Peacock has been fully streaming the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, plus offering some Peacock-exclusive daily programming. One of those shows is Winter Gold, which Adnan Virk has been hosting daily from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern. On Monday, Virk spoke to AA’s Andrew Bucholtz (a fellow Canadian) about this role, and said he’s been loving the high-intensity daily nature of it.
“It’s been awesome. The Olympics can feel like a marathon, not a sprint, because there are long days and it’s sort of evolving. But to me, it’s been a total sprint. We hit the ground running, and I think it took us a couple of days to find our feet a little bit, get a rhythm going. But we’re rolling now, and I love the experience.”
Virk has ongoing roles with MLB Network and NHL Network, plus podcast gigs including Cinephile and The GM Shuffle, so this was one more thing for him to fit in. But he said it’s worked out quite well:
“I was worried a little bit, because, as you know, I have so many other jobs, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d be able to do it. But it’s worked out. I’m up at 5:30 every morning, I’m out of the house at 6 or 6:15, it takes me about 50 minutes to get to [NBC’s broadcasting center in] Stamford [CT]. I get in there, we do a meeting, there’s free food, get some breakfast, rolling, some tater tots, let’s do this. Then into makeup and hair, and boom, I’m into the studio, watching all the highlights, which are amazing, done by an incredible crew. And then we do the show live from 11 a.m. to noon.”
He said his past experience doing SportsCenter on ESPN helped him prepare for this in some ways, but there were still some challenges.
“It feels a lot like doing SportsCenter again, but SportsCenter adrenalized, totally amped up. Because SportsCenter, you do it with somebody else, there’s another analyst there or another host. Here, I’m all by myself as an on-air presence; there’s an army of people behind the scenes, but on air, it’s just me going through it. So there’s no letup. And you’re doing sports that you’re unfamiliar with, generally speaking; cross-country skiing, biathlon, figure skating and so on, it’s not like you’re doing major American sports. So I definitely found it to be a challenge at first.”
Virk said non-North American names also present challenges, but names are something he strongly cares about getting right.
“And some of these names can be a bit of a challenge, but our researcher Will and the rest of the crew, they’re so good with the phoneticizations. I will make sure to practice the names 10 times, because having an unusual first name, I know how important names are and how upset people can get when you mispronounce their names. And I’ve felt the same way when it comes to the NHL draft, you want to get the Slovak names right, the Russian names right. You never know who might be watching, someone’s uncle, aunt, cousin, and they go ‘Oh my god, this is a great moment, and this guy screwed up the name.’ So I take real pride in making sure I get the name right.”
He said getting to host an Olympics show is a great time, especially considering his memories of the Olympics growing up.
“It’s been so fun. I couldn’t believe today when I walked out, it was 10 down, six to go. It has been a total sprint, and a blast, seeing all these stories. Being Canadian, I am partial to the Winter Olympics over the Summer Olympics because Canada does better. But I love it. I grew up having such memories, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, obviously the hockey, the dismay of Nagano, the gold in Salt Lake City, I have so many Olympic memories. I’m really a nerd for it, especially the Winter Olympics. So to be able to be part of it is phenomenal.”
Virk said the Winter Olympics has always held a particular appeal to him.
“Growing up in Canada, being into winter sports, hockey obviously, curling, even though I never curled, you know how popular it is. And when I went to work at TSN behind the scenes, I learned some of the terminology. The button, the four-foot (circle), the eight-foot (circle), hit and stick, hit and roll, raise takeout; all that terminology has come back to me. And figure skating, again, being Canadian, we have a rich history with it with Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning, and I appreciate it. I know what a triple lutz looks like; I can’t do it, but I can appreciate it, and a triple axel-triple toe.”
He said he’s into more than just what he watched growing up, though, with ski jumping particularly impressing him.
“My favorite non-traditional sport, which I love, is ski jumping. I think it’s insane. Every time I see it, it’s so good. [Ryoyu] Kobayashi of Japan [who won gold on the normal hill and silver on the large hill], he was amazing. …I just love it. I love how they’re just flying through the air.”
And Virk said it’s been fun to learn about different sports he didn’t previously know a lot about.
“The sports are so interesting. Including the ones I don’t know, which I’ve been learning this year. Snowboardcross is crazy! They’re flying through these hills, these jumps. …And I still don’t know what a triple-cork 1280 [a slopestyle/big air trick] is, but if someone just tells you, ‘Hey, watch this, they’re going do all these crazy contortions and fly through the air!’, I’m like ‘Hell yeah, that’s awesome to see.’ So I think there’s a great combination of sports that I do love, sports that I’ve learned, and the natural athletes and great stories.”
He said snowboardcross in particular presented one of the best stories with the mixed snowboardcross win for Americans Nick Baumgartner and Lindsay Jacobellis.
“I think there’s no better story than Nick Baumgartner and Lindsey Jacobellis. This guy, Baumgartner, 40 years old, the oldest American competing, he loses and he’s completely unvarnished, broken, on television. He’s apologizing to his son, and I’m like ‘Oh my god, it’s heartbreaking!’ And then just a few days later, he gets back on the horse, and he and Jacobellis, who earlier won gold, they go together in the snowboardcross, he passes one of my fellow Canadians on a crazy hill, and then she sweeps by [Italy’s Michela Moioli], literally on the final turn.”
