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“I was beyond happy to arrive at this place in my professional life, to have the opportunity to choose from two great paths. The offer to stay at ABC was terrific, but in the end, for me personally, I grew up a sports fan, it is in my DNA,” Elliott tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Were you surprised by the media reaction that your career move prompted?
I was mostly amazed by the intensity of it and the ferocity of it. I understand that making the choice in some circles was something that not a lot of people have done, and that it would become something of a surprise; I also fully appreciate the chapters in morning television that come prior to that. It was a career choice that I made personally. But the greater context lent it some gravity, if not deeper meaning. There was a ‘Wow, look at this’ moment that did take me by surprise.
What made you want to leave morning news for sports?
The offer to stay at ABC was terrific, but in the end, for me personally, I grew up a sports fan, it is in my DNA. My childhood memories are in sports; I learned to do math statistically on the back of the sports page. I became a writer because I read sportswriters like Jim Murray, which makes you fall in love with sports in a special way. I might be taking the path less traveled, but it is one I have enjoyed every step of the way. To have the opportunities that I’ve had at this point is verging on the magical. I am embarrassed to have my name on that team roster [at NBC] — I’m so happy to bring the donuts and carry the pads! It is a tremendously exciting thing to be a part of. For a kid who grew up loving sports every day of his life, it is an opportunity too big to give up.
Sports on the biggest stage is the greatest drama that we have, either on that first weekend of May for the Derby or at the World Cup final. Sports are cruel, but all the moments that are cruel are also wonderful. To have all of that happening simultaneously is an embarrassment of riches. To be able to marinate in that with some of the best people who have ever done it, I still wake up each morning and think: “Is this happening?”
Are you planning to make the transition to the Today show?
I am 100 percent focused on sports, but I understand if I had taken a job as a security guard at Universal Studios, the first story would be written about the Today show, so I totally appreciate the narrative of it.
The best thing about this job is the opportunity to join NBC Sports, I couldn’t be happier, and know I can say that a thousand times and scream it from the highest mountain and there are going to be people who will do with that what they will. There was no active role for NBC News in this at all. The ability to join the team that I am now with both in front and behind the camera is plenty to get me out of bed, admittedly not at 4 a.m. every day.
Why did watching the Olympics have such a personal impact on you?
As a kid, growing up in Los Angeles in 1984 was a transformative experience. It was just as America was finding its footing again. The Olympics was still not seen as the commercial behemoth it is now. As Angelenos, we fled for the hills, thinking it would be the worst traffic you’ve ever seen, and it turned out to be this blissful two weeks in my home city. Every four years it is an announcement of “Here are your new heroes.”
Fast forward ahead now with the geopolitics that have become a part of the experience. It is the nexus point of sports and news, and my career has traced a similar arc. To think ahead to Rio [in 2016] and where that economy might be two years from the World Cup, and we will have a sense of that country and their ability to host something of that magnitude.
When I was offered the opportunity to be a part of it, I really had to sit here and think to myself: “This is where you are in your life, this is what you have done, this is what you hope to do.” In the end it rendered simply, if I have the opportunity to do an Olympics — at a place which has done them better than anywhere thought possible — and it will also let you tell stories of the most dominant sport in the U.S. [the NFL], and the most dominant sport in the world [soccer], and events like the Triple Crown — it was a decision that almost made itself for me. The Premier League and on down the list, it is heady, is it dizzying — it is surreal.
Was it hard to leave ABC?
ESPN was home even before ABC News. It was more like leaving Disney after almost a decade. I had a great opportunity, I got to tell so many wonderful stories at ABC News, but I just look ahead now to all the stories still left to tell. That was at the heart of the choice.
Why is the Kentucky Derby the right place for your debut on NBC Sports?
It is fitting to have the Derby as my first assignment because in a 20-horse field, you have all these stories abound. This will be my first foray into horse racing, but not my first foray into American spectacle, as I’ve covered the Super Bowl, but I have not known the veracity and the raucousness of 150,000 plus spectators who have turned a two-minute race into a week-long event.
A lot of people say this is the Super Bowl of horse racing, but with the NFL there is a 16-game season and then the playoffs, and the teams have earned their place and we know how they are going to perform. But even for horses who have raced a lot at Santa Anita or big courses, that’s not the Derby, and you don’t know how they are going to respond. It is fascinating to me as a newcomer to see how much the unknown dominates the storylines. The number of variables on that day, you don’t know about the weather, you don’t know about the track.
Are you nervous about covering it?
It’s not nervousness, it is a real excitement. My nerve endings are on fire at this point!
The Kentucky Derby will air on May 3 on NBC beginning at 1 p.m. PST.
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