Today we welcome Paralympian-turned-broadcaster Rob Snoek. Rob competed in athletics at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Paralympics before transitioning to a career in sports broadcasting. Today Rob calls all sorts of sports and has worked with the CBC on their Olympics and Paralympics coverage since 2002.
At Beijing 2022, Rob was the CBC’s snowboard play-by-play announcer for the Olympics, commentating from Toronto. Then he traveled to Beijing to work as a sled hockey (or sledge hockey, as Rob says) commentator for the Olympic Broadcasting Service.
Rob talks with us about his experiences at the Paralympics, as well what it takes to call any sport.
In our Albertville 1992 history moment, Alison delves into figure skating, starting with the wild results of the men’s competition.
In this event, most of the favorites fell during the short programs, leaving the door wide open for Viktor Petrenko, a Ukrainian competing with the Unified Team, and Paul Wylie, the US’ 3rd string skater. And let’s not forget reigning European champion Petr Barna. Here’s how their free skates shook out:
Peter Barna – the first to land a quad in Olympic competition – who won bronze:
Paul Wylie, a two-time Olympian, who’d never placed higher than 9th at Worlds, had the performance of his life and took silver:
Viktor Petrenko, in his second Olympics, added a gold medal to the bronze he won at Calgary 1988:
And what happened to favorite Kurt Browning? Look at his short (original) program–and not just for the early 90s skating costumes or the tuxes on commentators Verne Lundquist and Scott Hamilton. Most of the favorites had Kurt’s kind of luck at Albertville.
We have lots of great news from Team Keep the Flame Alive in our TKFLASTAN update, including updates from:
- The dulcet tones of Jason Bryant
- Dr. Micheal Warren, who was on the PhD Unpacked podcast
- Snowboarder Alex Deibold
- BMX cyclist Connor Fields
- Bobsledder Lauren Gibbs – Learn more about her AMA here.
- Para shooter McKenna Geer
- Race walker Evan Dunfee
- Swimmer Felicity Passon
Plus we have news from Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 – including a visit from Alison’s French alter ego.
Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!
Photo courtesy of Rob Snoek.
NOTE: While we take measures to ensure the accuracy of this transcript, it is machine-generated and likely contains errors. Please use the audio file as the record of note.
Jill: [00:00:00] This episode is sponsored by Winter\Victor Studio.
Hello fans of TKFLASTAN and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. I am your host, Jill Jaracz joined as always by my lovely co-host, Alison Brown. Alison. Hello, how are you?
So I have been unpacking finally, my Beijing swag and I I’m a little slow to the unpacking, but the nice thing is, as I’m unpacking everything, the room is filled with the wonderful smell of our little sachets that our hotel gave us for International Women’s Day. So that smell You know, always talk about smell being the strongest reminder of memories.
So all I have to do is smell this sachet and we are back in Beijing.
Jill: Very nice. I have mine in a Ziploc bag. I’m afraid to open it to be quite honest.
Alison: It’ll smell like the Beijing hotel.
Jill: Right. Okay. Before we get started with our show today, we would like to thank our sponsor, Winter\Victor studio, Winter\Victor Studio believes, sport, and beautiful design go hand in hand.
And that a designer’s versatility is just as important as an athlete’s dexterity. Winter\Victor provides distinctive graphic design to clients in sport from logos to digital communications. Winter\Victor brings the same passion to design that our clients bring to the field to play. Add a responsive and versatile designer to your team at wintervictor.com.
All right. So today we are also talking Beijing a little bit, but other stuff as well. We’re talking with Rob Snoek, who is a broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Company, CBC. He’s been with them since 2002, starting with the Paralympics in Salt Lake City and adding Olympic coverage in 2014.
He is a three time Paralympian in track and field and a 2017 inductee in the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. And you met him on the bus in Beijing.
Alison: I did. We just started chatting on the way to curling and well, I’ll tell you after our funny conversation.
Jill: Okay. Excellent. We talked with Rob about his experiences as an athlete in the Paralympics, how he got into broadcasting and life inside the closed loop at Beijing, where he announced sled hockey for the CBC. Take a listen.
Rob. Thank you so much for joining us. You covered Beijing from both home and in China, correct?
Rob Snoek: Yeah, it was just kind of an interesting little arrangement. So I worked for Canadian television CBC for the Olympics and did play by play of snowboarding. And, uh, we weren’t there, but I had an amazing color commentator who eats drinks, sleeps, snowboarding all his life.
And so it was just natural for him. And he, and he’s been with a lot of the snowboarders this year. So it wasn’t as hard as it might have been to not be on. But then for the Paralympics I was working for OBS, the Olympic Broadcasting Service, and covering sledge hockey, or, or as you call it, sled hockey is Canadians call it sledge hockey.
They call it para ice hockey. It’s got lots of names, but anyway, that was the sport that I was covering and doing it from the venue for the international host feed. So
Jill: Quick question on the hockey. How surprised were you with China’s play? Because we were at that first game when China came out and the other teams seem to be stunned by their gameplay and not know how to deal with it.
Rob Snoek: Well, if you would’ve asked me the same question before I started doing research, I would’ve said the same thing, but I knew that they had gone to the B world championships last year and pretty much pummeled everyone. And I knew that they were working really hard on you know, their speed. And that was the one thing that really threw people’s how fast they were and how many of them were that fast.
And, how balanced and, it seemed like they were better than, well, they were better than all their opposition until there’s probably two teams there that, that would have handled them well, in one, they only played one of them, but the, uh, the Americans had no problem with them once they played them, because they’re used to that.
Like their inter squad practices are that fast, so they, weren’t surprised and they’ve also studied all the video, but yeah, good point though. The Chinese team worked really, really hard [00:05:00] considering how little experience they have. In para ice hockey, overall, and as you know, as a program and certainly hadn’t even competed in past games.
So from that standpoint, for them to be as good as they were, and then eventually to win the bronze medal was pretty amazing.
Alison: we have a very long list of things we wanted to ask you, Rob, and we’re like, okay, where do we want to start? And China was kind of where we wanted to start it just so you’ve covered a lot of Paralympics, a lot of Olympics, and obviously Beijing can’t really compare cause of COVID and how they did it.
