KSL+: A Look Behind the Scenes at The Tokyo Olympics

Jul 29, 2021, 9:55 PM

Matt Rascon: Okay, Alex Cabrero on with us right now. I’m curious Alex, what time is it over there?

Alex Cabrero: Matt, We’re 15 hours ahead over here in Tokyo. So right now it is six o’clock in the morning in Japan.

Matt Rascon: Today on KSL+, the best athletes from around the world are competing on the world’s biggest stage. In the world’s most populated city, amid a worldwide pandemic, one year later, like no other. Our very own KSL TV crew has been on the ground covering it off.

I’m Matt Rascon and this is KSL-TV’s digital only new show and podcast where we take you beyond the headlines. And today I’m talking to one of my colleagues. He is a veteran of the Olympics. Here to talk about what sets this event apart from the others.

Alex Cabrero: Normally our newscasts are at 5pm and 6pm but because of the Olympic coverage, our newscast is at 4pm. So that means for me a 7am hit for KSL TV, which is tough for us because the transportation system here. We’re kind of quarantined right now, we’re still within our 14 day quarantine window. So we can’t take public transportation or anything like that. But there is a shuttle that gets us here to this live shot spot from our sleep hotel. But that shuttle is at 5am. The next one is at 8am which would be too late for me to make the newscast So, we have to catch that 5am shuttle in order for me to be here. So it’s part of the Olympics of sleep deprivation for sure.

Matt Rascon: Oh, man. Okay. Well, yeah, let’s get into that, what’s your experience been there so far? How much sleep did you get last night? What do you eat for breakfast? Take us through a typical day.

Alex Cabrero: Yeah, a typical day–I get up at 4am to catch that 5am shuttle then I’m catching up on all my emails, because we all know how much our managers at KSL love sending emails. So it takes a little bit of time to go through all that stuff, figure out the day. Once I get here we turn on all this broadcast equipment you see behind me. We test it, we make sure it’s still good. You can’t see it from this shot. But this camera right here is looking out at the Tokyo Bay. We can see that Rainbow Bridge and those Olympic rings. If you’ve been watching KSL television, you’ve seen our backdrop there a little bit. We do those live shots, and then we prepare our day, we find out what stories we want to cover, what have we done before what a big Olympic news is of the day, we find out where our local athletes are competing. What’s different about this Olympics is the access. The pandemic, of course, is still going on Tokyo’s numbers with COVID very high. A lot of people have been talking about just how the numbers continue to increase. So that’s why we’re in that 14-day quarantine window. As local journalists, we can’t get out into the city. We can’t use public transportation, no cabs, no trains, we can’t even really go into any restaurants as well unless we can go out and be back in 15 minutes. We are still quarantined, but one of the things we can do is leave our hotel room for 15 minutes at a time to go to this 7-11 so we can get snacks, a little bit of food, some drinks.

There’s a McDonald’s within 15 minutes of here, but you get that stuff and then you come back. Because when you leave your sleep hotel or your work hotel where we are here for these live shot locations, there’s somebody with a Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee you have to sign out with your badge number. We all have these badges right here that our credentials with NBC and then with the organizing committee and there are numbers on here. And we have to give the government official our number, they check it out. They put that one time you leave, and then you have to be back within 15 minutes. What happens if you’re not back? I haven’t tested it that far yet, but I’m thinking about it. But then we do all that we get our food, we interview our local athletes, we come back here we edit, we do all the stuff. And then usually the stuff we do today will air tomorrow for us. So we’re always a day ahead to try to make the whole scheduling work.

Matt Rascon: So when does your quarantine period end?

