Bob Costas

Bob Costas details his favorite Olympic memories

3 Comments

Bob Costas is often asked his favorite Olympic moment. He always gives the same answer.

“That’s Muhammad Ali lighting the torch in ’96 in Atlanta (video here),” Costas said after stepping down as NBC’s Olympic primetime host earlier this month. “It was such a well-kept secret that maybe 10 or 12 people in the whole world knew it was going to happen. They rehearsed it one time at 3 a.m. Dick Ebersol, who had the original idea of having Muhammad be the guy, would not tell me or Dick Enberg who it was going to be. He said, ‘You will recognize him or her. But I want your reaction to be as spontaneous as everyone else in the stadium.’

“And the way they staged it, he literally stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It was such an arresting moment. I’ve said this before, you hear a lot of sounds in the arena, but you seldom ever hear an audible gasp. And there was a gasp before it kind of set in. And then it turned into thunderous applause and cheering.

“And it wasn’t just excitement. It wasn’t just admiration. It was all those things plus respect, and I think an understanding that he represented so much — athletic excellence, grace. Whether everyone always agreed with him at every stage along the way, you had to respect the integrity. He walked the walk. He put millions of dollars and the prime years of his career on the line for his beliefs. And people had to respect that.

“And they were also moved by how poignant it was that the man who once was the most beautiful and nimble of athletes on the entire planet and the most entertainingly loquacious of athletes had now been reduced to a man trembling as he held the torch and a man essentially unable to speak, even by that point, and yet he was willing to present himself to the world that way. And somehow even in that new state he was a dynamic and charismatic figure and a profound figure. So if I have to pick one, that’s my one.”

It’s not the only one.

Costas’ favorite Winter Olympic moment — from the four Winter Games he covered — came on the final day of the 2010 Vancouver Games.

“When Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal,” Costas said of the men’s hockey final. “That was like the soccer goal that Brazil got this past summer. That was one that everyone else wanted to win, but the host country needed to win. I mean, the U.S. was busting its ass to win that game. They wanted it bad. But Canada was desperate to win that game. And the U.S. ties it in the last 30 seconds and sends it to overtime. So now you’ve got the drama of overtime — the whole country’s on pins and needles, it’s the last event before the Closing Ceremony. The whole triumphant feeling of the Closing Ceremony would have been very different had the Canadians lost that game. Not only did they win it, but the national golden boy Sidney Crosby scores the winning goal. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

Most of Costas’ memories were of watching Olympic events on a monitor at the international broadcast center, sometimes working 12-hour shifts.

The 2000 Sydney Games were different. Given the time difference, he finished hosting duties (primetime and late night) around 5 p.m. local time. He would then walk across Olympic Park and attend events on some days — usually basketball, gymnastics or track and field.

Costas’ favorite in-person Olympic event was Cathy Freeman taking 400m gold in Sydney “because of what she represented,” being of Aboriginal descent.

Costas also wanted to note a moment from the 2002 Salt Lake City Opening Ceremony.

“When they brought in the tattered American flag that had been at the World Trade Center on 9/11,” he said. “That was a very moving thing, and so was the Ali thing in ‘96 in Atlanta.”

A regret?

“I never saw a single Dream Team game in person,” he said. “I mean, I saw them all on monitors. I’m watching a bunch of things all at once, but I’m in a studio. It’s part of what the job is.”

And Costas’ favorite Olympics of the 12 he covered?

“I’ve always been partial to Barcelona [1992] because it was my first primetime Olympics,” he said. “Barcelona is really a fascinating city, very distinctive. … Athens [2004], although it was an imperfect Olympics, it cost the country a whole lot a financially, it meant a lot to me because I’m a Greek American.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Bob Costas, Mike Tirico both share Olympic bond with Jim McKay

Getty Images
Leave a comment

To this day, Bob Costas remembers a phone call he received the night before the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Longtime ABC sports anchor Jim McKay was on the other end, passing the torch to Costas, who was embarking on his first Olympics as primetime host at age 40.

