Looking at the Next Generation of Olympic Announcers

As we go into the second week of the 2012 London Olympics or the Games of the XXX Summer Olympiad, I thought I would take the opportunity on this middle Sunday to look ahead for the next set of Games on television.

We know that NBCUniversal will carry the Olympics through 2020, that’s two Winter and two Summer Games in that timespan. While the network has been served well by its current crop of announcers, some of whom date back as far back as 1988, it’s time to replace them with a new generation of hosts, play-by-play callers and analysts who can carry the network through 2020 and possibly beyond.

I’ll focus this post on the Summer Games since that’s what we’ve been watching for the last 8 days. I’ll do a Winter Olympics announcing post at a later date. I’ll start with hosts, then go by the glamor sports.

HOSTS

Bob Costas — Bob is 60 this year and while his youthful look betrays his age, he’ll be 64 in 2016 for Rio and 68 in 2020 at a site yet to be determined. ABC’s Jim McKay hosted his last Olympics in 1988 at age 65. Costas remains the best interviewer on sports television and should be allowed to host the Olympics on NBC for as long as he wants. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

Dan Patrick — Dan is just four years younger than Bob, but if Costas decides to leave, DP could step into his shoes as Primetime host.

Liam McHugh — For 2016, I would think this is where NBC could tap Liam McHugh and put him in Al Michaels’ place on Daytime. Al would be 71 in Rio and while he would still be very good at calling Sunday Night Football in four years, I would not put him in the host’s chair in Rio. McHugh has proven he can be very versatile hosting the NHL Postseason, the Stanley Cup Final, the Tour de France and the Olympics over a four month span. That is not easy, but Liam has made it look easy and that’s the sign of a very good host.

Bonnie Bernstein — ESPN’s Bonnie Bernstein is the best personality not to have an Olympic gig. This is like saying she’s the Best Golfer Not To Win A Major. She has proven as a substitute host for Dan Patrick and on Twitter that she can discuss multiple sports. And Bonnie’s also a former gymnast. Watching BBC’s coverage of the London Games, the network utilizes both studio and venue hosts. Making Bonnie a venue host at Gymnastics with Nastia Liukin as her analyst would work to one of her strengths. She was a five-time host of the NCAA Gymnastics Championship when she was at CBS. I would love to see her work an Olympic Games.

Ryan Burr — Ryan will be coming to the NBCUniversal family to work at Golf Channel and at NBC Sports Network. We could see him host on either MSNBC or NBCSN.

Michelle Beadle — Michelle’s done a great job thus far in London. She has shown she can talk Olympic sports and bring some humor as well.

Kelly Tilghman — I’ve liked her work on MSNBC. I can see her on future Olympics as well.

ANNOUNCERS

Let’s do this by sport.

BASKETBALL — If the NBA continues sending players to the Olympics, then NBC could continue utilizing Bob Fitzgerald from Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Chris Carrino. This is where NBC should tap Turner Sports for a Steve Kerr or even Reggie Miller for analysts.

If basketball becomes an Under 23 tournament as speculated, NBC may have to hire college basketball announcers. Borrowing Ian Eagle from CBS and YES to call games would be a good move. Jay Bilas from ESPN would forge a strong team with Ian throughout the Games. And NBC should still utilize Craig Sager as the reporter although he looks muted with a regular wardrobe.

On the women’s side, if NBC could get Doris Burke on loan from ESPN, that would be ideal. She could work men’s games too as she’s proven over the past few years. If NBC can’t get Doris Burke, why not former ESPN’er Stacey Dales or Fox Sports Net’s Debbie Antonelli?

BOXING — Bob Papa and Teddy Atlas are a very good team and should remain, but I’d love for NBC to bring in its old friend Jim Lampley with Larry Merchant and Emmanuel Steward from HBO to call one or two bouts a day. What could be better than that? And bring in Harold Lederman for judging analysis while we’re at it.

Host Fred Roggin should be replaced with boxing fan Brian Kenny of MLB Network.

CYCLING — If it’s not Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, NBC should go announcer-less.

DIVING — Can you believe Cynthia Potter has worked every Summer Olympics on network television since 1984? She’s been solid, but it’s time to bring in some new blood. 2000 gold medalist Laura Wilkinson who worked the Diving Trials for NBC Sports Network in June is a potential candidate.

GYMNASTICS — Utilizing a favorite word of Tim Daggett’s, the announcing on this sport over the last two Olympiads has been catastrophic. Normally, I like Al Trautwig, but his calls of gymnastics in 2008 in Beijing and this year in London is reaching John Tesh disastrous proportions in 1996. Al makes everything seems at life or death levels. In addition, his penchant to focus on crying gymnasts borders on creepy.