Alex Cabrero: Two more days, two more days, man. In fact, let me see if I can bring up the app over here. Today is our halfway day. Two more days, and then we can go out and about so all of us who come here to the Olympics, we have to get this. This app shows us when we are allowed to go out every single day, we have to take our temperature, we enter it into the government app. We had to get COVID tested on days 1, 2, 3, and 10, which we did. And then again on 14 right before we go. So let me see if I can find..Yeah, there’s this thing here. It’s called the list of registered a health condition. I click that. And, of course, I’m not gonna be able to find it right now. Yeah, here we go. And you can see right here, I am not cleared yet. Alejandro. That’s my full legal name. If you didn’t know that I go by Alex my whole life, though. But I’ve been here 12 days, and I’m not clear yet. So we think on day 15, this thing is supposed to turn green. And once it turns green, we can show that anywhere we go that we’ve done the quarantine, and then they let us go. So two more days, maybe three days and then we can we can explore the city and then tell those cultural stories of Japan that we all want to see you know Shibuya Crossing going out to different areas. The sights and sounds we haven’t really been able to do that yet. But we’re getting there for sure.

Matt Rascon: Well, we wanted to talk to you specifically, Alex, because you can put this into context for us because I mean, how many Olympics have you covered? And we can we can compare a little bit on your experiences so far.

Alex Cabrero: Yeah, no, the Tokyo is my six Olympic Games. I’ve been very fortunate. Okay, so I’ve been honored to witness so much Olympic greatness. Tokyo is my six games to cover a lot of Olympics. I think I just keep messing up. And they’re gonna keep sending me until I get it right. But I know Tokyo is number six. And this one, by far has been the most difficult Olympics to cover simply because of the lack of access and being able to get out into the city. With all the other Olympics, we usually get here, maybe five, six days before opening ceremony. And that’s when we go out into the town and find those really good local stories about all sorts of things. I remember in Beijing, we would go to the Forbidden City, we went to Tiananmen Square, we went to the Great Wall of China. And we would do stories there to bring those stories back to Utah so that people can see maybe what life is like a little bit. We haven’t been able to do that here because of the quarantine.

Also access to athletes. Normally as the media with these credentials, you can get into what we call the mixed zone, that’s where you, they’re like little stalls for the media, where you interview athletes after their competition, they come through, you stop you chat with them. We had to put in requests this time, in order to do that, even with our credentials, they’re trying to separate journalists and athletes as much as possible, you know, social distancing and stuff. And I would say more than half of our requests have been denied. Normally, under normal Olympics, you could just go there, you already credential you can go there and do it. This time, we haven’t been able to do that. So a lot of our requests have been denied. So we don’t have access to our local athletes, we rely on NBC, who maybe has a camera there who can interview our athletes for us and then send us that interview, but you lose that one on one relationship. So this one has really been different from a lot of the Olympics I’ve covered more difficult than um, Rio de Janeiro the summer 2016. That was difficult for a whole bunch of other reasons. This one’s difficult because we all want to get out there and tell those stories and meet our athletes. That’s what we love our jobs. But we just haven’t been able to do that a whole lot this time around.

Matt Rascon: You mentioned, you touched on transportation. So how long does it take for you to get from your hotel, to your actual workspace?

Alex Cabrero: Right from our sleep hotel to our workspace if you catch those shuttles just right. We have direct shuttles with NBC because a lot of the NBC crews are sleeping in a hotel where we’re sleeping and a lot of the NBC crews are based out of the hotel where we’re doing these live shots. That shuttle is about 20 minutes, but there are only a few of those shuttles every single day. So you can do it in 20 minutes if you catch it. If I was to catch the media buses, which they have kind of set up for us. There’s a transfer involved. That can be an hour and a half, one way just to get to our spots. So that can be really, you know, that can be challenging. I mean, our sleep hotel is across the bay, it’s maybe four miles away in reality, but it can take us an hour and a half with the transfers the way the transportation is set up just to get there. That’s going to change once we get cleared, we then have access to the trains, we have access to the monorail, we have access to the taxi cabs, then it will be a lot faster. We’re all looking forward to catching that monorail that stops right by our sleep hotel. There’s a stop right here and everybody’s telling us that when we have been through the 14 days, it only takes like 15 minutes. So transportation is tricky. Same thing, when we want to go interview our athletes. We catch a media bus from here, we go to the kind of Grand Central Station of where all the media buses are based out of and then it spokes out to all the venues. Then you find the bus that goes to the venue you want to go to and we catch that bus. If you’ve been approved to go that’s the other part again, is that approval process we’ve been denied so often in all the affiliates with NBC. It’s not just KSL, we’ve all been denied access because of our social distancing and the pandemic.