But what was your impressions of being there during the Paralympics?
Rob Snoek: Well, I’ve been asked that question quite a few times since I’ve been home. I have to say it was weird. It was a little bit weird. And I mean, and, and Tokyo was weird too last summer to a certain extent because of the lack of spectators, but just the way we were in that bubble.
And, you know, you can generate as much energy and excitement as you want, and you can try to generate all of that, but it just gets to be a point where you really need those fans to be there. And I think that the lack of spectators hurts the Paralympics more than it hurts the Olympics because Paralympic athletes do not get to go in, events on a regular basis that have spectators.
No, for instance, I covered track and field last summer at the Olympic games. And there were no, there was nobody in the stadium. I mean, there were a few people, there’s probably 500 people in there. So that was a little bit of a bummer for those athletes. But then as soon as the games are over, those athletes were gone to the Diamond League and competing at those events.
And they’re in front of 20 and 30 and 40 and 50,000 people. But for the Paralympic athletes, that would have been their one opportunity in four years to compete well, five years in front of 40 and 50,000 people and what we saw in London and what we saw in Rio, and it would have been so special and it’s so great for the movement to have that.
So to be deprived that in back to back games, it was a little weird and also a little bit depressing in a sense, because even though we did our best. You guys did with your podcasts and all your work. And I did with my broadcast work to bring the events to life, to the people at home. It’s just not quite the same as when there’s so much energy at an event in the stadium and the athletes are kind of playing to that.
And so in that sense, yeah, that’s the kind of weird kind of disappointing a sense, even though there were so many good things, but that’s kind of what I was left with.
Alison: Yeah. I would, I would definitely agree that it was, you know, I didn’t have anything to compare it to because this was our first, time around, you’ve done this a million times and we were newbies and we were so confused most of the time, like this is not the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s like, we knew it, but we didn’t have the reference point.
it was a little odd, but to be honest, we probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to talk on the bus if it had been a normal Paralympics, cause the bus would have been packed.
So for me, I’m like I got to meet Rob Snoek.
Rob Snoek: Oh, good. Well, I’m glad that I get to meet you, Alison, so that’s good too. I mean, I always try to go out of my way to meet people from other countries, whether it’s fellow journalists or, spectators or, family.
I mean, that’s how sometimes that’s where we get some of our best stories is we find the family of the sledge hockey player and they’ve traveled all the way from, Wisconsin or Thunder Bay, Ontario, or wherever it is. And, here they are, and they’re so proud and, they have a great story to tell and we, we integrate all of that in, and it’s just so much harder to do that and feel the sense of it. So I think we all hope that next time around in Paris that we won’t be the only ones. There there’ll be a tens and thousands of spectators and family and friends and interested parties observing.
Alison: So you have been that athlete, you did three summer Paralympics, 92, 96 and 2000 in athletics.
So we want to talk a little bit about that time in the Paralympics and what that looked like. I think a year ago, or so we talked to John register who was also at 96, in 2000 in athletics. So let’s start with 92. How did you get there? How did that happen? When did you discover that the Paralympics even existed?
Rob Snoek: I will tell you I actually know John, uh, we competed kind of in the same, uh, group, uh, and we’re sponsored, I think both [00:10:00] by a company called The Flex Foot, and really, really great guy. So I’m glad you had him on your show.
So 92. So I, I grew up as the kid with the disability in Canada, had an artificial leg since the age of one, but always played able-bodied sport and played it most, you know, at a sort of competitive recreational level, I guess you could say, but always sort of had this inkling, you know, in the back of my mind that maybe I, I could have been like an elite athlete because, you know, because I was kind of pushing the envelope of, where I was competing.
And when I was in grade eight, I won a high jump competition, like a regional high jump competition. I remember that day just really thinking to myself, wow. I’m beating all these able-bodied kids. I wonder if I would’ve had two legs, could I have gone to the Olympic games, but the Paralympics didn’t have– they were happening then, but they really didn’t have much of a profile.
I didn’t know much about them until I was, late teens. And I remember seeing some coverage of the Seoul Paralympics in ‘ 88 and there was a Canadian there. His name is Arnold Boldt, Arnie Boldt. And who was a high jumper, phenomenal guy. He’s the guy you probably have seen on some of the old videos is hopping up to the bar and just like leaping over kind of head first kind of twisting.
And, he went like six foot eight or 10 or something like that. It’s some crazy heights and, well over two meters anyway. And, uh, I started thinking of what, and then he could see that there was like a stadium in the background and it was like in Seoul and I’m like, well, the Olympics just happened in Seoul.
So then I started really getting interested in what that was and learning more about the Paralympics. And so I found out and then started, I had always thought, I wonder how fast I would be compared to other, well people who kind of a level playing field. Right. So always interested in that. And so I went to like a regional competition and then in Ontario, where I live in Canada and then from there to the provincials and then from there to the nationals.
So this was in 1989 and I met a guy there named Dennis Oehler. And I don’t know if you’ve ever come across Dennis’s name. He’s from Long Island. And he won the gold medal in Seoul for amputees in the 100 to 200 and the 400. And he was kind of the first amputee to break down those barriers. And he had been like a signed to play professional soccer when he lost his leg in a, car accident and then found his way to Paralympic sport and took the technology and worked with those companies and made it better and better.
I remember there was an ad and it was in a publication and it, it had his picture and it was for Flex Foot, which was an American company out of California. And it said, now it’s their turn to fly. And I just remember thinking, how cool is that? Like we get to fly now, where we were kind of rolling and stumbling up until then.
And then, so I can kind of start T I mean, I raced Dennis at that meet and I got my butt kicked and there’s no question about it, but he kind of mentored me and he allowed me to copy the technology that he was using. And, and then I, kept going and meeting the next barrier, uh, the next hurdle, the next, standard that I had to get to until finally I qualified for the Canadian team for Barcelona in 1992.
And I’ll never forget that moment of walking into the stadium in Barcelona, where we had just seen the Olympic games happen and then to be there to be representing your country. And then there being 40 or 50 or more thousand people there. And we had never experienced that in our lives as athletes. And that was just so amazing.
And I just fell in love, I guess. And I’ve been doing it ever since
Jill: During your time as an athlete, how did you see the Paralympics evolve?
