Rio de Janeiro — the mere mention of this Brazilian resort city conjures mental images of spectacular mountains, gorgeous beaches and world-class festivals. And starting tonight at 7:30, it becomes synonymous with state-of-the-art sporting competition as host of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
NBC, NBC Sports Network, Golf Channel, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBCOlympics.com begin 17 days and more than 6,700 hours of coverage of the 31st Olympiad as more than 10,500 athletes from 206 nations parade through Rio’s Maracana Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies.
Much has been made of Rio’s problems in the run-up to these Games: crime, polluted waterways, a foundering economy, a presidential impeachment, infrastructure issues, the threat of terrorism and, of course, the Zika virus, factors that have caused a number of people, athletes among them, to reconsider their plans to come to Rio.
NBC’s Dan Patrick isn’t one of them. As the host of the network’s daytime coverage, he’ll be in Rio for three weeks and is so confident in NBC’s preparations that he’s even bringing his family. Still, he understands the concerns people have and why athletes such as golfers Jason Day and Rory McIlroy might want to take a pass on these Games.
“You have guys who are professionals who have made a lot of money, so their income future is not dependent on how they do in the Olympics,’’ he says. “I think anybody who’s worked their entire life to get to this point, their approach is different than Rory or Jason. And look, that’s their prerogative. I’m not here to judge if you go or don’t go because it’s an individual choice but I do think it might be easier for those athletes to not go than it would be for somebody who’s worked their whole life to be in the 4x400 relay. You know, that’s all they have.’’
“It’s a shame because you’ve got golf in the Olympics and just to have that platform there and not have the best in the world be a part of it, that’s disheartening,’’ he says. “But you’ll still get storylines.’’
And one of those storylines is certain to be Michael Phelps. At 31, the 22-time gold medalist is certainly the graybeard of the U.S. men’s swim team but he doesn’t appear to be slowing down, at least judging by his record performances at last year’s U.S. Nationals. Phelps has also had his problems since the 2012 Games, a drunken driving conviction among them, but Patrick sees a different Michael Phelps this time around.
“To listen to his perspective now,’’ Patrick says, “I do think going to rehab opened him up because he wasn’t a very forthcoming interview. But you almost get that feeling of he understands it and he understands it before it’s too late where he didn’t get this opportunity to enjoy it, to appreciate it. So I kind of hear and see a different Michael Phelps than I did before. But as far as the performer, you know he might get humbled in these Games. Who knows?
“But it’s nice for him to have a curtain call like this,’’ he continues, “and hopefully he gets that opportunity to take a couple of bows.”