Matt Rascon: So you mentioned some of the challenges from a media perspective, we’ll talk about some of these athletes. I mean, this has to be just such a unique experience for each of them, even those who have been to several of these before.

Alex Cabrero: Yeah, and we’ve chatted with a whole bunch of our athletes about how different these Olympics are. The first thing the athletes notice is how quiet it is when they’re competing. Crowds aren’t allowed inside the stadium. So it’s kind of funny to say in a weird way, but the silence can be so loud, you know what I mean? Like all of a sudden it’s quiet, they can feed off the cheers of the crowd during normal competitions that pumps them up and amps them up and gets them going. But this time, there’s nobody there. It almost feels like are we really doing this for these athletes. There’s a shooter from the University of Utah Alexis Leggett she’s a pistol shooter here at the Olympics and she says normally she would have her family with her going to these competitions around the world. This is her first Olympics she was really looking forward to having her husband with her.

Salt Lake City climber Kyra Condie. Normally her family goes with her everywhere, this is the first Olympics, but this time they can’t have their family members with the mom and dad can’t come husband, wife can’t come, spouse can’t come kids can’t come friends can’t come. So for the athletes It is very different because they feel like they know their family supports them, no doubt about it, but they’re not here with them. So it’s very different for these athletes and then you mix that in with the empty stadiums. That can be tough for them.

Matt Rascon: The challenges that athletes face was really brought to light just in the last 24 or 48 hours with Simone Biles, you know, dropping out of the finals.

Alex Cabrero: Right and you know, Simone Biles is definitely the big story here, not only for us journalists from the United States, but also international journalists. Everybody’s talking about Simone Biles, she is the face of the United States team in probably our biggest Summer Olympic sport, the gymnastics Americans we love our gymnastics team. And for her to take a step back because of the mental challenges. Yeah, that is a big deal and mental health is it’s definitely a huge issue a lot more people are paying attention to. But to have our top athletes the face of the Olympics take a step back from mental health challenges. Yeah, yeah, that’s something a lot of people are talking about for sure. And is it because things are different? We don’t know. Is it harder to focus because there is no crowd? It just feels so different. It’s hard to say but and none of us will know what that feels like. None of us are ever going to be the face of an Olympic Games.

But I was able to chat with somebody who was if you know, Nathan Chen. He’s a figure skater who was from Salt Lake City, was raised in Salt Lake City. He was the face of the 2018 United States Olympic team going into games in South Korea. And if you remember his skate, I mean, he was expected to win gold. He won everything beforehand. And he’s won everything since but there was this one skate–his short program in the 2018 Olympics where he fell, and he stumbled several times. And it was a shock to everybody because that wasn’t Nathan Chen. That doesn’t happen. And you could see in his face He’s like, what happened? It really turned things around. He didn’t medal. What’s interesting with his case is that short program, he fell I think he ended up in 16th or 17th place, but then he had his free skate program and it was flawless. He ended up coming in fourth place just missing a bronze medal. He’s won every competition afterwards, but I had a chance to do a zoom interview with him. He was very gracious to give us a few minutes after one of his trainings, he trains in California now. And he said to me that 2018 was very difficult. He didn’t enjoy the Olympic experience.

Nathan Chen: Last Olympics, I was there, I was stressed out the entire time, I did not enjoy that experience. Of course, it’s the Olympics. So I like tried to remind myself all you know, like, this is a magical time, but I really just couldn’t get over the fact that it was, you know, such a stressful moment.

Alex Cabrero: He was going in there very robotic that he had to win. All the marketing, all the branding, all the commercialization, every single NBC poster, you see all the athletes and then the big one had Nathan Chen–that’s what you’re seeing with Simone Biles for these Olympics, and he remembers the the anxiety he felt and the stress he fell, and it got to him, he said it really got to him and he didn’t enjoy it. Going through that experience after competing and failing. He said he learned a lot about himself about how to how to maybe go into the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which is only like six months away. He says this time he realizes he can be human.