Rob Snoek: Yeah, I mean, I think it, it, seems to me that it takes a jump or a potential jump, every, I guess you could say every games, but I feel like it’s every summer games that you really notice it, So then you go Barcelona and then Atlanta. Atlanta was good in lots of ways, but it was a bit of a step back in some ways, because they ended up having two different organizing committees and it made them have to reinvent the wheel for everything.
And then we went from Atlanta to Sydney, and Sydney was phenomenal. And then we went from Sydney to Athens and then to Beijing. And then to London and it feels like, you know, for me, the, the most important ones in there for Barcelona, because it was my first, and [00:15:00] then Sydney was my last, but also they embrace the Paralympics, like we had never seen before.
And then from there, I would say the next huge boost was London in 2012 where they were, it felt as close to the Olympics as anything had ever felt before. I mean, I wasn’t competing anymore then, but I was, was there as a reporter and it felt like that the fans, the spectators would gather and were psyched about the sport and we’re psyched about, you know, not only cheering on their country, but like seeing these amazing performances and stars were born, you know, like the Mar the, uh, British sprinter named Johnny peacock.
I mean, I think to this day, he, he can walk down the street and in London and that people will still recognize him. Like, that’s just unheard of for Paralympic athletes in most places in the world. And so, we’ve had those, those moments where we’ve really seen that growth and I’ve, you know, I’ve seen it be, we had one reporter from Canadian television meet us at the airport in Barcelona, in 92.
And then from that to have, the kind of coverage that we’ve seen since then, it’s been really good. I don’t think we’re there yet by a long shot, but I definitely have noticed the growth, the different countries that have, come along sometimes quickly. Sometimes you’ll see when a country hosts the games we saw with China in 2008, and then we saw it again this year.
those are real hard push. We saw it with Australia, with Sydney and we saw it with Great Britain. They kind of kept it going since holding the games in 2012. There’s a push in their own system to get the athletes, you know, ready to win medals and get them integrated into programs. So I would say it’s like in pockets. We go well for a time.
And then there’s funding issues. And there’s other things that happen. And there’s a bit of a drawback again, but I feel like in general, it’s slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly getting better and better and better. And we need those events, the big ones. We need the Paralympic games to keep propelling the sport into the mainstream and into the public eye.
Alison: So you retire from competition. What did you think you were going to do? Like, were you working while you were competing?
What was, you know, when you were a kid, what did you think you were going to do when you grew up?
Rob Snoek: I don’t know what I thought, but here’s what I did. When I collected hockey cards when I was a kid. And so I would literally, as I’m watching hockey night in Canada, I would have my cards lined up, like the left-winger in the center and the right winger and the defense.
And then I put five on the other side and then the goalies on each side. And I would literally be doing like play by play, I guess, in my own head or if maybe even out loud. So, I mean, I was just, I always loved sport and I always wanted to have like a life in sports somehow. Did I know that that was going to be possible? No.
And so when I was in high school, I started trying to think, well, how could I get that in a way? And broadcasting, it seemed like the best avenue. So I went, I went to school for TV and radio broadcasting and, and, uh, worked at a radio station in Toronto and kind of had a five hour a day job for a number of years and then train for three to four hours a day.
So it was kind of a good fit and, they were helpful in giving me time off and things like that.
Alison: So how did it happen in 2002 that you end up covering the Paralympics
Rob Snoek: That’s a good one.
In 2000 I competed in Sydney, 2001 was the World Track and Field Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. And those were my last that was even though everyone else thought I was retiring after Sydney, I just wasn’t ready for it. Like I was just still in athlete mode and I’m like, well, there’s this great event in Canada.
And it was the first time that they had to the best of my knowledge, they integrated a bunch of Paralympic events within the program of the IAAF World Championships. So I got to compete, in Canada, march into the stadium with the essentially the able-bodied team and be part of that. So that was really, really special.
So anyway, I retired after that. I knew after that, that I won, I did some fundraising, for a private school in the area where I had gone as a kid and where my kids were going but I knew that I didn’t want to do that forever, but it was, kind of a temporary thing.
And then I started trying to get part-time jobs in the media. Cause I always knew that’s what I had gone to school for. And I always knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So interestingly enough, I get a call from someone in Canadian television named Joe Recupero, [00:20:00] who at the time was working for CBC and he had done some work for the Sydney Games on a feature that I was part of.
And so he said, we we’d like to maybe talk about having you involved in our Salt Lake City broadcasts and I’m thinking, okay. Yeah, maybe sledge hockey. Cause it’s a sport that I’ve always, at least the, the hockey part is comfortable with. No, Nope. He says Alpine skiing. Well, at that point in my life, I think I had skied three times.
And I’m like, well, you know that I’m not a skier, right? Yeah, no, but you understand the Paralympics and he’s just loved the way that I talked about the Paralympics when we did those interviews for Sydney. And, uh, I’m like, all right. So we, I mean, did as much training and as much research as I could.
And so I was the color commentator for Alpine skiing for Canada in Salt Lake City in 2002. So then it kind of evolved from there where I guess they liked it enough that they had me back for some other work. And then I kind of took it a step back and I did, some research jobs for them for a few years.
And then that kind of, I found my way back into the on air side. But then I was doing play by play of, ice hockey of hockey for a junior hockey team in Canada. And they found out about that and it’s like, well, one, even though. It has nothing to do with them. They find it. Well, someone else thinks you’re good at that.
Then we think maybe you can do that as well. So anyway, I went from 2002 to 2004 and Athens where I called the track and field. And there’s a Canadian named Chantal Petitclerc, who’s now a Senator, who was just a phenomenal wheelchair racer. So Tatyana McFadden would know her from the beginning of Tatyana’s career.
And it was the end of Chantal’s career. And they would have overlapped just a little bit, but Chantal won five gold medals in Athens and five gold medals in Beijing. And I can’t remember how many she went in London and then retired at some point after that, but was kind of became as big of a star in Canada as anyone has ever been being a Paralympic athlete. So anyway, I have a chance to call a lot of her races along the way and. And since then CBC has used me for coverage of, I think I’m at something like 24 different sports. So either I’m really, really versatile or they haven’t found anything I’m good at yet.
