The London Games officially commence Friday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC), and the gymnastics competition gets under way Saturday with the men’s team qualification (check NBCOlympics.com for the live stream schedule, and watch NBC’s primetime coverage that night). Before he headed abroad, we asked Tim Daggett, a member of the gold-medal winning ’84 U.S. Men’s gymnastics team who’ll be calling his sixth Olympics for NBC, to tell us five ways he prepares.
1. First of all, I talk to as many people in the gymnastics community as I can. I have different folks that I use all over the world — China, Japan, Russia. A Russian contact of mine is on really good terms with just about every former Soviet coach, and they’re all over the world. They’re in Great Britain, they’re in Australia. All of the main countries have either Chinese or post-Soviet coaches. So I keep my pulse that way. The funny thing with a coach is, and this is something you have to learn, when they get interviewed by the old media or new media, they go into just pure coaching mode. And that’s really critical for my job: I gotta know who’s doing well. I gotta know if they’ve recovered from this injury or surgery. I gotta know if they are doing something completely new that’s going to shock the world. But I also need to know their life. I need to know the kids’ backgrounds. Some of them just have absolutely astounding stories. For example, Danell Leyva. He’s easy because he lives in the United States, but his story of being born in Cuba and his mom taking him on a boat to Venezuela and then all through the Caribbean trying to get her way to Miami because her son needed medicine — it’s a tremendous story. The Russians are not hard. They’re not inhibited in any way to share about their lives. The Chinese gymnasts are very challenging because they’re sequestered at such a young age, and really their owning family is their gymnastics and their Olympic family. But all of these people have amazing stories, and you’ve got to try to find every one.
I’m also a gymnastics coach, and I traveled with the USA Junior National Team to China in December 2011. So we were at the national training center with all the men and the women preparing for the Olympic Games. I was there for a week. My primary goal was to coach the U.S. team, but there’s a lot of extra time, so I spoke with just about everybody there. There’s this very famous female choreographer, Adriana Pop, she’s done some of the most beautiful pieces of art for floor exercise ever. She happened to be there, and I got to talk with her and watch her working with some of the Chinese athletes on new routines that they’ll be doing in London.
2. I personally spend just an unbelievable amount of time watching YouTube videos. That in itself is a bit of an art. Sometimes you can get lucky, and you can type in somebody’s name and the event you want to watch them on, and it will pop up like magic…. I need to know all of the routines for basically every gymnast in the world competing in the Olympics, roughly 200 athletes. I need to know what they do on the four events for the women and the six events for the men. The major parts, at least, because if something unreal is coming up, I want to be able to set it up. I don’t want it to pass and then go, “Oh, did you see that!” I want to be able to tell the people at home, “This is maybe the most difficult skill in the world. It’s coming up right here. Watch, he’s gonna flip his body two times over the bar. Oh!” If I don’t know what they’re doing, I can’t do that. That’s a lot of work.
3. Learn name pronunciations. A lot of times, I personally ask. There’s a little girl from Romania named Larisa Iordache. She said it. I said it. She said it. I said it. She said, “Good.” This is always a little bit of a problem: Like, a lot of the Russian names, if you say them the way the Russian people say it, it’s very, very foreign to an American TV audience. They don’t even really grasp what you’re saying. We try to get very close, and we try to be unified. NBC has a research team, and I believe they’ll have a pronunciation guide for every athlete competing in the Games. But a lot of times, if it’s something like Iordache, we’ll go with what I say.
4. Internet searches. I never stop, because if I do, then it’s just overwhelming. When we’re in a normal time, I spend about an hour a day just talking to people and scouring the Web and looking for stories. We get three months out from the Olympics, I’m doing three or four hours a day. Two months out, I’m doing six hours a day. Recently, this is basically all I’ve been doing all day and all night. I’ve landed on some really crazy things. I’ve landed on from the absurd to the highly inappropriate and provocative. I was trying to find some information on a top coach one time, and I just started with his name and a couple of stats, and I landed on a guy completely nude with a samurai sword. I was a little afraid that it was him at first, but then I zoomed in on the face and it was not the coach. There’s the Web, and then there’s accessing news from the Web. Those are two completely different things. I have all these news alerts set up for different folks that I’m following. I go to different blogs. I won’t tell you what it is now, but I read a really cool story on a blog that I don’t take as fact. I spoke with the athlete directly — a prominent athlete from a very prominent European team — and she confirmed the whole thing and was laughing and then told me a couple of other things. I also use Facebook and Twitter. I just started doing Twitter a few weeks ago, because it was overwhelming for me, all of the different things I have to check. But now I find little tidbits there.
5. The most challenging thing that I have to do is get everything in a format that will either come to me in my brain or is easily accessible on a piece of paper. For example, yesterday, I worked a lot on the Russian women. I had created 15 or 20 different documents in this file that I have on Russian women. Some of these documents are a page and a half long, and some of them are 22 pages long. So I spent an entire day consolidating them into one Russian document. What I’ve got to do is get out all the junk. It’s like in these stories, everybody’s so verbose. “She managed to secure the uneven bars with a brilliant competition scoring a significant and historically high 15.75 to the awe of the judges and everyone around.” For me, it’s like, 2012 Worlds: 15.75. That’s what I need. So it takes forever. The funny thing is, I end up having the sheet in front of me, but because I’ve done all this preparation, and I’ve edited it all myself and highlighted the sheet, 95 percent of it I just remember.
Come back on Friday, when Daggett picks the Men’s routines you don’t want to miss; and on Saturday, when he names the must-see Women’s routines.