NBC’s Mike Tirico on Olympic games, the impact of Simone Biles, and how sports have found a way

Tirico joined KPRC 2 for our “Texas to Tokyo” special

The Olympic games will look different this year with no fans, but that doesn’t mean America and the world won’t enjoy them.

KPRC’s Vanessa Richardson sat down with NBC’s Mike Tirico to talk all things Olympics, the impact of Simone Biles, and the power of sports during a pandemic.

Vanessa: I want to go back to a year ago when the Olympics were postponed and so much was in limbo. Nobody knew what was happening. And now they’re happening....now they look different, but they’re happening. What are you hearing from the athletes just about being excited?

Mike Tirico: I had the chance to call the swimming trials, where the swimmers for Team USA made the team, and then go to Eugene, Oregon for the track and field trials and to the gymnastics trials in St. Louis, and you heard all the athletes talk about the difficulty of putting the plan on hold, kind of staying in place for a year and then picking it up and trying to qualify for the Olympic team. I think because of that this will be so much more satisfying for the athletes being here. I think like all of us, the appreciation level has changed. The small things that maybe you took for granted you don’t take for granted as much anymore.

VR: What’s this going to be like with no fans in Tokyo?

MT: Undoubtedly it will be different. The atmosphere of an Olympics really does add to the flavor and the color, but I don’t think it means the event will be any less important. When Simone Biles gets up on the beam or gets set to go down the runway for the vault, or Katie Ledecky gets on the blocks to swim against her rival from Australia, Ariarne Titmus, I don’t think the fact that there are no fans in the stands are going to impact the performance. These are championship-level competitors. We’re trying to reach the mark they only get one every four, and in this case, five years to do. And that’s to win: an Olympic gold medal. So while the cheering may be different, I think the consequences are going to bring the performances up to that high level.

Vanessa: You brought up Simone Biles, obviously she’s from Houston (and) she trains here in Spring. NBC is going to have a couple of watch parties, which I know are going to be so fun. What impact have you seen her have globally and especially here in America with making so many young girls interested in gymnastics?

MT: Tuesday and Thursday morning when she competes, July 27 and 29, I think are the dates, from 5:00 am to 10:00 am in the morning before the women’s team final in the women’s all around. We’re setting up some big projection screens at Simone Biles’ gym in Spring, Texas and I think one of the nights the second night there’s going to be a sleepover with a bunch of the young, aspiring gymnasts. That shows you the impact of Simone Biles. We always had terrific gymnasts in the US, and often we talk about them after they win gold medals. Simone Biles is the face of these games, because of her track record, her amazing backstory, and her incredible athletic ability.

VR: What’s it like from a broadcast perspective to see these huge events start to come back? We had a year where we felt like we didn’t know if we were ever going to see a big event like this again.

MT: We really have appreciated it more and more. Vanessa, I think this has been the proudest I’ve ever been to be associated with sports. Sports has found a way to entertain, and also keep the competition going. I’ve never been more honored to be a part of the sports industry. And I think seeing something like the Olympics, the biggest global sporting event in the world, happens in the midst of a global pandemic will be one of the accomplishments we’ll talk about for a long time. Whether there are fans or not, whether it’s perfect or not. I think we’ll still appreciate it when we look back on what’s really happening here.

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