Tim Daggett’s constant talking and use of the word “catastrophic” is annoying. Elfi Schlegel has been reduced to short sentences. NBC needs to replace this team for 2016.

This is where NBC can utilize a venue host (see Bonnie Bernstein above) with an analyst. Nastia Liukin could fill that role very nicely. Bela Karolyi has proven to be Must See TV and should be one of the studio analysts. And if his wife, Marta retires, imagine the fireworks on the set between those two.

NBC is using Terry Gannon this year to call rowing. Why not have Terry call Olympic Gymnastics in 2016? He has called the sport for ABC and did it well. And having watched the World Feed this year through NBC’s Olympics Live Extra app, I’m very impressed with Shannon Miller from 1996’s Magnificent Seven Team. She’s been the sole analyst for Olympic Broadcasting Services and has done very well in explaining certain moves, the scoring system and their implications without sounding overdramatic. Terry Gannon and Shannon Miller would make an excellent team.

GOLF — Remember, golf makes its return to the Olympics in Rio in 2016, having made its last appearance in 1904. NBC/Golf Channel has an established team with Dan Hicks, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Roger Maltbie, Brandell Chamblee, Frank Nobilo, Rich Lerner, the aforementioned Kelly Tilghman, David Feherty, the incoming Ryan Burr and so many others who could work this event.

Some people have asked me on Twitter if Dan would stop calling swimming to do golf. I think Dan could do both especially if the IOC (with the help of NBC) decides to schedule golf in the second week of the Olympics, so that it doesn’t interfere with swimming, tennis, gymnastics and other sports in the first week. This is where a venue host would come in handy, perhaps Kelly or Ryan with one or two of the many Golf Channel analysts. And we could expect Golf Channel to have a role in picking up the first two rounds of Olympic Golf with NBC coming in for the last two rounds.

SOCCER — NBC used its MLS crew, Arlo White and Kyle Martino on the men’s games along with JP Dellacamera, Glenn Davis, Steve Cangialosi and Allen Hopkins. I’d love to see English Premier League announcers Martin Tyler and Ian Darke on US TV calling some Olympic action.

Brandi Chastain despite Hope Solo’s complaints last week is doing well on women’s games and I would keep her in the booth.

SWIMMING — Dan Hicks has made this one of his signature sports along with golf throughout his career at NBC. I can’t see him leaving the sport unless golf is scheduled in the first week, but I don’t think that would happen. Rowdy Gaines has been a good salesman for swimming and he’s doing yeoman’s work to raise money for the sport to establish a training center. However, I’ve grown tired of his screaming and his voice raising over 50 octaves. This is where NBC could bring in a plethora of gold medalists to replace Gaines. This is also a sport that could utilize a venue host and it’s where Liam McHugh could go if NBC decides to keep Al Michaels in Daytime.

While Phelps has said he’s retiring, NBC would like to see him in Rio either as a swimmer or perhaps an analyst. If the network uses him on TV, I’d prefer to see him in the studio. At first thought, I felt putting Phelps on camera would be a bad move, but this was based on his interviews in Beijing where he looked uncomfortable. During his NBC interviews in London, Michael has looked more at ease, but that does not necessarily make for a good analyst. If he wants to go the TV route, putting him in the studio for short spurts might be best for 2016.

As for the races, I’d go with Amy Van Dyken to replace Rowdy. For the past year, Amy has been co-hosting Fox Sports Tonight with Rob Dibble on Fox Sports Radio and she’s been in London analyzing the Olympic swimming for FoxSports.com. Amy is not only funny, but she speaks her mind. She knows the mind of an Olympic athlete and I think she’d be perfect with Dan in calling the races.

TENNIS — This sport finally received some glamor treatment from NBC this year. However, it was treated badly with Pat O’Brien as the venue host. Not only did Pat demonstrate a huge lack of knowledge, he conducted awkward interviews as well. Brett Haber and Andrew Catalon did very well on the play-by-play and I liked Rennae Stubbs to want her to return in Rio. Justin Gimelstob was a weak link in the crew. I’d replace him with ESPN’s Darren Cahill or have John McEnroe call more matches.

TRACK & FIELD — There’s not much I would replace here. Tom Hammond is about as classy an announcer as you will find. Ato Boldon has become a very strong analyst. And NBC has brought back Craig Masback, long a staple of track coverage in the 1980’s and 1990’s. But for 2016, I think Lolo Jones would make for a good studio analyst. And Michael Johnson who has been on the last few Olympics for the BBC would work well too. Having Bob host Primetime from the Athletics venue would be a nice change of pace from being in the studio. And he could mix it up with Lolo and Michael.

Those are my suggestions. If you have some of your own, put them in the comments below.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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