So that’s my story.
Alison: I’m going with versatile because I was looking at some of the things you’ve covered so you’ve done water polo, which I thought was so funny. Cause I can…
Rob Snoek: Insane.
Alison: Yes. And beach volleyball, of course athletics and all these different things. But the one that got us excited of course was snowboarding, which means you got to hear, Jill’s favorite announcer in Beijing, Oscar at the snowboarding venue.
Rob Snoek: Well, the thing is, as I was in Toronto, we heard, yeah. We, we heard him over top of like in our ears a little bit, but half the time we were talking at the same time. but we had a pretty phenomenal announcer. And then Craig McMorris, who I’ve worked with now for nine years, he does a lot of stuff on X Games, his brother Mark is one of the greatest snowboarders in the world. And so we’ve done a lot of work together. So, I’m usually just trying to, when I’m doing snowboarding, I’m trying to tee him up for some of his creative lines and, things that always seem to end up on Twitter and all the other social places and the people love them.
Jill: When you talk about training for Alpine, for the 2002 games, what do you mean by training? Do you actually go out and ski or was that research?
Rob Snoek: And I did a little bit. I’m talking about watching. Okay. I’m the only person who still has a VHS collection of tapes that everybody laughs at.
But when I get asked to do these new sports, that’s when I pull these things out. I mean, I try to find anything I can on YouTube, but I spend a lot of time watching whatever I can watch and watch how other people have. I mean, I want to understand the sport, but I also want to understand what the different strategies are to call all a sport.
What kind of energy they have, what kind of pacing they use, kind of rhythm. They have all of those kinds of things. So last summer I did CBC, asked me to call swimming, which is a pretty big deal. And it was in Tokyo. And I watched that as much. And I also happened to have had an knee surgery at about the same time.
And so I was sitting on my couch a lot. And so it kind of worked out perfectly because I spent probably four times as much time as I would have given myself in a normal year, because I was like literally flipping to try to find different, programs and different Olympics of world championships, world cups, whatever.
And a lot of times there was the American announcers who I think are really good. And then it would be British [00:25:00] announcers or Australian announcers, Canadian announcers to try to get the sense. You’re not trying to copy any of them. You’re just trying to cause you can’t anyway, but you’re trying to get the sense of how they do it and what’s the most exciting way to do it. And the way that, gives the most information, the most energy and makes it the most enjoyable experience for the viewer. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what I’m trying to do..
Jill: It’s interesting that you call it training.
Is that kind of a hold over from being an athlete and taking an athletic approach to your current work?
Rob Snoek: Did I call the training?
Jill: You did call it. Yeah. Yeah.
Rob Snoek: Well then,. I guess, I guess it must be, must be a hold over. Yeah. And I think that that’s the kind of mentality you have to take. It takes so much work behind the scenes to be any good at something. You know, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours.
And I think that that’s true. Like it’s -the swimming that I did last year for CBC. There’s a few people who seemed like they, I hate to use this word, but discovered me during that event. I had never appeared on their radar because I had never called an event that was that significant where Canada won so many medals and, and there was so much excitement, but it’s like, well, it wasn’t my first rodeo.
It wasn’t my first Olympics. It was a different sport, but it was like, there were so many, you know, there were 15 years of riding buses across the province of Ontario from Sault St. Marie to Windsor, to Ottawa. And I’m sure a lot of your listeners have never heard of maybe Ottawa, but most of those places and calling all of those games and carrying a broadcast for two and a half hours by yourself and then calling water polo and field hockey and, 10 other snow sports as well.
And, and lots of times with a partner, but sometimes without, so that when you are thrown into this situation where it’s your first time, then it doesn’t feel like it’s your first time, because you’ve done a bunch of other first times before. And the way you prepared for those was, maybe training was, you know, some sort of a system like a, plan that you had that I guess probably came from my experience as an athlete in my tenure, running around in circles for over a decade on the track.
Alison: How would you describe your own style of announcing?
Rob Snoek: Hmm, I think it varies in part with who my fellow commentator is. I try to have as much knowledge as I can about a sport. But if I’m calling a sport with someone who competed in it their entire life, and I’ve been cramming for the test for 10 days or two weeks or something, there was no comparison.
So the best I can do is figure out the right questions to ask them. I think that’s one thing I think when it comes to there’s certain sports that are different, like snowboarding is, especially if you’re doing the style events, you’re not so much calling the play by play the same way as you would be. If you’re calling a swimming race or if you’re calling a hockey game or a snowboard cross race where it’s like, I feel like I have kind of figured out how to do that.
Like bring that kind of energy. That’s needed to call like a really fast event that is all you can do to keep up. And then there’s a different sort of energy and conversational style, I think, that goes with broadcasting, those different kinds of events, like snowboard, big air or slopestyle or skiing, big air or slopestyle.
You’re so reliant on the expertise of your partner who knows that that was a backside, triple cork, 1440 or whatever it was. Right. And they’re the ones who bring that kind of energy and, information to the table. So sometimes I’m sort of like the ringmaster and trying to keep, keep all that. Wait a minute.
What did you just say that backed them up a little bit and do that. So I don’t know, like, I’m sure you guys are like this too. There’s a certain point in your life where you hear your own voice and you’re like, oh, whoa. Like, how can anybody’s like, I hate my voice. And then you get to a point where you’re like yeah, I guess it’s okay. And then you probably never get that far beyond that, but then when other people start saying, I really like your voice, you’re like, really? I can, I can’t get to that point until I watched something that I did like a year ago and listen back to it. I’m like, yeah, that guy’s all right.
But I never really think I never get to the end of an event and go, Hmm. Awesome. Nailed it. Killed that thing. Couldn’t have done it any better. It’s usually like, my wife will say when I get home. How was it, I’m like. Yeah. It was pretty good. It was okay. I didn’t bumble anything too badly and then I can watch it later, I’m like, huh? It was better [00:30:00] than I thought it was.
Alison: Oh Rob, you were so Canadian just then.
Rob Snoek: What am I not Mike Tirico? Come on
Alison: So what sport has surprised you that you’ve covered, that either you fell in love with or you thought was going to be easy and was just way harder than you thought?
