With the Olympics in full swing, you’ve probably already yelled at your TV — but hopefully not at a commentator. Before he left for London, we asked swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines — who’s calling his sixth Games for NBC — to describe the process. After reading his responses, you might want to cut them all some slack.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve talked about the times you’ve figuratively been on the edge of your seat calling a race, but are you literally on the edge of your seat sometimes?
ROWDY GAINES: I’m sitting on, like, a barstool, and I’m definitely moving. I’m standing up, sitting down, standing up, sitting down. It’s nervous energy. I would say 80 percent of the time, I’m watching the monitor — watching TV just like you are — even though I’m there live. I have to be watching the monitor to see what you’re watching because I can’t be watching it live and looking at Lane 6 and the camera’s on Lane 4.
And then you do the Telestrating. Are you worried you’ll make a mistake?
Oh, I get called out all the time. “You circled Lane 5 and said it was Lane 4, Rowdy, you idiot.” But another crazy thing is I have sometimes three or four people talking in my ear at the same time. I have [play-by-play commentator Dan Hicks] talking to me, right. He’s calling the races with me. I have the producer talking to us. I have our director talking to us. And I have a stat man talking in my ear from back in the truck. He’s my Holly Hunter in that movie Broadcast News. He’ll say, “Watch this turn, he’ll come off strong here, Rowdy,” and I go, “Watch this turn, everyone, he’s gonna come off strong here.” (Laughs) Sometimes they’re all talking at the same time. To be able to compartmentalize and concentrate on what each one is saying and then come up with a response is a lot more difficult than you think.
And they’re telling you what to say next as you’re responding.
Yes. Absolutely. I’m talking while I’ve got three people talking to me. (Laughs) It’s like my dad says, “It’s not like it’s digging ditches. I don’t feel sorry for you.” But still, it’s very, very challenging. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
When you first started doing commentary, was there any training or is it just trial by error?
Totally trial by error, and hopefully they’ve burned my 1986 Goodwill Games tape because I know I was just horrendous there doing color at my first competition.