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'Moments of Heightened Emotion'

July 14, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the eve of his second outing as prime-time host of NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics, Bob Costas admits he is experiencing some butterflies.

"I don't think I will be quite as nervous as I was in Barcelona," Costas says. "Things worked out pretty well in Barcelona, but coming into it, you are always worried. 'Will I be prepared? Have I done everything I could to be ready for this? And even if I did, will I be good enough to pull it off?' "

Costas acknowledges that "there's no safety net" hosting the live 4 1/2 hour show each evening from Atlanta. "I think you would have to be nuts not to be a little nervous. But now I have one under my belt, and I did the late-night hosting in 1988. But at the same time, if you are not nervous and don't have some concern before the World Series, the Olympics or the Superbowl, then they better check your pulse. If you just walk in there, thinking this is no big deal then you shouldn't be there."

Costas, 44, who has hosted almost every major sporting event, including the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA Championships, says the highlight of his professional career was his hosting duties at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

"It's a different kind of canvas than you usually get in sports broadcasting, not just because of the number of hours on the air, but the texture of the Olympics is different than other sports events," Costas explains. There's more background, more history. There's more time for perspective. There's more of a human component. It's a vast undertaking."

The 1996 Summer Olympics begins Friday in Atlanta and continues through Aug. 4. (On the West Coast, Costas' prime-time work actually begins airing at 4:30 p.m.)

Greg Gumbel will be the daytime host and Jim Lampley and Hannah Storm will anchor the late-evening coverage. Costas will also co-host the opening and closing ceremonies with broadcaster Dick Enberg.

One of the things that makes the Olympics such a unique sporting event, Costas says, is the fact that, "whether a person is an obscure athlete from a small country competing in badminton or if they are a famous American sprinter, the one thing they have in common is that this is once every four years. It's one time. There isn't a next season if you don't do it. You have got to wait four years for another chance and then you may not have that chance. It's not a series of games like the World Series or the NBA and or even a game that takes three hours to play like the Superbowl."

The Olympic events, says the 10-time Emmy winner, "play themselves out in a short, confined, very dramatic period of time. They are moments. They are moments of heightened emotion, either of great exhilaration or great disappointment. I think that is part of what makes it compelling."

Costas has been busying researching and preparing for his Olympics stint. Even before calling the play-by-play for NBC's recent All-Star Game, Costas spent 10 days in Atlanta "locked up in a room studying."

As host, Costas says, he must have an overview of Olympics history and of the major stories and themes of the Games. "You don't have to be an expert about white-water canoeing or the discus throw, you don't have to know every minute detail about every athlete or know the technical ins and outs of every sport. That would be next to impossible. But what you do need is to have a good overview and a good sense of where the most compelling stories are and to try to weave that together for the audience."

For Costas, the track and field competitions are the signature events of the Summer Olympics. "To me, when I think Olympics, I think of those sort of events, but obviously, swimming and diving are also very popular," he says. "I think the diving is the most beautiful of all of the Olympic sports, just breathtaking to watch. Gymnastics is also one of the most popular things with American audiences. But the great thing about the Olympics is that very often we find ourselves interested in the stories of athletes who compete in sports that outside the Olympics we have no interest in."

This year, Costas says, viewers will be seeing most of the events live or "virtually" live. And because the Olympics are on American soil, there won't be the need to familiarize viewers with the surroundings. "There will be some Civil War stuff," Costas says. "There will be some gateway to the South type stuff. It's less than is required or what is expected by the audience if you were in a foreign country."

Save for the opening ceremonies, Costas will be reporting from a studio. Though he misses being at the action, Costas relishes his diverse duties at NBC. "My role is somewhat different from sport to sport. In basketball, I am the host. In the Olympics, I'm the host. But hosting the Olympics is different than anything else. And in baseball, I do the play-by-play and in football, I contribute essays and commentaries. I think that variation from sports to sport and event to event is helpful because it keeps you from getting into a rut."

Coverage of the Summer Olympics begin Friday at 5 p.m. on NBC.

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