Rob Snoek: Wow. Well, I mean, I never would’ve guessed that I would be calling snowboarding and here I am, 19 years later still calling snowboarding. So that’s been, that’s been pretty amazing. I’m one of these people who like, I liked certain sports and I follow certain sports in my life. But if, if I get asked to do okay, we, you know, in July we need you to cover this rugby event. And it’s like, okay. Then I start like gathering information about rugby.
And I start falling in love with rugby. And I start figuring out who the characters are and figuring out, you know, the nuances of the sport. And then by the time the event happens, it’s like, I love rugby. Rugby is an awesome sport. that’s kind of, what’s happened to me over the years and you know, here’s the crazy thing.
The more I fallen in love with a lot of those sports, I have to say I’ve lost a little bit of love for the biggest sports, like the NFL’s and the Major League Baseball and NBA. And even the NHL. I hate to say it as a Canadian, like you just kind of get sick of, because they don’t appreciate how good they have it.
And you, the three of us know, we spend a lot of time with amateur athletes and Paralympic and Olympic athletes, and they would die to have the, like a bit of that coverage. And there’s a little bit of a, yeah, like you, you want, you don’t want ill for those other sports. I’m just not as interested in them anymore.
I just. Yeah, I don’t, I’m not going to gather at my buddy’s place on a Sunday and spend six hours watching two football games. That’s not happening. But if they were gathering and we were having an Olympic party, I’d probably be there.
Alison: We love Olympic parties.
Rob Snoek: We’re just always working so hard. We can’t get to them anymore.
Jill: What differences do you see when broadcasting the Olympics versus broadcasting Paralympics?
Rob Snoek: Well, I mean, you certainly, the biggest difference is in most Olympic sports, most people know who the main players are, so the learning curve is, very different. You don’t have to go as far and dig as hard to find out who the main players are.
And from a fan standpoint as well, there’s a lot of that, but I think I see a lot of similarities, from Olympics and Paralympics in terms of seeing the athletes. You know, I think even professional athletes who compete at the Olympics, I almost feel like they buy in lots of times, they buy into something that kind of a way that they used to be part of maybe more. And they really like it.
You know, Sidney Crosby and, Connor McDavid, and Alex Ovechkin pushed so hard to try to get into the Olympics. They love it. They love that Olympic kind of vibe and they want to be part of it, even if they’re not getting paid during that stretch of time.
I think there’s a real appreciation back and forth between well professional Olympic athletes and maybe not, but also between Olympic athletes and Paralympic athletes. I know some of the Canadian sledge hockey players were talking about how they feel like a kinship to the Canadian women’s hockey team, because none of them are making millions of dollars.
They’re all battling to get their 15 minutes of fame and get their programs sponsored and funded and, and all of that. And they’re all doing that well, doing whatever else they have to do. And I’m doing it all at as high a level as they possibly can and not making any excuses. So I think I see a lot of similarities between Olympic and Paralympics. I mean, the one tricky part about Paralympics is figuring out all of the classifications and that does get messy for people to see you both nodding a little bit there, it’s probably always been that way and it probably always will be that way. And there’s always somebody who’s upset, because it didn’t seem fair for them and it probably wasn’t fair for them.
Yeah. I w when I was competing, he goes, it’s happening already. So I’m a single leg amputee. And so I would have used a sprinting leg that they, They call it blade runner. Well, we never used that term.
It was made by Flex Foot. The brand name was actually cheetah, like C H E E T A H cheetah. And so it was called the Cheetah. We call it a Cheetah and then I don’t know, they changed it because it sounded too much like cheater or something. So there was a time when, if you were a single leg amputee, of course you are faster than someone who’s a double leg amputee because they’re more disabled than you. Oh, wait a minute. Technology, all of a sudden, [00:35:00] put two prosthetic legs on a person who’s really fast and really athletic and really fit. And now has this perfectly uniform running style instead of like a gallop. And also they could make them as tall as they wanted to make them.
So there was a time when there was a lot of infighting in the sport about that. Like that’s not fair. And all of a sudden you’d have all the double leg amputees running way faster than single leg amputees. And then And that was going on in London. And that’s when Johnny Peacock just said to everybody, ah, shut up and he just beat everybody anyway, even though he was a single leg amputee. And so it kind of made everybody go, oh wait, it’s not, no, there’s more to it than that. Right. But I guess what I’m getting at is this whole idea of classification and issues and struggles and fairness is something that is, we’re just going to have to keep working through at the Paralympics in a different way.
And that happens at the Olympics. You don’t see that kind of thing much.
Alison: Do you think it would be better for the Paralympic movement as a whole, to just have fewer classifications? Because for example, winter was much easier to follow because you’d have, maybe three classifications for snowboarding and that was it.
Rob Snoek: It would be easier to follow. The argument that you hear a lot is that the people who have the greater level of disability are the ones who suffer the most when you do that, because there aren’t the same numbers of people involved. So they might only have seven entries for a category instead of the open wheelchair racing category, which might have 50.
And so you can’t mix the two together. And so then you end up trying to figure out a way to, mix a few of the categories together, make it fair. It’s– I don’t know the answer to that question. They did something really interesting in Australia years ago. They literally figured it out. handicapping system forgive the term.
Cause it’s meant more like in a horse racing term of handicapping where, so the let’s just say the Olympic champion in the sprints would line up at the 120 meter line and then the, Paralympic champion in whatever the category might line up at the 110 meter line. And then there’d be a bunch of people in between.
And then somebody who has maybe the most involved disability would line up at like 103 meters before, and then they would all race to the start line. And whoever gets to the finish line first is the winner. And I always thought that was an interesting way to do it where you somehow figured out what the world record is, what is the most fair way to do it, and then still have everybody racing to the same finish line. I think that’s the most frustrating thing for fans and, for media is that, well, isn’t the person who just won the person who just won. Like, no, actually it’s not because, you know, Oksana Masters has less of a disability than this person. And so she had to be four minutes faster than them instead of three minutes and 59 seconds faster or whatever the thing is.
Right. And so that always makes, it makes it tricky. But I don’t know if there’s an easy solution. I like what wheelchair basketball does in that they have five players on the floor, or you’re only allowed a certain amount of points, the number of points. And you can’t go over, but you actually have to have those low 0.1 point players on the floor.
