Mike Tirico has been announced as the primetime host for NBC Television for its telecasts of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games from PyeongChang. While perhaps not momentous, in the United States the announcement had some meaning as he will take over from Bob Costas, who has hosted 11 editions of the Olympics and Winter Olympics for NBC.
Defining who is the “main host” is difficult, especially in the early years of US televised broadcasts of the Olympics, but following is the list I’ve kept over the years. There are some caveats with these, which I’ll discuss.
|1968||S||Mexico City||ABC||Chris Schenkel|
|1972||S||Munich||ABC||Chris Schenkel / Jim McKay|
|1984||S||Los Angeles||ABC||Jim McKay|
|2016||S||Rio de Janeiro||NBC||Bob Costas|
|1960||W||Squaw Valley||CBS||Walter Cronkite|
|1968||W||Grenoble||ABC||Chris Schenkel / Jim McKay|
|1980||W||Lake Placid||ABC||Jim McKay|
|1988||W||Calgary||ABC||Jim McKay / Keith Jackson|
|1992||W||Albertville||CBS||Paula Zahn / Tim McCarver|
|2002||W||Salt Lake City||NBC||Bob Costas|
|2014||W||Sochi||NBC||B. Costas / M. Lauer / M. Vieira|
US telecasts of the Olympics began in February 1960 from Squaw Valley, California, with CBS televising the Games. Few people would remember that the host was Walter Cronkite, far better known for broadcasting news than sports. The 1960 Summer Olympics were in Rome and CBS again televised those Olympics, but this was the era before satellites, so the tapes of the events were flown overnight to New York and Jim McKay hosted the CBS broadcasts from a studio in New York. It was the first hosting duties for McKay, and is not often remembered, because it was for CBS, and he is far better known for his many years with ABC.
In 1964 the main hosting duties for NBC were held by Bud Palmer, a former NBA player and well-known US sportscaster at the time. Bill Henry did some studio work for NBC, but Palmer was definitely the lead host, who covered both track & field and swimming for the network.
In 1972 the main primetime host for ABC at the Munich Olympics was Chris Schenkel, not Jim McKay, as usually thought. However, on the morning of 5 September 1972, when Black September terrorists savagely attacked the Israeli Olympic team, McKay was in the ABC studio and Roone Arledge put him on the air, where he stayed for 16 consecutive hours, narrating the events of the Munich Massacre. It won him honors, plaudits, Emmy Awards, and a personal message from Cronkite, which he always said was one of his most treasured memories.
In 1980 NBC took over from ABC, which had been the US network most associated with the Olympics throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. The primetime host for NBC in Moscow was expected to be Jim Simpson, a top sportscaster for the network, but in 1979, a small cable sports station started in Bristol, Connecticut, and ESPN hired Simpson to be their most prominent sportscaster. With him not available, NBC turned to Bryant Gumbel, a rising star on their sports broadcasts, but because of the US-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Gumbel never actually hosted primetime coverage, although he did host a few weekend shows while based in New York.
Gumbel returned in 1988 and did host the NBC broadcasts from Seoul. He was backed up on weekends by Bob Costas, who would become the voice most associated with the Olympics. Costas would go on to be the primetime host of 11 Olympics or Winter Olympics, breaking the record of McKay, who is often said to have hosted 8 Olympics. In actuality, it is 9, including 1960 Rome with CBS, and could be called 10, if you include 1972 Munich with ABC. After Costas and McKay, the most frequent host was Chris Schenkel who hosted 3 Olympics for ABC back in 1968-72. When the announcement of Tirico was made today, Costas was gracious in mentioning McKay as his predecessor as the main US Olympic television host.
As noted above, at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Costas was joined as hosts by Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, but this was not planned. Costas developed a severe case of pink-eye during the Sochi Games, and struggled with it for several broadcasts, before NBC mercifully let him rest and brought in Lauer and Vieira as replacements for a few days.
Who knows how many Olympic Games Mike Tirico will host? With NBC guaranteed US television rights through the 2032 Olympics, that could bring him up to 8, still less than Costas and McKay. We shall see.