Victorians play key roles in providing Olympics play-by-play

Nearly as impressive as the number of Island-based athletes and coaches at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics are the support staff and media involved from this corner of the world.

It includes three Victorians who will bring the CBC play-by-play or colour commentary for the Rio Games into your living room — Robert Bettauer for tennis, Charles Parkinson for volleyball and Barney Williams for rowing.

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“As usual, Victoria punches above its weight class in sports,” said Bettauer, who is also the CEO of the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence on the Camosun College Interurban campus.

“A lot of it has to do with the collective sporting experience we have all under one roof at PISE,” said Bettauer, the three-time Canadian singles tennis champion, who played in the Davis Cup and coached Canadian teams in the cup, along with coaching Canada at the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Bettauer will provide the tennis analysis while his broadcasting partner of many years, Rob Faulds, will handle the play-by-play. Bettauer has been a TV tennis analyst and commentator for more than 25 years at the Olympics, Davis Cup, Federation Cup and Rogers Cup.

Parkinson, a former national-team volleyball player, coaches the Camosun College Chargers, who call the PISE gym home.

“When you have PISE, the Canadian Sports Institute-Pacific, UVic, Camosun and the B.C. Games all located here, you are going to have a lot of sports expertise concentrated in one place,” Parkinson said.

That includes Williams, who came out of Elk Lake to win a silver medal in the four at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics and will once again parlay that knowledge as CBC’s Olympic rowing commentator for Rio.

But here’s a trade secret: Only Williams will be in Brazil. Bettauer and Parkinson will broadcast from studios inside the CBC national headquarters in Toronto.

“I have no problems with that at all,” Bettauer said.

“I have done Davis Cup broadcasts the same way. Actually, because of all the problems that have been raised in Rio and about their Games, I’m happy not to be there.”

About half the Canadian TV commentators will be in Rio and the other half in Toronto, Bettauer said.

“I am calling my fifth Olympics for volleyball, but this is the first Games I have done this way, by remote, and away from the actual arena,” Parkinson said.

“Of course, you wish you were there. You can’t duplicate the feeling of being in an Olympic stadium. There is no feeling like it.”

But there are ways around it.

“You just have to lose yourself in the call,” said Parkinson.

“The technology is unbelievable. To be able to do this is such a thrill, still.”

And how could it not be, especially with Parkinson finally getting to call Canada in the Olympics. The Canadian men’s volleyball team, captained by Fred Winters of Victoria, has qualified for the Olympics for the first time since 1992 in Barcelona.

That’s a big deal in Canadian volleyball circles.

“This is the first time I have been able to call a Canadian indoor team in the Olympics and that’s great for our sport,” said Parkinson. (Beach volleyball is also in the Summer Games.)

Indoor volleyball runs from the first day of competition to the last.

“That gives you the time to set the tone for the audience and tell a story that unfolds through the games like a novel,” Parkinson said.

The Island’s non-athlete and non-coaching contribution to the Rio Games is wide and varied, and beyond just the broadcast booth.

Bruce Kuklinski of Victoria is one of two “citing commissioners” for the Olympic rugby sevens competition, responsible for analyzing video and reporting any potential yellow- or red-card violations that the referees might have missed during the run of play. In rugby, those can be assessed retroactively after being reviewed by a panel that will look at Kuklinski’s recommendations.

“You’re kind of like the prosecutor who presents a case, backed by evidence,” Kuklinski said.

“The idea is to keep the sport as safe as possible, especially in regards to concussions, with every potential violation looked at and reviewed.”

He feels like an Olympian in his own way.

“It’s no different than for the athletes — it is just as big a thrill being selected for the Olympics,” said Kuklinski, a St. Michaels University School teacher, and one of Canada’s top practitioners in the field of rugby officiating.

“I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity.”

He has earned it, having cited the 2015 World Cup and officiated in the Commonwealth Games, 13 World Series sevens tournaments and 11 Test matches.

“You do it because you love it,” Kuklinski said.

Part of that includes wanting to advance your sport in any way possible. Rugby sevens’ Olympic debut at Rio is the biggest moment in the sport’s history. The Island has a close connection to it because the Canadian women’s national team is based at PISE and the men’s national team is based in Langford, with the women ranked No. 3 in the world and with a good shot at a medal in Rio.

“I believe rugby sevens will be one of the highlights of the Rio Olympics and that a lot of kids are going to watch it and want to play it around the world because it’s a very exciting sport,” Kuklinski said.

