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Q and A with Mike Tirico: NBC host talks Olympic golf, prepping for Paris and more

9 Min Read

Olympic Golf

Mike Tirico will be the host of NBC’s primetime coverage in Paris this summer for the 2024 Olympic Games. (Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR)

Mike Tirico will be the host of NBC’s primetime coverage in Paris this summer for the 2024 Olympic Games. (Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR)

    Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR

    Editor’s note: As has been the case every Olympics since 2016, Mike Tirico will be the host of NBC’s primetime coverage in Paris this summer. And while he admits that he’s still learning the nuances of one of the newest additions to the rota – break, or break dancing – he can speak with authority on nearly every other sport we’ll see at the Games in August. Golf is one of his passions – both as a player and an announcer – and he took time out from his broadcasting duties at THE PLAYERS Championship in March for this two-part Q and A. For part 2, click here.

    (Note: This Q&A has been edited lightly for length and clarity.)

    IGF: So how do you prepare to host the Olympics? It seems like a daunting task.

    Mike Tirico: The preparation is unlike anything else, and it doesn't happen without a huge team. … The Games ended in Beijing in February of 2022, and already the churn was beginning for the research of the 10,000 athletes and the 30 plus sports that happened in the Summer Games. And they have researched, traveled to world championships, distilled a lot of that stuff. And along the way I get to join them on a couple of the adventures that we do, including one where we bring a lot of the Team USA athletes to Southern California and spend four or five days with them getting content. So I jump in the process there.

    There's constant emails every week with “this is what's going on in winter sports and summer sports.” And I think what I've learned now that I've had this job for the better part of eight years now, I try to keep up with things as they're going on. …

    So if Mikaela Shiffrin gets hurt skiing last month, paying tangential attention to that so that in a couple of years it's not a new thing I'm highlighting and trying to remember. It's a constant background noise in my entire year while football and golf and Kentucky Derby and that stuff are going on. But then it starts to ramp up, and the ramp up has begun with reminding myself of the significant things in each sport: How do the sports operate and run? And I don't mean the nuanced rules and details but just in general, how many runs are there at skateboarding? I've started that part of it, how the Games work.

    Then there's the athletes, the best athletes in each sport that we're going to cover significantly. Then the city – the city's always a huge part of the Olympics in the background, the history there. So all of those things start to build slowly.

    Celebrate the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics

    IGF: What is the easiest part of the job and what's the most difficult?

    Tirico: I think the easiest part of the job is relying on the folks that we have (at NBC). Their information's so good. … For an Olympic Games, I think the hardest part is the volume of it. You never know what day the big story might be something that happened in rowing or in boxing or in wrestling. So, you need to be prepared to have some background knowledge so that you can thread together what the importance of this is until you can dig under the hood a little bit and get to more of that story.

    I think the scripted part of the Olympics, for us as hosts, that comes pretty naturally and pretty easily. I think the hard part is when the unscripted happens, I think that's what we're really there for – to rely on in a live moment. What does this mean? Why is it important? Did something serious happen? You have to turn to the news portion, the journalist portion of your training. So, I think those are the hard parts: the unknowns.

    IGF: Do you feel like there are any sports that you have to do more homework on than others?

    Tirico: Even the basics with swimming, gymnastics and track and field in the U.S., as you cover those sports, you have to pay more attention to (events like) the World Indoor Championships or the swimming world championships overseas. So that's where I think you have to really focus in on. And then the other part are the sports that we just don't see like breaking, which is break dancing. … It's an official Olympic sport. Other than seeing it on a street corner from time to time growing up in New York, or seeing it in music videos or on TV as entertainment, I didn't know as recently as six or seven years ago that it was a sport with federation, let alone an Olympic sport. So now it will be, and I've done a little (research). I've watched on YouTube, some of the world championship events, some of the competitions, just to get a sense of what it looks like and what it sounds like. …

    We went through the same thing in Tokyo with skateboarding. Now we've all seen people skateboard, we've seen skate parks, but I don't know the tricks of skateboarding. But we had Tony Hawk with us, one of the foremost legendary figures in that sport, so I just needed to be able to ask Tony some good questions along the way.