And because in order to make the math work. And then in order to do that, they, they have to be good. And so those players get real respect and recognition for that. But you know, in a team sport, maybe it’s a wee little bit easier. They, interestingly they don’t have any sort of point system in sledge hockey.
It’s just, if you can get out there and play, then you’re out there playing.
Alison: Right. Wheelchair rugby also has that, point system. But I was expecting the point system to be there for sled hockey. And so I was surprised when it wasn’t, but looking at the players, there was such a variety on the ice all the time, single amputees, double amputees, paraplegics, all these different, I mean, you could just see it.
And I was like, oh, so this sort of has, has shaken out naturally to allow for a lot of different abilities, which I thought was interesting. Like what about sled hockey made that happen?
Rob Snoek: Yeah. But I mean, what, what it does, right. Is it excludes, say people who are quadriplegics because they can’t push with the sled as fast and as hard.
So there’s no place, for them at that level. And yeah, it’s another kind of a weird [00:40:00] situation where you have someone who like Team USA, in sled hockey, the captain is Josh Pauls. Josh is an amazing athlete, obviously. Right. But he’s really strong in his upper body and he has no weight on his lower body because he has no real lower body.
Right. And the way he maneuvers in his chair and it Declan Farmer’s the same as well. And, but the way Josh maneuvers in his chair, it’s like the thing is attached. It has always been attached to his body, like it’s normal, but it’s almost like they found a way to adapt their disability, which seemed like a disability into an advantage.
And isn’t that what the Paralympics, should be about is helping people take what seems like a disadvantage in life and turn it into an advantage in life.
Jill: Are there sports you haven’t called that you would like to?
Rob Snoek: I don’t know if there are. Formula one racing it’s sliced in the face of everything else. I was saying about a professional sport. I just think it would be, it would be super cool to do that, at least at least once or twice. I mean, as a kid, my dream was to be a play-by-play announcer in the National Hockey League.
And, I think I would still treasure that opportunity if it ever came along, but I’m super happy to, as long as people keep letting me talk about their sport and, and I get paid to do it, then I’m just, I’m super thrilled that I get the chance to do it. So I, I’m not pining. Any one thing that I, that I haven’t done yet, I I’ll just get ready for the next one.
Whatever it is.
Alison: So what are you looking forward to for Paris and Milan
Rob Snoek: Spectators in droves and French bread and wine.
Alison: Also in Milan bread and wine. I mean, this’ll just be a carb and alcohol Fest,
Rob Snoek: But I, I think the biggest thing is, is having the, you know, especially for the Paralympics is having spectators there again, I think is just going to be so awesome. And France has been a leader in Paralympic sport, at times through the years in different sports and, you know, they’d been a good host for various events.
So I think that they’re going to be a really good host for this event. And, I think it’s going to be amazing and we’re going to be in, depending on what happens with broadcasting, you know, it seems that more and more times the broadcasters are being left at home instead of being there, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to actually be in Paris and call and feel the, I’m trying to think of a nice French phrase, joie de vivre
anyway, but yeah, that’s what I’m, what’s what I’m excited about.
Jill: I get why companies want to leave their broadcasters at home, but why is it important to be there in person?
Rob Snoek: I think there’s a kind of an integrity actually that goes with telling the story that you actually should be there.
Like, I, I really feel that, like, I feel, I feel like it’s a little bit dishonest, that we’re not there. You know, You’re trying to pass on what’s happening. And I mean, I’ve covered events from remote locations and that’s kind of the way things are going to a certain extent. but if it’s possible to be there, there’s, I’ll give you an example.
I called the gold medal game in, beach volleyball for Rio in 2016. And it was on the men’s side. It was a famous Brazilian pair named Bruno, and Alison who won the gold medal and they did it in the rain on Copacabana Beach, to thunderous applause. And the building was literally shaking.
Like it was because they were so excited. The fans were so excited, but we didn’t know that because we were in Toronto calling it. And so we’re trying our best to give the energy and the passion of what we think this is going to feel like, but didn’t really didn’t know that part about the stadium shaking and didn’t know those kind of other things.
And didn’t get the feel of, you know, you arrive at the stadium and maybe you look out and you see there’s, 2000 people lined up to come into the stadium. So you miss that part, you say, wow, you should have seen the lineup to get in here. The streetcars were packed or whatever. You get little bits and maybe you bump into someone who’s like I was saying earlier, a parent or a friend or a supporter or a sponsor of a certain athlete.
And. You know who they are, because they’ve got the athlete’s name on their back, right. Like there. And so you can, you can talk to them, you can say, tell me, just have a little conversation with them. [00:45:00] And some just, sometimes there’s just amazing little nuggets that come out. And I think if you are careful to tell that part of the story, then you can bring the people who are at home into that realm more so than they would ever get to be in more so than you could have been if you were at home, kind of guessing about all of that.
Jill: Interesting. Making a case for us to be at Paris. Thank
Rob Snoek: you, Rob. I’m glad to help for what you do. You, you, you cover the events, but then you also interview the athletes post event.
Alison: It’s dependent. I mean, this time was weird because of the mixed zone.
So sometimes we could, and sometimes we couldn’t get into the mix zone, so it depended. Yeah. Right.
Rob Snoek: But again, those stories would develop as you’re going along as well. Right? Like you would find out about, I don’t know, the Zamboni driver or somebody as you’re at the venue and you’re, is taking shape.
Otherwise you’re sort of at the mercy of whatever else has been written, whatever kind of message has been put out there by, you know, whoever has a vested interest of putting a message out. But when we’re there, we get to tell what we think is the best story that is the most interesting to the most people.
Alison: Okay. So here here’s my question that I really want to ask. did you have a favorite snack from the workrooms in Beijing?
Rob Snoek: Oh, wow. Can you remind me what they were again?
Alison: Okay, so they had the mini breads and the little waffles and the various it would’ve
Jill: had. I actually had some Sesame crackers today. I still have some of my snacks.
Alison: The Swiss rolls.
Jill: The Swiss rolls. You think? I think hockey had banana flavored. Swiss rolls.
Jill: You might have had Snickers Did you have the cup of noodles?
