While we await the opening of the London Games on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC), and the start of the swimming competition on Saturday (check the live stream and TV schedules on NBCOlympics.com), we asked three-time 1984 gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, who’ll be calling his sixth Olympics for NBC, to tell us the five greatest things we won’t see on TV.
1. The warmup pool. There’s hugs and kisses and cheers and tears. Even an occasional fist fight will happen back in the warmup pool. It happened in ’84 when I was competing in L.A. I just saw a fist fight start between two guys from two different countries. Even though there are cameras, people feel like they’re away from the peering eyes, so they’re not on guard as much. Sometimes you’ll see a coach get in an athlete’s face, which she or he wouldn’t do out in the competition pool.
2. The NBC commissary at the International Broadcast Center. I gain weight at every Olympiad. It’s like going to a Las Vegas buffet. It’s a literal smorgasbord of anything you want from different countries. It’s the best food in the world. And everyday, there’s someone who just won a gold medal who’s there at the IBC for an interview with NBC, and they bring them over to the commissary to eat. You rub elbows with the likes of Bob Costas and Hollywood stars. I saw Vince Vaughn walk in and sit down in ’08. I went over to him, “Hey, I loved you in Wedding Crashers, dude.” It’s just a cool place to hang out. And there’s no cameras.
3. Rookie skit night at the U.S. Swimming Training Camp. You really want to be a fly on the wall here. They make all the rookies do a skit. Sometimes they’re a little PG-13ish. They make fun of anything and everything. There was one back in ’08 where someone got up and impersonated me on the broadcast screaming like a girl, “Here they come down the line!” No cameras are allowed, and they don’t even allow us as broadcasters in there. It’s strictly for the team.
4. Our daily production meetings. This will be our producer Tommy Roy’s third Olympics for swimming, and our director, Drew Esocoff, just directed the Super Bowl. They’re the two best in the game. Everyday, we have a production meeting with everybody from Tommy Roy down to our runners. It’s intense, it’s informative, it’s lively, and everyone contributes. In ’08, we wanted to film Dara Torres Skyping with her daughter. The idea was thrown out, we were talking about getting Skype set up, and then Dara informed us, “Oh, by the way, she went to bed so we can’t do it.” So much for that idea. Once it passes, we can’t come back to it. It’s too late.
5. The Olympic Village, behind closed doors. It’s certainly a time and place that’s very intense and very serious, but when you’re done, you deserve to play. You’ve had four years of putting these blinders on. Most of these sports in the Olympics don’t have a Super Bowl or a World Series. They only have the Olympics, and it’s every four years. So the intensity is so high that when you’re finished, you have to release that pent-up energy somehow or another. It’s the place where I became really good friends with Joan Jett. It wasn’t like I took her back to my room, but I got to know her. It was the night after I finished swimming in ’84. We were going crazy, and she put on a concert in the Olympic Village. After the concert, she just came out in the crowd and started talking to us. There were only a few athletes there because people were still competing. We started chatting and she gave me her number, and the next thing you now, I was hanging out with Joan Jett for the next six months. I went to New York the next week and went to a Peter Frampton concert. We’re still friends today, which is kinda cool. People say what happens in the Village stays in the Village. Usually that’s true. At least it was in my day. But now with social media, I think some stories are definitely going to slip out.