    I think in the host role – you're not broadcasting the event live. You don't need to know the micro. I think hosting the Olympics is about the macro, and I think over time I've learned you can get the shovel, dig deep and get way down that rabbit hole. That's not the most efficient way to do the job. If you need to, you can get there. Your research team is there to help. But really what does this mean to somebody who doesn't watch this sport all the time?

    IGF: What do you think some of the storylines going into the golf competition will be?

    Tirico: Well, first off, this (Paris) is where golf competition in the Olympics started, albeit it only had two Olympic Games’ run. It was Paris and St. Louis in 1900 and 1904. So, it's really nice to go back to those roots.

    Now, I think those of us inside of golf understand it because the seasons are going on and lord knows we have enough conversation about trying to get golf globally connected. It was really hard, but this is the one thing that we should be able to do at the Olympics, and I'm so glad that the leadership of the various Tours around the world pushed for this. And now we're looking at golf's longest run in the Olympics: three Games. That's exciting. I love the fact that it matters to the people involved.

    I don't think in the 1970s and ’80s, when you're about winning majors and Vardon Trophies and things like that, that the focus was on winning an Olympic gold medal. I think Justin Rose really helped this. No. 1, the first male winner was – (along with women’s gold medalist) Inbee Park, for that matter – the first winners were really good, established players. That helped. I think secondly, the fact that Justin Rose had that gold medal in his bag so often and showed it off, I think that helped it. And then you follow up with Xander Schauffele and Nelly Korda winning in Tokyo, two players who you wouldn't blink if they won majors. So you had really good golfers winning, and I think it means something to people. …

    Rory (McIlroy) was in a playoff (in 2020) that was a seven-way playoff the bronze – and he's told me a couple of times he was grinding really hard. You can never imagine these guys grinding really hard (for third place). But what they've noticed is winning an Olympic medal is a very, very small window, especially with only 60 players. Who knows if you get two or three chances, if you are even in that group of the best players, and this is why I love golf’s involvement: You can go to a village in Africa, or you can go to someplace in the desert in the Middle East or a hamlet in Europe and somebody says they're an Olympian or an Olympic medalist, and we all know what that means. That means a lot right away. It translates all different languages. And I think the ability for golfers to be able to be included with the athletes of all so many sports across the world, I think it's great.

    IGF: Have you ever played Le Golf National?

    Tirico: As a matter of fact, I'm going over in April for one last trip to Paris before the Olympics, and I am trying to squeeze it in. I remember it from the Ryder Cup, I remember seeing it, and obviously it was a venue that we saw on the (DP World Tour), as well, over time. I think that adds something to it, at least for a familiarity with the layout. And then you're going to get something like that when it comes to the U.S. at (The Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles), so to me, that's really cool. Now you're adding to this with golf courses that have some history of significant events.

    IGF Executive Director Antony Scanlon on Golf at the Olympics | TOTT

    IGF: How does your work with NBC's golf coverage help?

    Tirico: For me it's great because it's super easy for me. That's one sport I don't have to spend any time researching. I'm a diehard fan of the sport. I caught myself last week when I was in Orlando, I was up at some ungodly hour, and I was watching the LPGA event from China. …

    So, a lot of these names that we come across, whether on the LPGA circuit or when DP World Tour players come over here or you see them playing their events or The Open when I go over there to the U.K. as I have for the last 26 years or so, it's a no-brainer. It's fun for me. We'll set up on our host set monitors where we can watch the events that are going on. … As soon as the golf started, the golf was up. I've got it up there the whole time and keeping an eye on what's going on Golf Channel and watching that. We had interesting competition, and although it really didn't fit in our primetime windows, we were able to dip in a little bit. I think Nelly was trying to shoot 59 at one point in Tokyo. We were on 59 watch on the late-night Olympic show. So, it was like, this was my two favorite worlds (colliding). We got a 59 watch, they dip in there live, she might do this. I don't need to know what the records are and all that. And matter of fact, Jim Furyk shot his 58 in Hartford while I was on the set in Rio in 2016. So, it all comes together.

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