Meanwhile, many across the world have noted that an array of big-money golf and tennis stars, including Milos Raonic of Canada, have pulled out, ostensibly over Zika concerns. Those are the sports to which the Olympics mean the least.

“I was surprised, like everybody and disappointed,” said Bettauer, when the Canadian tennis star announced his decision to bypass Rio.

“He was definitely a medal contender, and I am sure Canadian tennis fans are tremendously disappointed. He has a right to make that call. These are a trickier Olympics than most, to be sure. Every sport and athlete has to make their own assessment. Most sports think it’s safe. We have a lot of Olympians training at PISE and most are going to Rio. I am not aware of any who have said no.”

Bettauer, however, bristles when the Rio Olympics tennis tournament is described as being watered down.

“I would have described it as such if you didn’t have [Novak] Djokovic, [Andy] Murray and Serena Williams, but you do have the two clear No. 1 and No. 2 men’s players in the world and the clear women’s No. 1 player in the world all competing in the Rio Olympics,” countered Bettauer, noting that world No. 3 Roger Federer is only missing because of injury.

“It’s a very strong field, still. I would compare it to a very strong Tour tournament.”

But is it truly Olympian? That is the question both tennis and golf should be asked concerning their continued inclusion in the Games.

No athletes for whom the Olympics are the pinnacle of sporting achievement are bypassing Rio for any concerns, perceived or real. That speaks of their continuing relevance despite the cynicism that many times seems to envelop the Games like a fog.

About those concerns, Rodd McCormick of Victoria has become an expert. He is the sport presentation venue producer at the Rio Games aquatic centre for synchronized swimming, diving and water polo. He honed his unique craft all those years at Saanich Commonwealth Place working the pool deck while his son Riley McCormick came out of that facility as a Canadian-champion diver to compete in two Olympic Games at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

He’s responsible for all announcing at the venue, including pre-race/pre-game introductions of the athletes, the on-site entertainment between races, and all post-race and post-game fan festivities and athlete interactions right up until the medal ceremonies (the latter is a separate department).

The elder McCormick’s observations about Rio are revealing and candid.

“The people are genuine and some are trying very hard to make it all happen. Some have been so overwhelmed that they have checked out, as this is too big and too complicated, but some are still showing up,” Rodd said.

“Everyone is trying to make it happen. The internationals are chipping in. People are cleaning frantically. The new bus system started to operate and seems to be efficient. Things are moving along. Just not at the pace most people expect for an event of this magnitude.

“Is it Olympic? Not really. The Olympics are held to a higher standard than all other events, so there are some gaps between perception, expectation and reality.”

From your couch, you might not notice.

“Will it look like the Olympics on TV? For the most part, yes,” McCormick said.

“Will the athletes compete at their highest level and earn an Olympic medal? Absolutely. Every field of play is ready and to all acceptable international federation standards.”

Now that the Games have started, the attention should be where it belongs — on the athletes.

“Should the focus turn to the athletes and their accomplishments? I sure think so. They deserve it,” said McCormick.

Not that these will be remembered as the best Games, predicted McCormick: “Is it Sydney or China or London or the quality of Vancouver? No.”

But Rio will somehow muddle through.

“The water quality for rowing and sailing is suspect, but tested twice a day for again what would be the minimal acceptable standard,” he said.

“The athlete village is nice. Athletes will tell you none of the accommodations at the villages are five-star, and this has not exceeded anyone’s expectations, but the food has been very good. The athlete transport is working. Security is tight. Over the top, as is usual at Olympic Games. Ticket sales are down.”

But some of the major concerns are hardly that.

“Zika is such a non-issue,” McCormick said.

“The Rio mayor told folks a month ago that there are more cases of Zika just now in Florida than in Rio. And he might be right. There are few mosquitoes buzzing about because it’s winter weather and that species is not active. Crime will happen in pockets. But tell me where that isn’t the case in major populations? I have never felt unsafe out in Olympic Park area and I walk a lot of places.”

Like all of the Islanders in Rio, McCormick has a job to do and is focusing on that.

“I am here as venue producer for sport presentation — to make the atmosphere the best it can be for athletes to perform and fans to enjoy the experience in the sports I am producing — diving, synchro swim and water polo. I have 210 hours of sport production in 14 days of competitions, so there is a lot going on and a lot still to do.”

But this is still Brazil with its inherent problems.

“The task has been made more challenging, given the environment and major lack of budget for these Games,” McCormick said.

“But if any Games suit my skills to create success inside chaos, it is this event.”

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