Rob Snoek: I remember Snickers from the curling venue, for sure. Yeah, I didn’t have any real, I have to say when I was at the, in China, I was working for OBS, and they did feed us lunch.
So I was pretty lucky that way. So we actually had a meal that was made by, you know, and they were in boxes, like box lunches or whatever, but they’re, they’re pretty decent, nothing to complain about. Sometimes you ended up eating bread or whatever, but I was more than happy to do that, but I’ve certainly been where you guys were, where you are reliant on the little bits of the snacks from the media room or the snack bar, and get, you know, whatever delicacy they like in that country, whether you like it or not.
Jill: Now you’ve answered a question for me because I did see volunteers or whoever bringing big bags of boxes and like who is getting the food that would be
Rob Snoek: Yeah, we’re pretty lucky.
Did, did you guys find it strange there that you, like every place I’ve ever visited in my life, I would have put my stuff in the hotel and gone for a walk, like just explored around the area. And this was the only time in my life. I really in Tokyo was similar. Although, see, I spent seven weeks in Tokyo last summer.
So after two weeks, the app on your phone would change colors and you were a free person you’re allowed to move around. So it’s different. But this case, it was like, no, you couldn’t leave the corridor of your hotel. And then you couldn’t leave the corridor of the broadcast center or the fenced in area of the venue you’re working at.
So I don’t know how weird you guys felt that. I felt like that was, I didn’t get a chance at all to experience China really.
Alison: Oh, absolutely. I don’t feel like I’ve been to China. Yeah.
Jill: Right. We were in, we called that the closed loop, special administrative region around my house. We did. But I spent a lot of time looking out the window, lots of time looking out the window.
And I was there for the whole Olympics and Paralympics and for the Olympics, when leaving the media center, my bus would turn right and leaving the media center for the Paralympics. My bus would turn left and I had no idea that. Uh, half a block away was a shopping mall. And just the, I like stood up in my seat and was just looking out the window light.
There’s a shopping mall right here. And I had no idea and we can’t go and there are people and there’s, oh, this is where this weird music is coming from. And it just, oh my gosh. It was, so that was hard, but I mean, yeah, we just, we never we didn’t go
Alison: to China.
Jill: Oh, is that out your window? Yeah.
Rob Snoek: Yeah, that was the last day I was there.
They took the S the, uh, screen away from my window. The last day I was there for the first two and a half, two weeks or whatever it was, all you could see was like, if you let’s say you had a window in your shower, but you didn’t want people to see how you’d put this. Like, you’d hang this [00:50:00] sticky, whatever they call it on there.
But you can’t see through. So I had a vague idea that the Bird’s Nest stadium was close by. I couldn’t see it. And then the last day I finished my last bit, I get back to the hotel and I thought it was in the wrong room. I opened the door and I started looking around like, did my key work for the wrong room.
And then I I’m looking at my peeled off the paint, the plastic or whatever that was on the window. And it just blew my mind, like, whoa, I don’t know what happened. Like why all of a sudden they were, it didn’t matter anymore, but apparently didn’t.
We had a front parking area and there was always security there.
And at some point during the two and a half weeks, they got really bored. So someone brought a badminton net in, so these guards right there playing badminton in the front little parking lot, I thought that was awesome.
All of a sudden that the masks came off and the rackets came out and they were, they were playing badminton.
Jill: Thank you so much. It’s been great having you on and hearing just nice to hear what broadcasting is like, because it’s a lot harder than it looks
Rob Snoek: well. Thanks so much for having me in being interested in, uh, in the stories that I had to tell.
Jill: Thank you so much, Rob, you can follow Rob on a Twitter and Insta. He is @robsnoeklive at both.
Alison: So Rob and I met on the bus on the way to hockey, actually our other way from hockey to curling. And we just started chatting as, as we do on the bus. And I’m not sure if I had shared this story at the time. He was asking me where I was from.
And I said to him, well, where in Canada are you from? And he said, no, did did my accent give me away? And I said, well, you’re clearly North American and you’re going to curling. So I think it was the curling more than his accent that gave away his Canadianness.
Jill: Thank you again, Rob, and thanks to our patrons. We can talk to people like Rob, our patrons are vital to the life of this show. It does cost money to produce, and we appreciate those who step up and support us financially throughout the year. If you would like to become a patron of the show, please visit patreon.com/flamealivepod.
Jill: That sound means it’s time for our history segment and all year long, we are looking at the Albertville, a 1992 Olympics. Alison it’s your turn for a story.
Alison: I promised you I’d start with figure skating. And here I am, this is going to be the first of, at least four, possibly six pieces on figure skating it, our bill, because it was an absolutely crazy competition, mostly because something was going on with this ice.
So the men’s competition is where I’m going to start. This field was stacked. So we’ve got Kurt Browning from Canada, who at the time was a three time world champion. He eventually became a four time world champion. You had Petr Barna from Czechoslovakia, who is the European champion. You’ve got Victor Petrenko, who was the reigning world champion. Grzegorz Filipowski, who was a world medalist, US champion Todd Eldridge, who was a world medalist, Christopher Bowman also from the U S who was a world medalist. Kurt Browning was the favorite, but nobody knew how this was going to shake out because you’ve got so many powerhouse men.
You also had Kurt Browning had completed the first quality. Ooh, international competition actually in any competition, but so quads were just coming in. Nobody knew if there was going to be the first quad on Olympic ice this time around.
So this is under the old scoring system and I won’t get into all the ins and outs fits, but here’s the important thing to know: if you fall in the short program, you are done. Because of the way the scoring system works, it wasn’t cumulative. You didn’t add up points and then just get a total. It was rankings. It was in reference to other people. And if you miss a required element in the short program at the time, there was no partial credit.
You got zero for that element. So we get to the short program. Generally, these guys skate, clean Kurt Browning and gets on. Falls on a jump. Oh no. Christopher Bowman gets on, falls. Scott Eldridge falls, Grzegorz Filipowski falls. All the leaders [00:55:00] are just collapsing. The only two who managed to stay on their skates of these top guys are Victor Petrenko and Petr Barna Now outcomes Paul Wylie, the number three skater in the U S. He had postponed his enrollment in Harvard to give another shot. He was kind of at the end of his career, he’d always been kind of an also ran, had never made an Olympic team, gets out there and to everyone’s shock skates, clean finishes third in the short program.
