Catching up with the big dogs

WHISTLER, B.C. (CUP) — Upon arriving in Whistler’s ski village and grabbing a pint on a secluded patio bar overlooking the mountains, everything seemed to be mostly normal, despite the electric atmosphere. The Olympics had brought a huge influx of people from all over the world into the village. The other indicators that the Olympics had arrived were the noticeable presence of police officers and $9 pints of beer.

Soon after, a technical crew member of CBC emerged from a mysterious blue tent right beside our patio table and told us he’d pick up our tab if we kept it down since they were broadcasting. Obviously, we were in complete compliance. After few sips of the costly liquor, an oddly familiar voice drifted over to our table — and it wasn’t coming from a television.

Hello. This is Peter Mansbridge and this is The National.” After craning my neck around, it was evident the legendary CBC anchor was in close proximity to where we were sitting. Mansbridge was broadcasting The National to millions of Canadians across the country less than five feet away from our table.

Soon, Mansbridge was joined by Scott Russell, CBC’s main sports and Olympics correspondent. Following a few more pints and achieving the level of liquid courage required to talk to the Wayne Gretzky of Canadian journalism, I paraded over to the media tent when The National had concluded.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to speak with both Mansbridge and Russell about what was actually happening in Vancouver and what it is like to cover an event the size of the Olympics. Out of sheer nervousness, it was a minute into the interview before realizing my recorder wasn’t even on. I was face-to-face with Canada’s most iconic news anchor and I had managed to forget one of the number-one rules of journalism: Keep your finger on the trigger — of the recording button.

After the minor glitch, Mansbridge went on to speak of his entry into journalism, which was birthed as a result of announcing flight information at a Churchill, Manitoba airport.

Russell was able to explain the politics of attaining Canadian broadcasting rights and how CTV’s move to acquire these rights have affected CBC. And more importantly, Russell was able to touch on the hypothetical chemistry between Mansbridge and CTV’s news anchor Lloyd Robertson if they were to form a two-man skeleton team.

Here’s what the two CBC broadcasters had to say.

Sports journalism 101 with CBC’s Scott Russell

Dorian Geiger: With 10,000-plus media personnel at the Olympics, how do you summarize such an enormous event on a day-to-day basis without making your stories generic and run-of-the-mill?

Scott Russell: You have to look for the human element and what it means to people out there who your consumers are. It’s also about what matters to people. If people really care about the athletes and about the personalities involved in the competition, then you have yourself a story. If they don’t care about those people then you don’t. Obviously there was a very tragic story here at Whistler with the death of a luger.

DG: That was very tragic. Did you cover that?

SR: We covered it from the aspect that we had to get reaction to it. We had to find out how the athletes were feeling about that. Did they still want to compete? Would they have rather given up and say, ‘Out of respect, maybe let’s close down the Olympic Games or the luge competition’?

But no, you kind of find out that they grieve for a while and they close ranks and go on with their business — this is their life’s work. This is what they’ve spent 15 years of their lives getting ready for, and out of respect to the Georgian luger, they continue on with that life’s work.

Sport is an interesting thing because a lot of people say sport is life. There are so many fans for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. It’s not, but it’s a reflection of what’s important to people in life: it’s about human competition, it’s about succeeding and failing in front of your very eyes, it’s about sometimes-tragic things like death. It’s really a very human thing and I think that’s sort of an instinctual thing we do as human beings. We compete.

DG: CTV acquired primary broadcasting rights to Vancouver’s Olympics. What does that mean for CBC and how you do your job? I mean, you’re broadcasting The National from the patio of an Earl’s.

SR: It’s simple business. When the rights were bid for, for these Games back in 2005, we thought we had a very good bid. We’ve had a long relationship with the International Olympic Committee. We’ve broadcasted the Games since ’92 Albertville (France). You know, we didn’t have enough money. They (CTV) bid a (US)$152 million for two sets of Games — Vancouver and London in 2012. We bid $92 million, so we were beaten by $60 million. So there’s really not a lot you can do about that, because we’re a public company.

DG: Who would win a skeleton race between Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson?

SR: They’d both go headfirst, and Peter would have the speed, no question; he’s the bigger man. [Laughs.]

Interviewing the interviewer: On the Olympics with Peter Mansbridge

Dorian Geiger: Is it true your roots in journalism stem from making a public announcement in an airport?

Peter Mansbridge: Do you really believe that? [Laughs] I was working (for CBC) the next day.

DG: You’ve covered many, many Olympics before. How does Vancouver stack up to Calgary’s Olympics and others around the world?

PM: I’ve been to Olympic Games in different parts of the world where nothing was ready. [Laughs] Nothing was ready on time! Everything was ready here. They were still painting the streets the night before Italy last time around in 2006 and some stuff simply wasn’t ready. It’s what perspective you’re coming from. Generally, there’s a lot of people who got employment out of this, working on the Games since they’ve been awarded. Vancouver’s got a better public transit system with the SkyTrain. There are things where we’ll say, ‘Look, we could have used the money to be better spent in other areas,’ and those are legitimate debates and arguments to have.

Calgary was a great run. They had weather problems just like there’s weather problems here. Calgary showed you can run a Games on budget and put some money away and build facilities that will last a lifetime. We’ve got the best speed skaters, or certainly amongst the best, in the world because of the facilities built in Calgary that are still being used, that have skaters from around the world training. The Oval in Richmond, B.C. will benefit from this (for) years to come.

DG: Do you truly believe that?

PM: You can take different views on those arguments, but the fact is some of the facilities that were built had to be built here anyway. They had to do something with this highway in Whistler — it’s a killer and it’s better now. Some people have legitimate concerns and they use the Olympics to express them and that’s fine. We live in a free society, and good for that.

DG: Have you had a chance to try any of the Winter Olympic sports since being in Vancouver?

PM: I haven’t got the opportunity yet. I’m looking forward to trying the biathlon. [Laughs]

DG: What’s your Olympic sport of choice?

PM: Hockey.

//Dorian Geiger
The Sheaf

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com