NBC will have its own “passing of the torch” at this year’s Winter Olympics.
Mike Tirico will take over for Bob Costas as the voice of NBC’s prime time Olympics coverage when the games kick off this weekend. It’s the first time since 1992 that Costas hasn’t been the host.
Tirico has big skis to fill since Costas has hosted a record 11 Olympics for the network. But he told CNN recently that he’s ready for the challenge.
“I’ve said it a few times, you definitely follow, you don’t replace because Bob has just such a long history doing it,” Tirico said.
The host added that he’s “not going to approach this and say I’m going to be like Bob. Just like Bob didn’t go in and say I’m going to try to be like [ABC sports broadcaster] Jim McKay.”
Modern Olympic games have had to contend with protests, boycotts and war while athletes compete for gold medals, making the event as much about sports as it is about geopolitics. That won’t change for the 2018 games, which takes place in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang just 50 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates the south from North Korea.
The games this year takes place amid heightened political tensions between the US and the Hermit Kingdom, creating for Tirico a unique challenge of balancing current events with Olympic ones.
“I think for us it depends on what happens and when it happens,” Tirico said of having to cover possible political developments during the games. “As we go on, we have sixteen days of Olympics competition, so you’re not going to stop in the middle of the downhill to spend three minutes on what’s going on in North Korea, unless something changes.”
Tirico added that the majority of the political conversations during the games will likely take place during the opening ceremony. He will co-host the ceremony on Friday night with Katie Couric, who makes her return to NBC.
The games also follow a turbulent season in the NFL that saw attacks from President Trump over players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice. The National Anthem is one of the most celebrated aspects of the Olympic games, so how will Tirico handle any potential protests?
“Just like with the NFL, you try to get a sense if it’s going to happen and it’s newsworthy so you cover it,” he said. “I think in the Olympic Games, it would take on a very different tone because when you’re playing a football game, you’re playing for the Jets, the Seahawks, the Ravens. Here you’re competing for the USA. It’ll be very interesting to see how the individual athletes answer that question. It’ll also be interesting to see how the United States Olympic Committee addresses it.”
Tirico also expressed excitement about diving into the storylines of individual athletes.
“Sports are great because people throw themselves back in front of the train of failure all the time, without fear. I just admire people for doing that,” he said. “To know that your defining three or four words before your name forever can change in three fourths of a second… that’s really inspiring to watch.”
Despite making headlines for taking on Costas’ mantle, Tirico knows that viewers are not tuning in to watch him host the games for NBC.
“I don’t think anybody is coming to watch the games for me,” he said. “At the end of the day, I hope I help them enjoy the games a little bit more… Hopefully helping viewers with the why, the what, share in the best stories and get you to the next event.”