Nathan Chen: I’m really excited for it. And I think going into 2018 I had the perspective of being like, you know, I’m there to win, I have this opportunity to win. That’s it. And it didn’t really turn out that way, you know, and I found as I’ve grown as a skater, you know, the less I focus on just being there to win, the better I skate and the more I can go to the competition and recognize, like, you know, the, how cool it is how, you know, these opportunities are so limited, right? Like, I’m not gonna have my whole life to be able to do this. So within this window of time that I’m competing, it’s just like, such a cool, cool time for me to be here. And you know, as long as I can recognize that, respect to my fellow competitors, and respect the opportunity that I get, you know, generally find myself skating quite well. So, you know, that’s the attitude that I’m taking into this game is and hopefully that’ll, that’ll help me out.

Alex Cabrero: It’s the Olympics. Yes, there’s pressure, but it’s supposed to be fun. So he has a really interesting perspective on exactly how to handle the pressure of the Olympics, the mental pressure of the Olympics, and the physical pressure, I mean, none of us are ever going to be as in shape as those guys but it’s the mental challenge. That’s probably even more important than the physical aspects of the Olympics. That’s really tough and something most of us will never understand that.

Matt Rascon: So much pressure on these athletes. I’m curious though, if there are any other stories or athletes that you’ve met just in the last few weeks or even the weeks before because I know you guys did a lot of work before you actually went out there that were that stand out that you want to talk about?

Alex Cabrero: Yeah, we’re really looking forward to the US Climbing Team. They get playing in competition here next week in Tokyo, US climbing moved from Boulder, Colorado to set up a base in Salt Lake City, USA Climbing is now based in Salt Lake City for the past couple of years, which for us, which it was our first summer sport to be based there. We have US Ski and Snowboard that’s based in Park City. We have a US Speed Skating out there and trains at the Utah Olympic Oval. We’ve always been a Winter Olympic place. But the transition of Utah really coming into summer sports as well has been really interesting. We have more athletes competing in these Summer Olympics with Utah ties than ever before. And seeing a big sport like climbing which is making its Olympic debut now being based in Salt Lake City. That’s pretty cool. And something we’re interested in looking at. And one of the for us climbers named Daniel Coleman was born and raised in Salt Lake City. He’s one of our own. He didn’t like move here just for training. He’s actually one of our own and is on the Olympic team. So we’re really looking forward to seeing how he does. And then one of the big climbers Kyra Condie, as I mentioned before, she’s from Minnesota, but moved to Salt Lake City last year to be part of that training program. So we’re really looking forward to our climbers getting going. And I think that’s going to be a fun competition. And kind of how snowboarding was the rock star sport when that came out more than 10 years ago, 15 years ago. I think when people see speed climbing and going up that wall that fast. I think that’s really going to be interesting for a lot of people to see.

Matt Rascon: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that one. And I know surfing, skating. I mean, there are several that were sort of new this this Olympics.

Alex Cabrero: That’s right, right. Climbing is new, skateboarding, surfing, karate, and baseball and softball, and that’s back. Baseball and softball was last at the 2008 Beijing games. It went away but Japan was able to bring them back because they love baseball and softball out here. So in fact, softball just the Japanese team just won the gold medal in softball there. They were better than the American team. And now baseball is getting going. So yes, we have some new sports to see and have fun with here. I’ve never seen a city like this. It’s incredible. It’s incredible.

Matt Rascon: A lot of eyes on Tokyo right now. I mean, the biggest, most populated city in the world with the biggest event happening. You’re going to come home in a few weeks. What are you going to say when people say how was it to go?

