Duluthians lend their voices to Beijing Olympics
In addition to Nordic skiing and biathlon analyst Chad Salmela, Tyler George has joined NBC's curling broadcasts.
Sometimes, it's not just the Olympic athletes who get all the glory. Every once in a while, an announcer garners a little bit of fame, too.
It was Duluthian Chad Salmela’s “Here comes Diggins!” call on NBC Olympics in 2018 that went viral, when Jessie Diggins helped lead Team USA to its first-ever cross-country skiing gold medal.
Chad Salmela of Duluth is the College of St. Scholastica coach who made the euphoric announcement as Jessie Diggins, of Afton, Minnesota, won the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. It was the first gold medal for the United States in cross-country skiing. Now, Salmela is joined by another Duluthian — 2018 curling gold medalist Tyler George — who got the call this year from NBC to join their crew of curling announcers.
George and Salmela join the more than two dozen American athletes competing in the Beijing Olympics who have lived in Minnesota.
Reflecting back on his euphoric call of Diggins’ final push across the finish line in 2018, Salmela said nothing about it was planned.
"And actually, four years later, I think it's in a lot of ways maybe a little bit problematic for me because I think everybody's waiting for the next one,” he said. “And I don't know if it's ever coming."
Salmela said his goal when he calls races is to impart the excitement of the moment in a genuine way.
"You're really at the mercy of a lot of things,” he said. “You're at the mercy of the event itself and and what transpires."
He's also at the mercy of what he can see. Salmela, and all the other U.S. announcers, are calling the events from NBC's studios in Connecticut. So he's watching a monitor with a feed that's being sent halfway around the world.
Last week, at the end of a sprint race, the camera zoomed in tight on the soon-to-be gold-medal-winning Swedish skier Jonna Sundling as she approached the finish line. Salmela couldn't even see Diggins until the camera switched to a wider view a couple seconds before she crossed the line in third.
"But I thought we did a really good job with what we were given from the world feed to call that race to the line,” he said. “It's just not going to be a ‘Here comes Diggins!’ again because that's the nature of the way the thing was shot in real time."
Not being there in person can affect the call in those situations, Salmela said. But he doesn't think it's essential to be there in person.
"It just colors the call differently," he said.
This is Salmela's fifth Olympics as an analyst, since he was first discovered by an NBC producer who heard him in 2002, when he worked as the PA announcer for the biathlon competition at the Olympic games in Salt Lake City.
In addition to cross country skiing, he also provides commentary for biathlon and Nordic combined events.
For Tyler George, this is his first Olympics as an analyst. And he didn't even know he had the job until about three weeks before the Games started. Still, he said, nerves were not an issue.
"All I'm really doing is talking about my sport. I don't have to go outside my lane or anything,” he said. “I just say what I know and I got people around me that makes sure I don't make any missteps."
His commentary is filled with plenty of curling terms while remaining understandable to neophytes watching what’s taking place on screen.
"So the best that China can do now is draw around that stone to top 8, top 4, and then (U.S. skip) Shuster will have the decision if he can see any of the stone, if he wants to just rip it out, or if he wants to play the draw, but it will be his choice," he said during a recent U.S. vs. China men’s game.
George was part of the U.S. curling team that won gold four years ago. He retired from Olympic competition after those games. He said he relies on that experience behind the microphone.
"You put on the headset, you do your prep to the games, you know the the athletes and you do your background, I interviewed a lot of the curlers in the field going in,” he said. “And the access that I have, especially with the U.S. teams, gave me a lot of good material for the downtime that we have during the games, too."
Both George and Salmela are coping with grueling schedules because of the 13-hour time difference from Beijing and Connecticut. George calls matches at 8 p.m. and again at 7 a.m. Eastern time. He gets about four hours of sleep in between, and catches a midmorning nap.
Salmela typically wakes up around 9 p.m., and often works 15-hour days.
Not that either of them are complaining. Both announcers say the profile of their sports has grown since the success of the U.S. teams four years ago. George said in past Olympics, excitement would build during the games. This year, he said, it started much earlier.
"And that's not something we've ever seen,” he said. “So seeing that buildup going in and having curling be a part of NBC's promos, you know seeing John Shuster's fist pump on the the intros with all the rest of the famed athletes and moments from the previous games, you know, people are actually talking about curling going into the games this time."
After the Olympics end, George said he’s already booked out through May with trips lined up to promote the sport of curling across the country from Los Angeles to Huntsville, Ala.
George, now the third Duluthian to cover the Olympics after Kara Goucher did distance running events for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, said so far all the reports he’s heard on his commentating have been positive.
“I'm being told that if you don't hear anything, that's usually a bad sign. So I'm happy with how everything's been going,” he said.
Salmela said he feels like he has a bit of a heightened profile since the Olympics from four years ago.
“In this business, when your call is getting put on [NBC’s] marketing … that's kind of a coveted thing I think a lot of people aspire to in this business,” Salmela said. “It's nice to be known for doing something that people think is cool — and well done.”