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Q&A: Covering the Olympics with Alan Abrahamson

Alan Abrahamson is a sportswriter, author and television analyst who knows a thing or two about the Olympics. He serves on the International Olympic Committee’s press commission and was a columnist for NBCOlympics.com until 2010. After the Beijing games, he co-wrote Michael Phelps’ No Limits: The Will to Succeed and after the 2010 Winter Olympics he co-wrote Apolo Ohno’s Zero Regrets: Be Greater than Yesterday. Abrahamson is in London right now for the summer games now and told us some of his favorite Olympic moments and what home audiences never get to see.

What is the atmosphere like at the Olympics?

It is a huge thrill to be at the games because you feel like you are at the center of the universe. For 17 days the eyes of world on you, and you have front row seat.

What moments do we not see at home?

I get to see when athletes come out of the pool or off the track and they go, Oh my god, I did it or didn’t do it. It is four years for two seconds or two minutes, and that’s what’s so great.

What have been your favorite Olympic moments?

Salt Lake games in 2002 when Ross Powers dropped off the half pipe for first time. No one knew what half pipe really was. It was a perfect blue-sky day, and Ross’s first trick was called a method air. He jumped out of the ramp and got into the half pipe, down the pipe and back up the lip of the rim. You try to go as high as you can and then reach back and grab the board with your hand. Ross was probably 18-25 feet off the lip of the half pipe, so around 35-40 feet in air. He was silhouetted against blue sky, and that instant was such a perfect moment about what Olympics is about. Just an athlete doing what they do.

My second favorite would be Jason Lzsak in 400-meter freestyle relay when he came from behind to win for the USA and keep Michael Phelps’ dream alive of wining a record eight medals.

How long have you been a part of the Olympics?

I have been a part of the games since 2004.

What’s the difference between high profile sports like track and field and something less popular?

You know, when you are at track and field there are 80,000 people in the stands. When covering modern pentathlon, it is more like summer camp. I really like pentathlon, but when you are at bigger events you are really acutely aware of the fact that there is all this noise around you.

What’s your favorite Olympic sport to cover and watch?

That’s a tough one. At the summer games, my favorite sport to cover is swimming. It’s easy and I know a lot about it. My favorite to watch is track and field. Track and field is hard to cover because of all the logistics, but there is something purist about it, and you can’t escape. The problem with track and field is that it is so screwed up. Doping has made it so challenging, and everyone involved in the sport knows about the problems, but it is still irresistible.

What are you looking forward to most in London?

Beijing was a big historical moment and everyone knew it. Assuming there are no transport or security issues that don’t mar the experience, I think the games ought to be fantastic, and I think it ought to be a big party. My first Olympics were in Sydney. They were unbelievable. There was excitement and parties at The Rocks and in Darling Harbour. There hasn’t been an Olympics like that since. That’s what we are hoping for in London.

What makes the Olympics so special?

It has been one of my greatest privileges to watch Usain Bolt run 9.68 seconds in the 100-meter dash and to see him run 19.30 seconds and 19.19 seconds in the 200-meter dash. Those were amazing moments. They make you stretch your imagination and redefine what is possible in our lifetime.

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