And basically if you finish one, two or three in the short program, you have a shot at the gold.
It was craziness. So all these top guys have no shot at a medal. And here is Paul Wylie who even most Americans had never heard of with a shot long programs comes Victor. Petrenko skates beautifully. He won both the short and the long and ends up with the gold. Paul Wylie skates. This gorgeous long program ends up with a silver medal.
And then Petr Barna, who was the European champion. Also skates clean. Ends up with a bronze. He is the last Czechoslovakian skater to win a medal. Wow. Because after that, and then we have the Czech Republic and Slovakia competing. Wow. So Paul Wylie in his skating career doesn’t end there because he actually, and if we ever get to do Lillehammer stories, this will be a fun one to tell plays a significant role in the Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding story, because Nancy and Paul were very close friends and training partners.
So he comes back and plays a role in that story. And now has had a significant role in both USA skating and the USOPC and their figure skating program. So that clean short program basically changed his life.
Jill: Wow. Wow. And that, I distinctly remember that long program, it was gorgeous. Figure skating was one of the few things I saw from Albertville.
His performance and Victor Petrenko, just stand out in my mind. And yet that’s slowly coming back with all of the leaders just falling. It was, that was a tougher, tougher thing.
Alison: So the curse of this ice is going to be a continuing story in, our Albertville remembrance. Because it, it comes back in all four disciplines.
Jill: Wow. Did, did you find anything out about the ice itself or did they talk about it or no, that he
Alison: at the time seemed to be talking about how nobody could stay on their skates. So was it truly the ice? Was it something in the arena? I have not yet. And we’ve got another year for me to, to, to dig into this more, what happened and that made this such a hard Olympics arena rank to skate, clean it.
Jill: I am looking forward to that.
Alison: Welcome to TKFLASTAN
Jill: it is time to check in with our Team Keep the Flame Alive. These are past guests of the show who make up our team members. Now, first off the dulcet tones that Jason Bryant had been named Wrestling Insider Magazine’s journalist of the year. It is his second time. He has won this award.
Alison: Dr. Michael Warren was interviewed for the podcast, PhD Unpacked about his PhD research, which focuses on the end of the New Zealand national identity and the Olympics. And we will have a link to that in the show notes.
Jill: Alex Deibold went snowboarding for the first time in three months and said that he was very, very grateful and that was an understatement.
Alison: I think he’s grateful to be alive, extra late. That was so too that’s crashing. Italy’s still scares me. And speaking of scary crashes, Connor Fields has finished his physical therapy post that crash in Tokyo. So good for him.
Jill: Uh, Lauren Gibbs are one of our bobsledders will be doing an, ask me anything to talk about women in NFTs and working toward parity in sports.
It is on Telegram and we will have a link to that in the show notes. That’s coming up pretty quickly.
Alison: shooter McKenna Geer has been selected to compete in the Chateauroux world cup in France, which will happen June six to the 13th.
Jill: Evan Dunfee is on the World athletics race walking tour. He [01:00:00] placed 23rd in the 10 K at the race and Madrid this week.
He is ranked 150 eighth in the overall standings, but he has only done one race in the series for, in some have done up to three. So, we’ll be looking out for him. Next up for the tour is La Coruna, Spain on May 27th. I would think he’s gonna be racing in that because he’s close, but we will keep an eye out.
Alison: And swimmer Felicity Passon has graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
So congratulations class of 2022 Felicity.
We are getting closer to the release of the Tokyo 2020 official film. There’s two parts to it. Side A is about two hours long and shows the games through the eyes of the athletes. Side B will be the games through the eyes of the staff and volunteers. Side A has been selected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 25th and then side B will be released internationally in June.
And along with showing the Tokyo film at Cannes, they’re showing a restored version of Visions of Eight, which is the Munich 1972.
Also the Sea Forest Waterway has reopened to the public. This is the canoe and kayak venue. That was one of eight new facilities built for Tokyo 2020.
It will be used for international competitions, athlete, training, and development and leisure and recreation by non-athletes. We’ll put a link to the venue in the show notes, because like you could go and visit. Paddling, if you wanted to.
Alison: I do like a good kayak.
Jill: I know you’ve done it for Olympic Day.
It looks like we’re going to have some greening in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics. There was a AFP story on your own news that talked about the green makeover of the Champs Elysees. Two phases of this project. The first one will be done in time for the Games. They’re going to do some reworking of the Place de la Concorde to make more room for pedestrians, walking around the Arc de Triomphe, they’re going to limit cars to a smaller portion of the roadway. And then on the Champs Elysees, they will fix damaged sidewalks and benches, redesigned terraces, plant about 400 trees.
And that should cost about 30 million euros. And then by 2030, the whole avenue will be greened up.
Alison: So they are taking away the cigarettes from the Champs Elysees
It will not stinks. This will be very good. Then we will have the nice trees to drink the cafe.
Jill: There you go.
Alison: I have a whole year and a half more to work on this. I realize it sounds like Pepe Le Pew, and I am leaning into it. We’re just going to,
Jill: Does this person have a name?
Alison: I don’t know we’re going to work on it.
Jill: Keep working on workshop and cause we’ll just have visits from her from time to time.
Alison: Well, the American version of her is Ethel. When she drinks smokes too many menthols, this is like Ethel’s French cousin or like her, her, her pen pal from grammar school.
Our listeners are learning about, oh, my different personalities that live in my head.
Jill: Oh, well, they can take all of that in as we close up shop for another week. So let us know if, if you’ve got a name for Ellison’s alternate personality from Paris,
Alison: And you can get in touch with us through firstname.lastname@example.org. Call or text us at two zero eight three five two six three four. That’s 2 0 8. Flame it, our social handle is at flame alive pod and be sure to join the, keep the flame alive podcast group on Facebook with all my personalities.
Jill: There you go. Next week is Memorial Day weekend in the United States. So usually we have lightening round, but this time we’re going to do something a little different highlighting Erin Jackson, the speed skater, gold, member of Team TKFLASTAN.
So be sure to tune in for that in the meantime. Thank you so much for listening and until then keep the flame alive.