“We had been acquainted, but not that well acquainted,” Costas reflected last week. “I don’t remember everything he said, but one thing he said was, ‘Just remember this, you’re the right guy.’ I didn’t know if he was 100 percent right, but I hoped he was right, and I’m glad that he felt that way.”

Costas announced last week the end of his Olympic hosting career, ending with a U.S.-TV record 11 Games in the primetime chair. McKay, who died in 2008 at age 86, previously held the record of eight and even came back to work with Costas at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games (which Costas then likened to Joe DiMaggio coming back to play with the New York Yankees in the 1960s).

Costas will be succeeded by Mike Tirico in PyeongChang next year.

Tirico has his own one-on-one McKay story, from flying home after covering the British Open together in the late 1990s or early 2000s for ABC.

“Lucky for me, the nerd TV sportscasting lover, I was seated next to Jim across the Atlantic to come back to the U.S., and I said, I hope he doesn’t take a nap,” Tirico said last week. “He napped, and then he woke up, and we spoke for about three hours about the Olympics.”

Tirico recalls few details, but the tragedy at the Munich Olympics and the Miracle on Ice were both discussed.

“To hear Munich from Jim McKay’s mind and beyond the book that he had written and how he had discussed it along the years,” Tirico said, adding separately, “I remember asking Jim about [the Miracle on Ice] and trying to convey the excitement that people at home had of watching this game and all of its implications, sport and otherwise, while knowing the result and his ability to do that. He gave some detail about knowing the result yet trying to play it straight and to share the joy that he was sure was going on behind him with everyone after the game ended.”

Costas has said McKay was kind to him from the get-go. In the 1992 Olympic preview issue of Sports Illustrated, McKay said this in a Costas profile:

“NBC’s Olympic coverage is in very good hands. Anchoring the Olympics sometimes requires you to change course quickly, and Bob does that very well. You have to know so many different sports, and he knows them. You have to have a nice sense of story, which he has. You have to be a good interviewer, and having been the subject of a two-parter on Later [Costas’ late-night talk show], I can tell you he’s an excellent interviewer. Audiences are so much more sophisticated than when I started doing the Olympics, and Bob will bring that sophistication to the viewer. I’m sorry I won’t be in Barcelona to do the Olympics, but if I have to watch anybody, I’m glad it’s Bob Costas.”

Costas worked 12-hour shifts during the Barcelona Games and wasn’t able to see one minute of the Dream Team in person, he said last week. But he did find time to call McKay to thank him for that quote, according to the Washington Post.

“He said he felt we were doing a fine job, and of course that meant so much coming from him,” Costas said in August 1992, according to the newspaper. “And for him to say what he did about me in the magazine even before I did the Games also meant a great deal to me.”

The advice Costas gave Tirico last week echoed what he reportedly said of McKay back in 1992 — “Even though you have the highest amount of respect and admiration for someone else, you don’t try to copy them, because inevitably you become just some sort of pale imitation of them.”

“To have that connection with those two men and to know that I’ve worked with both of them, it gives me an understanding of how important the job is,” Tirico said, “but also the type of people that they are and what is needed and necessary to do the job the right way.”

VIDEO: Montage of Bob Costas’ Olympic highlights

Watch a montage of Bob Costas’ Olympic highlights

1 Comment

NEW YORK — Bob Costas had plenty of moments to reflect on his 28 years as an Olympic host after announcing his transition out of the role on Thursday, but four minutes stood out just after noon at Rockefeller Center.

At a press event, a montage of Costas’ highlights — from his first primetime Games in Barcelona in 1992 to Rio last summer — played while Costas sat a few feet from the screen, head craned right the whole time.

“Just appreciation that they took the time to put it together,” Costas said shortly after. “It was a pretty good cross section. I had forgotten some of it.”

More on Costas handing over to Mike Tirico as NBC Olympic primetime host for PyeongChang 2018 can be found here.

MORE: PyeongChang Winter Olympics daily schedule highlights