Some kids grow up dreaming about competing in the Olympics. Jim Nantz, on the other hand, grew up dreaming about broadcasting them.
Which makes the Nagano Winter Games nothing short of a dream come true for the CBS sportscaster. He's the prime-time host of these Olympics, the main man for his network and for the tens of millions of viewers who will be tuning in."It is, for our industry, the most exciting thing you can be part of," Nantz said. "If you're a football player, the dream is to one day be in the Super Bowl; a basketball player, you want to make it to the Final Four and the NBA Finals. And, certainly, in sports broadcasting the ultimate is to be there broadcasting the Olympics."
And this is something the 38-year-old Nantz has been thinking about for a long time - long before he was a backup sports anchor at KSL-Ch. 5 from 1983-85.
"Since I was 5 years old I was obsessed with the idea of being a sportscaster. I loved it," he said. "My heroes growing up were not athletes. . . . The guys I really looked up to were Jim McKay, Jack Whittaker, Pat Summerall, Chris Schenkel. I liked to watch the sports for the way that these guys crafted a broadcast."
It took a little bit longer for him to start thinking specifically about the Olympics - that dream didn't blossom until he reached the ripe old age of 13 as he was watching the 1972 Summer Games.
"I was hooked on the idea of one day working the Olympics," Nantz said. "I was 13 years old watching there . . . in a small town in New Jersey, and I knew at that point that I wanted to do that some day."
It was a dream that stayed in the back of his mind as he attended the University of Houston and worked for a radio station there, then moved on to KSL in Salt Lake City.
"Back then, I would never have said, `I'm going to do the Olympics some day,' " Nantz said. "But, sure, I used to think about it."
Actually, he's no neophyte when it comes to the Games or to major sporting events. In his 121/2 years at CBS, Nantz has broadcast 12 NCAA Final Fours, 12 Masters' tournaments and 12 U.S. Opens. He was on CBS's No. 2 NFL broadcast team, he's broadcast the Orange Bowl, and he's been the network's college football studio host.
Come September, he will be host of the pregame, halftime and postgame studio shows for CBS's coverage of the NFL.
And Nagano will be his third Winter Olympics. He and Andrea Joyce co-hosted CBS's daytime weekend coverage in both Albertville and Lillehammer.
"We were in charge of 70 hours of live programming from France and Norway," Nantz said. "And, really, we were the only live show that was going on over there. It was kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants television, and that's something that makes it an extra challenge. We're going to have that same kind of challenge from Nagano because with the time change, a lot of our prime-time coverage will be live."
There's a 16-hour difference between Japan and the East Coast of the United States, meaning that events like skiing can be carried live. Even for the taped events - like figure skating - Nantz will be working live from the CBS broadcast center in Nagano.
And he has the sort of professional, unflappable demeanor that should serve him well. Whether he's working a live sporting event or answering a series of questions posed by a reporter about his wardrobe, Nantz is patient and polite at all times.
His personal life is not the sort that lands him in the tabloids (although People magazine did profile him recently). Nantz is coming up on his 15th wedding anniversary, and he and his wife, Lorrie, have a 3-year-old daughter, Caroline.
Not to mention that the man is genuinely modest. Even after a dozen years at CBS, he's still rather awed by the people he works with - like CBS anchorman Dan Rather.
"I still kind of get a kick out of the fact that a guy like Dan Rather even knows who I am," said Nantz, who was scheduled to co-host the opening ceremonies with Rather until news events kept the anchorman in the United States. "I'm looking forward to everything about these Olympics."
Actually, he may be looking forward to everything but the food.
"If you could have seen the look on Jim Nantz's face at a buffet table in Nagano in November," Joyce said. "I mean, it was priceless."
"That was the night when they were serving a western-style dinner, so I was all excited about getting some home cooking," Nantz said. "And it was spaghetti and eel sauce. It has a beautiful eel filleted right there on top of the platter."
If there's one disappointment other than the food to the Nagano Games, it's that this will be Nantz's last shot at the Olympics for a while. He has a longterm deal with CBS, and the next five Olympics will be broadcast on NBC.
"I would have loved to do the 2002 Games in Salt Lake," he said. "I still have very fond memories of Utah and my time there. I would have loved to have been able to share that place with the rest of the nation."
But don't talk to him about how this will be his last Olympics.
"Nowhere does it say you're supposed to have 10 in a row or eight in a row or six in a row," Nantz said. "Heck, I just wanted to work one. When I got into the business I thought it would be the greatest privilege in the world to say I worked one, and I've worked three.
"And I'll work the Olympics again. People say this is going to be our last Olympics - I'm 38 years old! I'll be 50 the next time the Olympics come to CBS. I'm planning on working the Olympics in 2010."