Bradley, Nathaly has a double major of sports communication and Spanish, with a minor in social media marketing. When she was looking at schools with sports communication majors, she decided that Bradley had the best networking and internship opportunities among its competition. “I remember reading about the Olympics program and Bradley’s connection with NBC in the kitchen with my parents, and now here I am heading into my second Olympic internship,” she notes. After graduation, she is “open to any position within the sports world!”
Competitors on the Ice
Named after former Peoria Park District Director Rhodell Owens, Owens Center opened in Lakeview Park on October 3, 1980. Among the dignitaries who attended the opening of the large indoor facility—which includes two full-size ice rinks, a Pro Shop and more—were figure skater Dorothy Hamill, speed skater Dianne Holum, and Eric Strobel, a member of the famous 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team. These Olympic champions came to support the sport of skating and the opportunity for this community to enjoy year-round ice skating lessons, comprehensive hockey lessons/leagues, specialty figure skating and public skating—which Owens has now provided for 37 years.
Owens Center has helped develop many great skaters—and eventually had its own Olympic contender. Among an array of national titles, native Peorian Matt Savoie was a three-time bronze medalist who competed in the 2006 Olympics and trained at Owens his entire career (1989-2006) under coach Linda Branan. While working to become a top skater, he earned a B.A. at Bradley University, a master’s degree at the University of Illinois, and after retiring from skating, attended Cornell University Law School.
Matt left law after a few years and returned to the rink to become a full-time coach at the Skating Club of Boston. “I feel very lucky to have been able to get back into coaching after several years away from the sport,” he says. “I love skating and have always enjoyed working with other people who want to learn more about the sport and make progress toward their goals on the ice, whether they are just recreational or competitive.”
Although Matt won’t be traveling to South Korea for these Winter Games, he will definitely be watching. “Anyone who is competing there is just trying to be the best they can be at that moment, and that's always exciting to watch,” he says. “I am partial to figure skating events and will definitely be watching the ladies' singles event to see how it turns out.”
Matt tries to get back to Peoria to see family and friends as often as possible. In fact, he was here in November as part of an outstanding lineup of speakers and moderators (including Larry King, Phil Hersh, Charley Steiner and others) at Bradley’s Charley Steiner School of Communications Symposium. The topic of his panel was “Perspectives of the Olympics and Paralympics.”
Figure skating and hockey are two of the most popular Olympic events, and they often spark interest in learning to skate or expanding those skills. At Owens Center, lessons and skate-time sales play a significant role in keeping the facility financially viable. “Registration for lessons and skate-time reservations always seem to spike after the Olympics,” adds Owens Center manager Doug Silberer.
Winning gold medals always helps the hype surrounding the Olympics, and the chances of gold for the U.S. figure skating and men’s hockey teams are uncertain. The figure skating team won’t even be finalized until the U.S. Championships wrap up on January 7th. Sochi bronze medalist Gracie Gold has already dropped out, but there are many other medal contenders. As for hockey, the women’s team is a favorite, but the NHL (for the first time in 20 years) has decided not to allow its players to participate. Consequently, the U.S. men’s team will be comprised of free agents, college players and Americans who play professionally in Europe. If the American team can come together, might we have another “Miracle on Ice”?
Broadcasting the Games
NBC is “America’s Olympic Network,” with exclusive rights to that title through 2032. Over the years, it has aired 13 Summer and Winter Olympics, more than any other network. This February, viewers can expect new events and classic favorites, added features, new and familiar faces, and more ways to watch it all!
In a first for the Winter Games, NBC will broadcast live across all time zones, ending the days of tape-delayed coverage, with viewer excitement often diminished by “spoilers.” Designed for the modern audience who wants to watch what they want when they want, the Games will be aired live during the day, in prime time and late at night. Viewers can choose to watch traditionally on NBC and NBCSN, live-stream or watch on demand at NBCOlympics.com, or via a plethora of digital devices and platforms. There is also an app, of course.
As the Peoria area’s NBC affiliate, WEEK-TV has been gearing up for news coverage, promotion and local ad sales. You may have seen some of the Olympic promos, which have been running for a while now. Pete Russell, director of sales, says even though South Korea is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time, prime time will not be greatly affected, as some of the major events have been scheduled for the morning (local time in Korea). News Director Perry Boxx wants viewers to know the station will receive up-to-the-minute news from NBC and from owner Quincy Media, which will have a reporter at the Games to update anchors live every morning. In addition, NBC’s Today Show will broadcast live from Olympic events every day.
“Nothing sparks patriotism like the Olympics,” notes Russell. “The Winter Games will offer more than two weeks of family viewing and an audience of engaged, passionate viewers, equally composed of men and women.” Advertisers want excellent ratings, and NBC expects a sizeable increase from the Games in Sochi and Rio. Some things which may help that goal along include:
- Returning U.S. champions like alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim, and figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen;
- 1,500 hours of coverage, compared to 171 hours in 1996;
- Broadcasting favorites like the colorful team of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski offering figure skating commentary and Scott Hamilton hosting a daily live show;
- Champion skier Bode Miller as an NBC alpine skiing analyst; and
- Former ESPN anchor Mike Tirico taking the torch from long-time Olympics host Bob Costas.
The Olympics will be here before we know it, and expectations are high. Let’s hope these Games result in numerous gold medals for U.S. athletes and outstanding results as well for Bradley University interns, Owens Center and NBC affiliate WEEK-TV. Game on! a&s
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