Alex Cabrero: I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to tell my friends because all they think we just go here, we sit, we watch events, we don’t do any work and then we just talk about it. But no, it’s certainly a lot of work. We do a lot of I mean, we do routinely 16-17 hour days. What am I going to say? I don’t know. Yeah, I’m known as a pretty picky eater. I’m gonna say it’s been interesting only eating 7-11 food and McDonald’s so far. There was even a Wendy’s I had the other night, which that chicken sandwich was amazing. But some of the things I mean, like check out this is a snack here. That’s shrimp.  I don’t like seafood. But our crew says this is pretty tasty. These kinds of things. They’re like little rice snacks. These aren’t that bad. They’re pretty delicious. I can’t complain about that. And then I know I had some tea over here. I’ll do like green tea. And there’s all sorts of different teas and stuff you can buy. So the food experience has been really good. You can also get what is that squid? Spicy, grilled and dried squid soy sauce taste. Yeah, I didn’t try this. Some of my teammates are trying this my colleagues and they say it’s not too bad. And one of our photographers, we’re with Aubrey Shaffer. She’s fluent in Japanese. So she’s lived here for several years. And so having her along has really helped us out to try to navigate this place. So I don’t know yet. What I’m going to say to my friends today is our halfway day. We’re halfway through before we get back there to Utah. So right now I think the story is definitely what Simone Biles but also the pandemic just getting around. I mean, when we are out and about when we are not on our spaces. Masks are everywhere. people wearing masks everywhere, we have hand sanitizing everywhere. Right now it’s probably just getting around in this pandemic has been a definitely what I’m going to tell my friends and the lack of access and how difficult that has been.

Matt Rascon: Talk about Who else is there with you?

Alex Cabrero: Yeah, we’re very fortunate. We sent five people this time. Shara Park, our morning anchor is here. Jeremiah Jensen, our main sports guy is here. He’s back there right now getting ready for a newscast. Then photographers, Aubrey Schaefer who is fluent in Japanese has lived here in Tokyo. We’re very fortunate to have her and Tanner Seigworth is also here. And Tanner was with me in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. So he knows kind of what this experience is, what to what to expect if things were normal, of course. And then myself. So we have five members. And we represent KSL in Salt Lake City very well, because we sit in a newsroom. This is our live shot room here. But there is a room downstairs. That’s kind of the newsroom for all the NBC affiliates who send crews from all across the country. And typically stations will send one or two people. But since Salt Lake City loves its Olympics so much, and we do very well with Olympics programming, we send five of our crew, five people to be a part of our crew just because of the number of the athletes that we do. And we’d like to have somebody in every single newscast–Shara does the morning, I then do the mid afternoon and JJ takes care of the evening newscast. So we have it staffed around the clock for the Olympics

Matt Rascon: Alex, you kind of hinted at it before, but you’re halfway through experience now. But six months out to the next Olympics. Are you gonna be back in Beijing?

Alex Cabrero: Yes, six months from now will be the Beijing Olympics. I’m not getting this one right. So my bosses decided, let’s give them another shot to get it right. So yes, I’ll be on our Beijing team for 2022. And I was at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing’s game. So I do have a little sense of the area, I guess you can say a little sense as to how the media buses should work. The tricky part is the mountains in Beijing are way away from downtown Beijing. So we’re going to be relying a lot on bullet trains to get out to those venues. So yeah, we’ll be back doing this again, in six months. Usually, we have about a two year break between Olympics. But since this one, Tokyo was pushed back a year because of the pandemic. I mean, nobody’s really talking about Beijing, because we’re still talking about Tokyo. But as soon as this is over, we got to do this again, in five and a half months. So yeah, we’ll be ready to crank it up. One more time, for sure.

Matt Rascon: All right. Okay. Alex, anything I didn’t ask you. You want to mention to our viewers and listeners here?

Alex Cabrero: Thank you for all the support. One of the cool things about bragging rights with these Olympics, we all get our ratings as to how well each of our affiliates has done with them with the broadcasting of the Olympics and Salt Lake City is always at the top of the list. And when we go into that newsroom, and we see the Los Angeles crew, the Denver crew, Houston, you name the cities, we kind of walk in a little highlight. Yeah, Salt Lake City, we’re number one.

Matt Rascon: Okay, thanks a lot, Alex. Appreciate it. See you later man. And you can find Alex’s, Shara’s, Jeremiah’s reports on KSL TV and KSLtv.com for the next couple of weeks. They’re also documenting their experiences on their social media pages. But that does it for us this week on KSL+, I’m Matt Rascon.


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KSL+: A Look Behind the Scenes at The Tokyo Olympics