2018 Winter Olympics: Duluth's Salmela makes memorable call

Approaching the end of his fourth Winter Olympics as an NBC commentator, Duluth's Chad Salmela was starting to take some flak. Known for his high-strung and heartfelt analysis, Salmela, cross

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Chad Salmela
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Approaching the end of his fourth Winter Olympics as an NBC commentator, Duluth's Chad Salmela was starting to take some flak.

Known for his high-strung and heartfelt analysis, Salmela, cross country coach at St. Scholastica and the school's former Nordic ski coach, had been unusually subdued since the Games began Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Via social media, people asked: "When are you going to get excited?"

Salmela's response? "When the moment calls for it."

The moment called for it Wednesday.


With Minnesotan Jessie Diggins charging hard toward leader Stina Nilsson of Sweden, Salmela - who does his biathlon and cross-country skiing analyzing from NBC's International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn. - ratcheted up his raspy and relentless intensity.

(Forgive the all caps, but this is no time for lower-case letters.)

"HERE COMES DIGGINS! HERE COMES DIGGINS!" the 46-year-old Salmela bellowed in between the play-by-play of Steve Schlanger.

When Diggins stopped pumping to lunge across the line and secure her place in U.S. Olympic history, words escaped Salmela. All but one, that is.


Chad Salmela was excited.

This is what history looks and sounds like. @jessdiggs and @kikkanimal win @TeamUSA's first ever gold medal in cross-country skiing. You'll want your sound up for this... - NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 21, 2018


"Classic Chad," was how one of his St. Scholastica athletes, Kelsey Dickinson, put it after practice at Korkki Nordic Ski Center on Wednesday. "He's just yelling 'YES!' and not even saying actual words."

Salmela, a 1990 Mountain Iron-Buhl graduate and former U.S. biathlon team member, initially feared that he had gone over the top. His producer assured him otherwise.

"All you can really do in that situation is channel what you feel and what you see," he said when reached by phone Wednesday night. "You don't know if you're doing the right thing in the moment, but I just tried to call what I saw."

By doing so with his customary zeal, Salmela likely will be forever linked with Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall, who became the first American women to medal in cross-country skiing at the Olympics. And the first U.S. gold medalists in the event, male or female.

Salmela had watched the replay a "couple times." When it was suggested to him that he and Schlanger had taken over the Internet - an NBC Olympics tweet, plugging both the dramatic finish and fever-pitch narration, was up to 305,000 views just hours afterward - Salmela downplayed his part. The real story, of course, was Diggins and Randall.

Still, he was having fun with it.

"I think it resonated with people because it was genuine," Salmela said.

Salmela says he avoids pre-scripting his words, tempting as it might be. "YES! YES! YES!" certainly backs that up. No thesaurus was needed, but the unfettered excitement in his voice clicked with viewers. It hit the mark, just like Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" did in 1980.


Incidentally, before the race, Salmela said: "I don't think (Diggins and Randall) are racing for the first medal. I think they're racing for the first gold."

So he had a hunch something special was possible. And Salmela was ready for it.

"I try to rise to the occasion when it warrants it," he said.

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