Vermonter Heads To Eighth Olympics As Ski Broadcaster
The Sochi Olympics get underway this week. One Vermonter is headed to his eighth games, not as a competitor, but as a broadcaster.
Peter Graves is a television sportscaster and public address announcer specializing in Olympic, lifestyle and actions sports. He was formerly the cross country ski coach for Harvard University. His voice was recently heard at the games in 2010, announcing ski jumping and Nordic combined competitions in Vancouver. This time around he’ll be announcing ski jumping at the Sochi Olympics, and will be the English announcer at Medals Plaza. When Graves is not on the road, he lives in Thetford, and he stopped by VPR’s Norwich studio to speak with Mitch Wertlieb.
Graves was born in Bennington, and the ski bug bit him early. He started out as a competitor, skiing at Mount Anthony Union High School. He made the Junior National team in 1970 and then headed to college in Colorado on a ski scholarship.
“Sometime around the late 70s, two things happened. One, I was asked to be the PA announcer for a ski jumping event in Durango, Colorado. And then about a year later, Johnny Caldwell, the legendary cross country ski coach from Putney, had asked if I could do the PA for the US Cross Country Championships at the Putney School, which was great fun. I remember my cousin was a member of the Bennington Police Department, and he let me borrow a bullhorn from the police department. And there I was in the back of a pickup truck announcing. And so I think that I was bit, like many people, by the bug of broadcasting very early,” Graves said.
In Sochi, he’ll be the English announcer for ski jumping. Graves said the preparation never stops. He works part-time as the public relations director for the US Ski Jumping team, and so he traveled with the team to Europe for the World Cup.
“So that preparation goes on on a daily basis. You’ve got to be aware. And most specifically too, I’m going to be doing the English at Medals Plaza with a Russian announcer and a French announcer. You don’t want to get it wrong, and for many reasons. Of course I don’t want to embarrass myself, but far more importantly, I want to give honor to the athlete, say the name right.
“You know, having done the loud speaker at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies for the Salt Lake games was not only one of the great honors, but also one of the most anxiety provoking things I had ever done. You go slowly and you’re led through by a producer and there’s no ad-libbing like there is at a venue event, but there is some pressure with it,” Graves said.
The Sochi Olympics will be the debut event for women’s ski jumping. Graves said this has brought the athletes some much deserved attention and goodwill.
“It was a hard battle. They fought a long time. All of us involved in ski jumping thought that women deserved to be in there,” Graves explained, adding that the athletes even went to court to participate in the Vancouver Olympics, but lost that case. “They’re only going to do one competition, the men have three, we’re all very hopeful that at the next Olympics games, which will be in Korea, that women will have complete parity as far as the events go. Nonetheless it’s been a major breakthrough.”
Security is high at the Sochi games. The Russian government has invested in protecting athletes, but there are still fears of a terrorist attack. Graves said that anyone who looks at the situation would have some concerns, but must weigh that against the law of averages.
And he reflected on his experience in 2002 at the Salt Lake City games, which happened not long after the attacks on September 11th, 2001.
“The level of security was very, very high. I remember being up in the booth and doing the PA there and feeling a tremendous sense of awe when one of the flags came in that was down at the World Trade Center. It was tattered. It was powerful. I do believe this-- that the Olympics Organizing Committee and the government, and the Russian Federation will do everything that is humanly possible to protect the athletes, the families, the tourists and all of the officials going over there,” Graves said. But he added that the games can be a target, and that’s the horrible legacy of the games in Munich in 1972.
“I wish it was never that way. It can be a horrible distraction for the athletes who are preparing performance objectives and the joy of being a young person and making your first Olympic team,” he said, but he thinks he’ll be safe and everything is being done to keep the athletes protected.
While the Salt Lakes Olympics made a great impression on Graves, he said his favorite Olympic memory comes from the Lake Placid games. At just 25 years old, he was hired by ABC sports to do cross country skiing commentary with Bill Flemming, one of the original sportscasters for ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The 1980 games are remembered for many great moments, including one of the closest cross country ski battles and the "Miracle on Ice", when the U.S. mens' team defeated the powerful and heavily favored Russian team 4-3.
Graves finished a voice-over with Flemming, and then looked into the control room.
“There was a glass partition, like in a radio studio, that sponsors could go in and look,” Graves explained. “I happened to go in there the night of the USA hockey victory over Russia, which was certainly a powerful moment, one that I’ll never forget. On that day, you could hear the sound in master control. All of these people working tape ops and replays and all that, they weren’t sitting at their desks, they were up on their feet, the joy that you could see from that event! And it was a show of togetherness and patriotism that I think I’ll never forget.”