73° Good Afternoon
73° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Some of NBC's Olympics coverage taking place right here in New York

Rulon Gardner, a former Olympic wrestler and current

Rulon Gardner, a former Olympic wrestler and current NBC announcer, walks around NBC's Olympic operation on the set of "Saturday Night Live." (Aug. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Rulon Gardner's first choice this week was to be in London, wrestling. His second was to be in London cheering on friends and countrymen.

But as the 2000 Olympic champion in Greco-Roman wrestling looked around Monday, he decided there are worse places to experience the 2012 Games.

"Monumental,'' Gardner said, standing in the middle of Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, world famous as home of "Saturday Night Live.''

"You walk down the hallways and there's just so much history,'' he said. "And then I get to watch Greco-Roman, which has been done for 3,500 years.''

So it goes in this North American outpost of NBC's Olympics coverage, a place where you never quite know whom you might run into in those historic hallways.

While most of NBC's top executives and personalities are in England, among the 670 employees at 30 Rock are an intrepid group of announcers and analysts calling events of less significance to American audiences.

And Gardner certainly isn't the only gold medalist among them. Lisa Leslie, a women's basketball analyst, has four.

NBC first used 8H as its "At Home'' headquarters in 2008, mostly because it needed the room.

Young staffers working on the Olympics website sit in the balcony seats and on a side set. The rest of the studio is home to 11 soundproof booths in which announcers watch events on monitors.

That includes the areas normally used for guest host monologues and musical acts. Chris Carrino, the Nets' radio announcer, calls basketball games not involving American teams out of Booth No. 3.

"I'm right where Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam have been, so it's exciting for me,'' he said.

Why not have everyone on site in London? Keeping some people in New York helps keep costs down; it also limits the network's staff footprint in England, as per the IOC's request.

It is not ideal, but it is better than the nothing many Olympic sports usually get. By midmorning Monday several booths were active, covering everything from wrestling to table tennis to team handball.

Carrino most days has called his first game at 4 a.m. On Monday, he worked France vs. Nigeria with analyst Donny Marshall. Carrino's take on calling games off monitors: "You can't get fancy, but you can get the job done.''

Soccer announcer JP Dellacamera might well have called more games off monitors than any American announcer alive after many years at ABC/ESPN. He estimated he has done about 3,000. He said the video and sound quality for these Olympics are the best he has experienced at a remote location.

"When I'm in that booth, I'm there [in London]," he said. "Without a doubt, I'm there.''

Helping to compensate for not actually being in London is the camaraderie of the New York-based crew, whose enthusiasm is enhanced by the youthful interns who watch events on a massive video screen while they work. "When Serena and Venus [Williams] won a gold [in doubles], people were cheering,'' said John McGuinness, coordinating producer for the New York operation.

"They're college kids. They're totally into this. You do feel like you're there.''

McGuinness spoke before a control room full of screens showing a colorful parade of sports from across the pond, with one camera permanently trained on the Olympic torch.

"It's amazing, and most of this stuff is live during the daytime,'' he said. "I think people are getting a pretty good sense of what's going on. If you have a remote control, you're in heaven.''

McGuinness called the transoceanic undertaking a team effort, but most of the big decisions are made in London. He estimated Peter Diamond, one of NBC's top Olympics executives, calls 100 times a day into what McGuinness described as "the home of Chevy Chase and John Belushi and the London Olympic Games.''

Gardner is a bit young for Chase and Belushi. He was more of a Chris Farley fan. Gardner worked for NBC in 2008 then returned after stopping a comeback attempt this spring when he failed to make weight. (Gardner also was a contestant on NBC's "The Biggest Loser.")

He plans to try again at the 2016 Games, when he will be 44. For now, he mostly was content to watch his counterparts wrestle. Mostly.

The bad news: "It kind of stinks because you want to be there to scream at the guys and cheer them on, but you're not.''

The good news: He and his wife are enjoying the charms of New York while missing the security and other hassles that are part of being in an Olympic city.

The native of tiny Afton, Wyo., never before has been in New York for such a long stretch. "Being here, I love it,'' he said. "This is fun. It isn't quite as fun as being at the Olympic Games. But it's awesome.''

New York Sports