SALT LAKE CITY — Reporter Amy Donaldson was only a few hours into her time at the Rio Olympics when she was about to have her most awkward Olympic moment as a journalist. But more on that in a minute.
Monday she will board a plane for Pyeongchang, South Korea, to cover her sixth Olympic Games for the Deseret News. Amy has a reputation for finding the story behind the story and asking questions others aren't asking. It's a talent born from preparation, from not shying away from finding what really motivates each athlete, be it family pride, spiritual inspiration, or some other inner drive.
She knows the athletes, like Eric Bergoust, whom she met in 1999 when, as she tells it, he told her "about driving from Montana to Lake Placid for an aerial camp in a 1985 Toyota Celica he bought with $500 he’d earned doing odd jobs. Once he arrived, he had $10, so he invested in cornflakes, powdered milk, and peanut butter and jelly to get him through the first week."
You can find his story and many others in Amy's column, which is featured in an eight-page special section in Sunday's Deseret News. It also appears online with all the featured content.
But about that awkward moment:
"My worst experience was having a male journalist from Germany assigned to be my roommate in Rio. I came home to find him set up in a room I thought was mine alone. I didn't want to be a baby about it, but eventually they saw my concern and put me in a room with two amazing female volunteers," she said.
She often turns embarrassing or awkward moments into opportunities: "I get lost a lot because I like to get out and see normal people and experience some of the culture. But every time I've been lost, I've been led to great insight or remarkable people. The best is just being lucky enough to have this opportunity more than once."
Here, then, are seven questions for intrepid reporter Amy Donaldson to bring you inside the newsroom and learn what it takes to cover the Olympic Games.
From a practical standpoint, what do you bring with you to cover the Olympic Games?
Amy: I am a pretty austere traveler. For the Winter Games, I take comfortable, warm clothes, including two pairs of snow pants and two different coats. I always have a couple of zip-up sweatshirts and my favorite winter hat that I bought during the Vancouver Olympics. I don't always wear gloves because I take them on and off taking pictures, updating Twitter or taking notes so much that I often lose one.
In Rio, I left my power cord in the press room, so this time I decided to take a spare cord — just in case! I end up writing wherever I am, so I have universal outlet converters and some key phrases written down (which I learn on YouTube or from friends). I always pack granola bars or snacks because finding food has been an issue here and there. In Vancouver, the organizing committee gave us a step-counter, and I wore it for fun. I averaged 22,000 steps a day.
How do you cover the games when they're so wide-reaching and there are so many people, events and stories?
Amy: It is very difficult. I spend the years leading up to an Olympic Games getting to know the hopefuls, and that means I usually know the backstory for about half of those I will end up covering. … I try to cover those who grew up in Utah first, then those who live and train here, followed by those who just have great stories.
If I find someone interesting or inspiring, I simply hope our readers will too. I also feel that the journey to make an Olympic team is so difficult, it attracts people who have a lot to teach us about resilience and perseverance.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started covering the Olympics?
Amy: This is a tough one. … I always wish I was more prepared. I always wish I knew more about the culture of the host cities. But as far as the actual competitions, maybe just that I shouldn't be scared. I get a bit nervous before every Olympics that I'm not a good enough journalist or a capable enough storyteller. These athletes and their stories are so compelling, I never feel like I'm able to do them justice. Sometimes it really bothers me, but I try very hard to just do my best, to listen and watch and appreciate every little thing. It is a very intimidating assignment.
Do you have a favorite story or athlete from over the years?
Amy: I have many. My first Olympics I didn't even have a credential. I was in Atlanta as part of the Deseret News team, and my job was to write about security issues. On the night of Opening Ceremonies, I wandered around outside the stadium talking with people about the Games, eating food in the homes of some of the residents as they welcomed the world, celebrating how proud Atlantans were of their culture, and I just called in observations and quotes to an editor who added those sights and sounds into the main story.
On the way back to the train, I realized that there were stories everywhere, not just in the stadiums or boardrooms. And I have to say that it was a powerful feeling. I felt the energy of the Games in a way that has never left me.
If I had to pick a few, I'd say watching Alisa Camplin win the first gold medal of the 2002 Games; talking with one of my childhood idols Wayne Gretzky after Canada beat the U.S. in the gold medal game (at the Maverick Center); watching Jeret "Speedy" Peterson land his trademark "Hurricane" for silver in Vancouver; seeing the late Steve Holcomb win gold in Vancouver after almost giving up the sport with a degenerative eye disease; watching the U.S. Nordic Combined team win the country's first-ever medal in that sport in Vancouver; and just covering the careers of people like Steve Holcomb, Noelle Pikus-Pace and Chris Fogt.
What is the time difference from Korea to Utah? How will that impact how you meet your deadlines and work with your editor?
Amy: The time difference is 16 hours. I'll be operating about a day ahead of Utah, which will be more like my Sochi experience. Vancouver was the toughest as I was constantly worried about making deadline during night events as we were operating on Pacific Time, about an hour behind Utah's Mountain Time.
Do you ever have any downtime during the two-week Olympic period?
Amy: Not really. If I have free time, I use it to look for stories that I think readers might be interested in. … It's the reason I wrote about the refugee team during the Rio Games. It's the reason I went to church with Noelle Pikus-Pace in Sochi. And it's the reason I stood in line with people hoping to see the Olympic flame in Vancouver. If I do anything for myself, it's hit the treadmill three or four times.
If you could only cover one Olympic sport in Korea, which would it be?
Amy: That's tough. … I was assigned just one sport in 2002, as all of us at the Deseret News were, and that was freestyle (moguls and aerials). So I'd probably choose that sport. It's exciting, but the athletes struggle mightily to pursue their dreams, and that means there are no shortage of good stories. But as I did in 2002, I'd find a way to cover a few more stories, like hockey or bobsled or skating. … Even if it meant standing outside with people who couldn't afford tickets.
You can follow Amy's coverage at deseretnews.com and on social media: Twitter:@adonsports; Instagram: adonsports; and FaceBook Live.