“The fact that they combined to win gold, the guy looks like Will Ferrell, Will Ferrell’s going to play him in a movie some day, it’s amazing! This is the Olympics! This is a metaphor for life; you get kicked down, you get up again, you win a gold medal, and all is right with the world. …It’s so cool to see stuff like that.”
An interesting part of Peacock’s coverage plan here is one-hour shows versus the traditional three-hour broadcast blocks. Virk said that constricted timeline is an incentive to amp up the energy, but producer Dan Stier helps him stay on target and not go too fast.
“That’s the key, you’re at a 10 the whole time. And sometimes, one of my biggest weaknesses as a broadcaster is going too fast and talking too fast, but when you have so many highlights, there’s a natural propensity to amp up your intensity and start flying through it. But our producer Dan Steir is indispensable; he worked 23 years at ESPN, and we crossed over at ESPN but did not work together, and he’s now worked eight years at NBC. He’s a pro’s pro; I’ve never met Fred Gaudelli, but I know who he is, with Sunday Night Football, and I feel like I’ve got Fred Gaudelli in my ear. He’s awesome.”
Virk said Steir is particularly valuable for letting him know when it’s time to intensify and when it’s time to take more time on a story.
“He knows when to speed things up and slow things down. He slows me down, because my natural inclination is to look at one hour and just fly through it at 10,000 miles a minute. But with him, the highlights are fast-paced and the show is fast-paced, but I can take my time to really sell the story and stress why these highlights are important and why it’s so good.”
He said another key difference to the three-hour shows is how those longer ones have him bouncing off co-hosts and analysts, while this is a one-person on-camera endeavor.
“I do three-hour shows on MLB Network, NHL Network all the time, but it’s different because you have an analyst there and you’re keying on the analyst and their expertise. Whether it’s Dan Plesac, Harold Reynolds, Brian Lawton, Mike Johnson, Kevin Weekes, whoever it is, the guys I normally work with, you’re asking them questions, you’re laying it out, and you then pause and listen. For a one-hour show, the key is to keep it on the tracks and take a breath. And I’ve got such a great crew around me guiding me through, so it’s a much easier task than you might think.”
Virk said Wednesday night’s USA-Canada women’s hockey gold medal game is particularly interesting to him.
“Being Canadian, I cannot wait for USA versus Canada. Yes, I’m married to an American, yes, my kids are American, yes, I’ve lived in America for 10 years, yes, I pay my taxes here, but of course, you know, the red, white, and blue will not be what I’m cheering for, it will be the red and white! And that is as good of a rivalry as there is in sports. Women’s hockey is about as passionate as it gets. So I am dying to wait to see it. We’ll see if Canada can get redemption, and the USA, if they win again, you know there’s going to be a national summit back home.”
He said he also appreciates seeing what different countries do well.
“The luge is always crazy, because the Germans are so good at it. They just dominate at luge, even with doubles luge. They’re so good at it. And that’s what I find so fascinating with the Olympics. If you like geography like I do, if you appreciate different countries, there’s something about the Germans and the luge, speedskating and the Dutch, Ireen Wuest, she always dominates, and hopefully there’s something to do with Canadians and hockey.”
And he said this work with Peacock has been great for letting him interact with a lot of different NBC personalities, both those he knew from ESPN and those he’s meeting for the first time now.
“It’s just a fun experience. I hope people are enjoying it as much as we’re enjoying it. And I think it’s fun that NBC is doing it on traditional broadcast, Mike Tirico, my old friend, he’s an animal and doing such a good job, but also with the streaming shows on Peacock. And I have such fun talking to the NBC family; I know Mike a little bit, but today I did an interview with Rich Eisen, who I’d never met before, and I got to talk to Brian Boitano, who I’d never met before. And I told him ‘You beat Brian Orser in Calgary, people are still upset!’ and he said ‘Yeah, people in Canada are still not happy about that.’ And I got to talk to Rebecca Lowe, who’s been so fantastic on English Premier League soccer, and Ashley Wagner. So I actually really enjoy talking to the other NBC personalities, like Lindsay Czarniak, my old ESPN friend, I saw her in the hall the other day.”
Of course, Virk has long been famed for his love of movies, which he’s explored on the Cinephile podcast (now at Meadowlark Media). And he said getting to bring some of that to Winter Gold has been a particular treat for him.
“What we really enjoy doing on Winter Gold is, as you know with my Cinephile-ic tastes, matching a movie with a different sport. We’ve already done Miracle with hockey, but one of the great underrated ones is Downhill Racer, a great Robert Redford one from 1969. And I really appreciate that we’ve been doing that all on Winter Gold, the fact that they gave me my own Cinephile segment where I’m able to match up a sport with a movie.”
“Of course we talked about Men With Brooms, the great Paul Gross curling movie. It’s been fun to see. Biathlon was a tough one, we did For Your Eyes Only, the James Bond movie, he’s not a biathlete, but it’s skiing and shooting. But we’ve still got some more to come, we’re going to do Cool Runnings later this week with the late great John Candy and the Jamaican bobsled team. It’s been really fun, and combines my passions of movies and sports.”