So, here’s a reminder. The Summer Olympics begin in Rio next Friday, just 7 days from today. But, where’s the hype? Where are the non-stop athlete profiles? Where’s the catchy theme song? Certainly with my reduced viewing habits this summer, I may have missed some of this hoopla, but then again, I can only compare it to the mothership of all Canadian Olympic broadcast hoopla, the 2010 games that CTV broadcast from Vancouver.
During my career, I was lucky enough to be part of two CTV Olympic teams. In 1988, I was the Bobsleigh and Luge commentator at the Winter Olympics in Calgary. You know, the one with the Jamaican bobsleigh team. I was making the call live on CTV when they suffered that horrific crash. I remember it well, it was a heart-stopping moment, and in that moment, all you can think about is if everyone is OK and not to speculate on things you see and the viewer sees. In the end, the team was OK, and several years later their story became the mostly fictional movie “Cool Runnings”.
I loved my time in Calgary. I remember arriving about five days before the Games began and it was -20, and two days later, it was almost +20 and luge practise had to be cancelled because sand was blowing accross the track at Canada Olympic Park. I was able to ‘socialize’ quite a bit and remember meeting Prince Albert of Monaco in a bar, and still have my photo with him to prove it! At that point, he was there as part of Monaco’s two-man bobsleigh team, so I actually consider my time in that bar as ‘research’. Prince Albert is now a member of the IOC. All in all, my first experience in Calgary was great, and at that point, a personal high in my career.
If you remember the 1988 Calgary Games, you’ll also remember CTV suffered many technical glitches and gaffes over the course of those Games, much of it attributed to using brand new equipment, with not enough time for those using it to train. But hindsight is always 20/20 and I’m proud of that team. At this time, CTV also held the rights to the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, and I’m not sure I was ever going to be part of that team after 1988. But not to worry. In Calgary I met and worked with Dan Matheson, the Canada AM Sports and Weather Anchor who was also an on-air host in Calgary. He suggested to the folks at Canada AM that I fill in for him while he was in Spain at the ’92 games, and well, for me, and thanks to Dan, the rest is history. It was great to have him join me at Cabot Links for a few days last week.
As time went on, Olympic broadcast rights shifted back to CBC and that seemed to be just fine with the folks at CTV. Broadcasting these games, then, as it is even more so now, is an expensive proposition. But things changed on July 2nd, 2003 when the City of Vancouver won the bid to host the 2010 Winter Games. CTV had paid 4.5 million dollars ( Canadian) for the broadcast rights in Calgary. To get the broadcast rights for Vancouver, CTV paid 153 million (US) for both Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London England. Of the 153 million (US), more than 90 million (US) was paid for the Vancouver rights. For CTV president, at the time, Ivan Fecan, it was worth it. Every penny. He knew the value of having an Olympic Games held in Canada on his network. Many thought he overpaid, he didn’t. He had a vision, and he saw it through. In the end, the 2012 games didn’t matter to CTV, as they sold to Bell after the 2010 Games and before the 2012 games.
After being awarded the broadcast rights in February of 2005, CTV dove in head first. At Canada AM, we played a large role as the network’s national morning show.
It started with a remote from Whistler in the early winter of 2005. The occasion was 2,010 days from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Over the course of the next five years, the games were ‘top of mind’ and mentioned, but nothing that would hit you over the head. With two years to go to the start of the games, we took the entire show to Whistler to mark the occasion. We did a special show with one year to go. In that final year running up to the games it was hard to turn on CTV and not be reminded they were on the way. The marketing was brilliant, the hype was building. Donald Sutherland started to come into our living rooms with Olympic moments. The “I Believe” song became an earworm for all Canadians. We did daily updates tracking the Olympic torch and it’s journey across Canada from Oct. 30th, until the start of the games on February 12th. It was hard not to get caught up in it all.
The Canada AM team was assigned to be a part of “Olympic Morning”. This meant I would be doing my second Olympic games for CTV. A wait of 22 years, and something I wasn’t even sure I’d be around for when the games were awarded to Vancouver back in 2003. Our hosts at the time were Bev and Seamus. Bev was paired with former TSN sports anchor Jay Onrait, Seamus was in Whistler paired with Melissa Grelo, Marci would do news updates and I would be on location in and around different parts of the city. For the Canada AM team, and for us only, the Olympic broadcast experience would begin with a week of shows on February 8th from Vancouver leading up to the games, then 16 days of Olympic Morning shows, followed, for us, by 5 more days of regular Canada AM shows back in Toronto. If you’re keeping score, the four of us did shows for 26 straight days.
It was a gruelling and emotional time. So much was on the line, so much had gone into preparation. Millions of Canadians had been bombarded with CTV Olympic promotion..it was now time to deliver. And we had to deliver starting at 3am local time, to match 6am eastern time. The week of pre-shows fell into the normal Canada AM time slot of 6-9 eastern, but 3am to 6am in B.C. I remember doing the first remote from the Janyk residence in Whistler. Their kids, Britt and Michael had both spent time on the natonal ski team. From there, I had to race back to Langley B.C. to carry the Olympic Torch. My Olympics got off to a flying start. Once the Games started, the length of our show extended to 6 hours. Meaning we were on the air from 6am to noon eastern time, but 3am to 9am in Vancouver. I spent many a lonely hour in places like Robson Square, but our team of producers never let us down in convincing guests to make appearances at ungodly hours of the morning. You might wonder what time you have to get up in Vancouver to do a show that starts at 3am. For me, it depended on the location of the remote. If it was in Vancouver at a place like Robson Square, or the Molson Hockey House, or Canada House at The Bay or the Canadian Mint pavilion, I would get up at 1am. If it was in a place like Surrey, or Richmond, then I would get up at 12.30am. Yes, this meant on many nights I was in bed at 6pm. Heather came out to visit for 5 days and she found it exceptionally exciting to realize my day was done just as she was expecting dinner.
I was able to attend one event, and that was the Canada-Russia quarter-final hockey game. I was given tickets to the CTV ‘box’ and watched Canada dismantle Russia 7-4 to advance to the semi’s. I remember walking out of the arena and all you could hear from the condo’s surrounding the rink was people singing “O Canada”. Goosebummps. By the time our final Olympic Morning show rolled around on day 16 of the Olympics and day 21 for us, I was broadcasting from Robson Square and had to go directly to the airport to catch an 11am flight home. It was somewhere over Saskatchewan that our Air Canada pilot came on and told us Canada and the US were tied at one in the gold medal hockey game late in the third period. And it was somewhere over Manitoba that he came on to tell us Sydney Crosby had scored the winning goal, in overtime, to give Canada the win. It was so surreal I thought he was making it up.
Bev and I had returned on the same flight, and I’ll never forget what happened as we were getting off the plane in Toronto. A small group of Air Canada staff came up to us, and I think we thought there was some kind of ‘issue’. There wasn’t.
They had come by to specifically tell us how much they enjoyed our work on the show. I’ll never forget it. We were TOTALLY exhausted, and this was the best ‘pick me up’ ever.
By Monday March 1st, we were all back in Toronto and back on the show. It was day 22 in a row for us, but at least we got to sleep in until 4am. By Friday March 5th, day 26, we could hardly function. But we did. Even today as I look back on it I can’t believe we all did it.
On Saturday March 6th, day 27, Heather and I were in Florida.
Representation: Dan Champagne