(originally published on SportCafé)
We are 10 days away from the Olympic Opening Ceremony. The past few weeks have been filled with press conferences announcing members of Canada's Olympic Team. The athletes are tweeting about their preparations. Mainstream media are running almost daily stories about the athletes. The excitement is building.
In 10 days, we will all be focused on the athletes but this post is not about an athlete. I got to interview someone whose passion for the Olympics is infectious. I am turning the tables on Scott Russell who is normally doing the interviewing as he covers the competitions and shares the athletes' stories.
Scott will be hosting Olympic Daytime (10am to 3pm ET) on CBC. These are the events being held in prime time in Sochi (7pm-midnight). If you're an amateur sports fan in Canada, you know who Scott Russell is. He is a Gemini Award-winning broadcaster and acclaimed author who hosts CBC Sports Weekend. Sochi will be the 12th Olympics that he will cover.
When I had the chance to interview some of the CBC personalities who would be presenting the 2014 Games, Scott was at the top of my list. I love how dedicated he is to sharing the athlete stories and to following Olympic sports year-round. Scott has said that he never wants to meet an athlete at an Olympic podium. My interview with him did not disappoint. He was exactly as he appears on television and online.
Scott Russell was a torchbearer in the Olympic torch relay a few months ago. While being interviewed by Heather Hiscox afterwards, he explained that he has had a lifelong romance with the Olympics and that carrying the torch was a dream come true. Describing the experience brought him to tears. You can see that interview and photos by clicking here.
The first question I asked Scott was to elaborate on that experience and where his love for the Olympics began.
Scott started by telling me the story from when he was 11 years old and went to a summer camp called Kilkoo Camp in Haliburton. They held a mini Olympics where a runner would arrive with a burning kerosene torch and light an Olympic cauldron at the baseball diamond.
The camp director, John Latimer "always made a big deal" and would say the words of Pierre de Coubertin.
"The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."Scott always remembered that and always wanted to be a part of the Olympics. He felt that it was a "great spectacle with a feeling of togetherness". Going to camp instilled that love of the Olympics and Scott had the chance last summer to return to tell his story to the kids at camp. The feeling at the camp remains the same with John's son David Latimer now being the camp director.
These childhood memories led to the University of Western Ontario where Scott graduated with an M.A. in journalism. He has been a CBC Sports veteran for more than 25 years.
I was surprised that Scott had not run in the torch relay before. He told me that he almost got a chance in Beijing when he hosted the Games telecast. CBC originally had two spots but his spot was transferred to his mentor and friend, the late Richard Garneau of Radio-Canada (who passed away a year ago). As a side note, Mr. Garneau who covered 23 Olympic Games will be posthumously honoured in Sochi with the Pierre-de-Coubertin medal at Canada House on February 6th. It is an award presented by the IOC to athletes and people who "exemplify the spirit of sportsmanship in Olympic events or through exceptional service to the Olympic movement". Hearing this story, I felt it was fitting that he got to carry the torch double the distance in Russia because the torchbearer scheduled after him was absent. Even with the double duty, he still felt that his time with the flame was too short.
With CBC not being the broadcaster for the 2010 Olympics, I was interested to know how Scott experienced our home Games.
"I was fortunate to be there and to see how the Games are covered from another perspective. It was difficult at that time to be outside of the fence and trying to make arrangements. What it reinforced for me was the currency we built up with Canada's athletes because of the commitment to them through the programming we had throughout the year on CBC Sports Weekend. They accommodated us as much as they could."His favourite memory in Whistler was the night that Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse won the gold medal. When they came into the square, he depicted the scene as bedlam. He saw these two "strong, powerful, attractive women" who had done something of that magnitude on the Olympic stage and Scott described it as a magical moment to see all of Canada applaud their efforts. It's what he loves about the Olympics that there is an approach to gender equity, although he admitted that we are not quite there yet. He continued to explain that it was also partly magical because he had started his CBC career in Heather's hometown of Charlottetown so they have a history together. "It was great to see her enjoy that wonderful moment".
Scott left Hockey Night in Canada ten years ago because he was fascinated by the Olympics and in particular by the stories of those athletes who didn't receive much attention until the Olympic Games.
"I felt that as Canadians we were a bit on a bandwagon. It was convenient for us to cheer for them at the Games when they won medals and we didn't recognize them afterwards. They are such substantial people. They are ordinary people but they're capable of extraordinary things and I really do love them."My last question to Scott was regarding the lack of attention given to amateur sports. I have often wondered what comes first. Do we need the broadcasters to show amateur sports more to get people interested, or do we need people interested in order for the broadcasters to show the events. Scott explained the challenge of broadcasting amateur sports as opposed to hockey.
"Don't get me wrong. I love hockey. I love Canada's connection with hockey. I love the players for the most part, because they are down to earth people from interesting communities, not all of them big and they're very accomplished athletes."Scott contrasted hockey which is held in a manageable 200x85 box, whereas often times amateur events are held on a mountain or cross-country ski trail all over the world. Scott believes that the best way to support amateur sports in Canada is to host even more international events in our country.
"Somehow we need to convince the Europeans to come for more alpine races or cross-country ski races. We need to host World Figure Skating Championships more so that Canadians can go and see it and fall in love with it as I did".He also touched on the fact that for most of these athletes, they are in individual sports. They're out there alone which makes for dramatic moments.
As you watch the Olympic Games, along with savouring these dramatic moments, take the time to experience Scott's enthusiasm. He is an inspiration to those interested in Olympic sports. The more people who can be like Scott Russell, the better.