Glenville graduate reports on Olympics

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, May 27, 2008

There are a select few journalists with really good gigs. As long as I’ve wanted to be one — which is around five years now — I always hoped, but never really thought, I’d be in a position like that.

That said, I’m going to cover the Olympics. After more than two years of preparation, including a trip last August to Beijing to cover the 2007 World Junior Wrestling Championships, a test event, it still seems pretty unreal.

I’ll be covering wrestling for the Olympic News Service and have an opportunity to help edit a special Olympics section for China Daily, the country’s largest English-language newspaper.

Email newsletter signup

I mentioned I’ve been preparing for quite some time. I’m finishing my junior year at the University of Iowa. Several students and Iowa faculty began organizing the Iowa Olympic Ambassadors Project in the fall of 2005, which was my first semester.

Professor Judy Polumbaum, who specializes in sports and Chinese media, passed out fliers in a lecture class asking students who were interested in covering the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics to show up for an informational meeting.

I’m a journalism student interested in sports, so I thought it would be an incredibly dumb move not to at least show up. At that point, Polumbaum didn’t have any specifics. It was merely an idea.

As the idea progressed into reality, we learned quickly our contingent was in good hands. Polumbaum had some personal connections in the high ranks of BOCOG, the group charged with staging the 2008 Olympics. Polumbaum’s colleague, Big Xu, was promoted to director of the International Press Center. Xu has taken a break from his duties as an NBA commentator in China. An interesting fact: He was partly responsible for Yao Ming’s move to the NBA from Chinese pro basketball.

Xu asked if Polumbaum could provide competent, native-English-speaking college students to help with the Olympic endeavor. She obliged. In all, the Olympic committee wanted about 300 volunteers of the like. The 300 press volunteers are students from four U.S. universities: Iowa, North Carolina, Missouri, Purdue; and Emerson and Ithaca Colleges. BOCOG, also has student volunteers from Great Britain and Australia.

Through every step, thanks to Polumbaum, Iowa was a leader. We were the first to sign a formal contract with BOCOG and we sent the first three international volunteers for the Beijing Olympics in August, a party which included myself. So far, Iowa is the only school to have sent volunteers to test events. We sent three in August for wrestling, and two more in October to cover a test event for tennis.

Thanks to Polumbaum’s foresight, our group also hosted a conference featuring Olympic journalists — and some awful good ones. Mingling and listening to the insights from writers and editors from USA Today,, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times gave me a real perspective on the journey we’re nearly ready to embark on. It’s still hard to believe an advance trip to Beijing and a conference with famous journalists were appetizers for the main event.

My actual duties for the Olympic News Service will be fairly basic. After an athlete exits the mat, he or she goes through what’s called a mixed zone (mixed, because it’s filled with TV and print reporters) where we’ll attempt to get flashquotes. Because it’s probably easier for a journalist to get into medical school than find a credential for the mixed zone, hundreds of professionals will rely on flashquoters to ask questions and report useful and accurate quotes to use in Olympic match recaps. Flashquoters also must be nimble, thanks to worldwide print deadlines and the get-it-now world of online journalism.

Between now and the end of the Olympics in late August, I’ll report my experiences with China, its media, its people and its issues that affect everyone living in a global society. Of course, I’ll address the politics of the Olympics and their implications. Oh yeah, and the Olympics themselves.

Nathan Cooper will leave June 21 for Beijing and return on Aug. 30 to cover the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. He is a part-time Tribune employee and a 2005 graduate of Glenville-Emmons High School.