Rio Olympics: Rebecca Lowe on U.S. vs. British Coverage, Her Prep and the Best Advice from Al Michaels
The new mother also said she wasn't worried about Zika. "I think it’s important just to carry on your life as best you can."
Rebecca Lowe, the British sportscaster who has been NBC’s studio host for Premier League soccer since 2013, is working her second Olympics and first Summer Games as a daytime host for NBC and NBCSN. It is her first assignment since going on maternity leave in March to welcome her first child (missing the end of Leicester City's improbable run to the title). On the eve of the opening ceremonies, Lowe talked with The Hollywood Reporter about whether she had any Zika fears, how the coverage compares between the U.S. and Great Britain, the one event she’s most excited to see live and her expectations for the Olympic soccer tournament.
What did you learn at Sochi that is helping you prepare for Rio?
Lowe: Well I learned to try and conserve my energy as much as I possibly could before I boarded the plane because there’s nothing I’ve realized quite like an Olympic games, winter or summer, for taking it out of you because of the sheer volume of work in terms of not just the show every day but in the lead-up to the first show — rehearsing, meetings, looks at venues, tours of the city so you know the city a little bit.
Any advice from NBC’s veteran Olympic correspondents?
I’m just so privileged getting to be around names such as Al Michaels and Dan Patrick, and Mike Tirico now of course is on board. It’s Mike’s first Olympics as well, amazingly, considering the résumé he has. Al Michaels is brilliant at giving us advice, and Dan as well. They both say to me a lot about taking it, very much, day by day, and even within our show just by half an hour by half an hour because the shows are so complex since you’re including so many different sports and you have to jump from one to another so quickly that you really can’t look ahead two hours. It’s not like doing the Premier League that I do every weekend where I have more of a narrative. They’re both brilliant at giving us advice like that, and also advice like don’t try and read everything. The wonderful research that NBC gives us, manuals, they’re all over 150 pages, which is wonderful, but really too much, so you kind of need to pick out the very important. Al Michaels is the man to go to when you need advice.
Any hesitations about coming to Rio because of Zika?
No, no hesitations at all. I mentioned it to my husband once it was a story, but neither of us ever stopped and said to each other, “Oh should I go?” Not at all. I mean when you go into major tournaments like the World Cup or the Olympics, things like this always come up. I think you just need to get over it, and I think you just need to keep going, you can’t stop everything, and I think it’s important just to carry on your life as best you can. So far so good. There’s no mosquitos anywhere. I genuinely feel like it’s not as big a deal as made out to be.
Did you bring your newborn son with you?
No, no. Not because of Zika but because there’s not a lot to do with a three-month-old baby. I’m lucky, I’ve had maternity leave and now I need to do this job and this job is all consuming. So he’s back home with his dad, and his granny. My mum came over from London. I get to FaceTime with him a few times a day, so that’s the next best thing. It’s just hard being a mum and having a career and trying your best to balance it rather than try to cross them over.
What stories did you focus on when your were prepping for the Games?
They were really less the newsy things like Zika, and the security situation. It was really more of getting the stories, of making sure to get across the big names and how they have done since London, the Usain Bolts and those types of names, and also just reading up about some other Team USA athletes and athletes across the world as well. Making sure that I was coming across anything that was different and interesting, like the Refugee team, which is brilliant. There’s going to be maybe 10 names that are going to become stars in these Games and I’d like to have a head start on that. So I’ve done as much reading as I can on profile pieces, and smaller articles on lesser-known athletes.
What events are you personally looking forward to?
I think it’s difficult to look past Simone Biles, number one, just because it’s her first Olympics and yet already people are saying she’s far and away the best athlete on the planet right now. Gymnastics is one of those things where you see it on television and it looks fantastic. You see it in real life, and I would assume because I’ve never had the privilege of being at the event, that it’s triple what it is on television. So I’m absolutely dying to see Simone Biles in real life. From a British point of view — I’m really interested in Mo Farah. I just remember the snapshot at the end of the London Games, when he crossed the line, his facial expression, and the way the whole stadium just melted into euphoria. I think he’s gotten better and I don’t think the field behind him has made significant strides.
How does the coverage differ between the United States and Great Britain?
There’s quite a big difference actually. Number one, if you look at the United States coverage leading up to these games, clearly gymnastics, swimming, track and field are the three biggest pulls in terms of audience. In the U.K., swimming only when we have somebody good, gymnastics, not really, because we very rarely have somebody who’s going to win a medal, and track and field, yes, because we’re quite renowned. I just couldn’t believe the ratings for the [Olympic] trials [in the U.S.]. I’ve never seen anything like that.
The other thing, which is really interesting, is that at NBC we are completely neutral. Of course, most people are from the United States and will want Team USA to do well, but we’re very much attempting to not root for anybody and to very much just giving you the stories of the day no matter what countries the athletes are from. In the U.K., I would say growing up that I remember that the commentators, and the hosts, and everybody involved in the coverage of the U.K. as very pro-Great Britain. They don’t hide who they’re rooting for. They’re OK to be like, "We’re Team G.B."
Are you looking forward to Olympic soccer?
It’s a bit similar to the question you just asked coming from Great Britain. Olympic soccer to Great Britain isn’t and hasn’t ever been on the agenda. I didn’t grow up watching Olympic soccer. I can’t tell you a single moment where I sat in my teens or 20s watching Olympic soccer. We had teams in the London games, because they were in London, but we’ve never really entered it. I think that’s partly because our domestic soccer league is so strong and we have the World Cup and European championship every two years so we don’t see the Olympics as part of our calendar, really, so for me to come to an Olympic games and focus on the soccer is very new to me. And I understand now what it means to a lot of other teams, like Brazil especially, because it’s been part of their fabric. I never say no to watching soccer.
The women’s competition I’m really interested in because Team USA goes for their fourth straight Olympic gold and you’ve got to keep an eye on Neymar, of course. And on the way that Brazil handled, I’m talking about the men’s team, the way they handle the pressure because of the semi-final of the World Cup in 2014 against Germany and that [7-1] defeat. I’ve never seen anything, rarely seen anything like that, and they have to do something because the home crowd, the pressure. How will they respond? You don’t get another chance like this. Very few countries hold the World Cup and then a few years later hold the Olympics, and for Brazil to get another chance this year, right now, is huge for them and they have to take it, and that’s intriguing.
Will the American women’s campaign for pay equality with the men’s soccer players come up?
I think it will come up in conversation because the media will ask the question. But it is a bit awkward, I would say, because it hasn’t yet been decided on. I think the players will probably want to put it to one side [during the Games]. I doubt there will be a big lot of them wanting to bring it up. I’m pretty behind it. They might move the window of opportunity in their favor [during Rio], which is interesting. It could be not at all and they could be fully focused on getting that gold medal, or they could use this time to bring their story and their campaign to the forefront. And that would tell you a lot about the players and how deeply this is felt. That will be interesting.