He’s waited a long time for this one, but finally Ken Sutcliffe gets his first gig as host of a Summer Olympics -and he couldn’t be happier.
With rival Seven as a regular broadcaster, Sutcliffe has always had to report the event by stealth, creatively capturing the atmosphere at arms’ length.
“I’ve done outside the gate in Los Angeles, outside the gate in Sydney and I’ve hosted 4 Winter Olympics which we’ve had the rights to and a number of Commonwealth Games but this is the first time hosting a Summer Olympics,” he says.
“When you’re outside the gate you feel like you’ve got a disease. You’ve got to use all your ingenuity to get a hold of athletes. I remember interviewing Dean Lukin in Los Angeles at LA University and he was on one side of these big gates like either he was behind jail or I was, doing an interview with him through the bars. We weren’t the rights holder so we couldn’t get in.
“My attitude is that this was one of the big ones missing from the CV and I’ve covered a lot of great sport: 20 years of Wimbledon, various World Cups, Soccer World Cups, MotoGPs. But this is huge. It’s almost like your first big job even after you’ve been in the business for 40 odd years.”
Now at 64, Sutcliffe will front Nine’s “overnight” broadcast beginning around midnight AEST. But he knows that’s when many of the key events will be held.
“My shift will be covering a lot of the Live Gold Medal events, particularly the swimming. Even though it’s in the middle of the night back in Australia, a lot of the Live Gold Medal events will be coming at around 4:30am. People will be setting their clocks. It’s a great gig from my point of view.
“I also have News duties which makes it a bit more difficult because I’ve got to be here at 9am in the morning for a 6pm News service (in Australia).”
All up his roster will cover some 14 hours from clocking on to clocking off, but it sounds like sheer adrenaline will get him through. He’s waited a long time for the big one.
“There’s no doubt about it. It is a good one and I’ve paid my dues to get a good one,” he says.
“When I started in 1966 in radio I didn’t know where it was going to lead me, I had no idea. But all these years later I don’t know how many times people say to me, ‘You have the best job in the world.’ And I have no doubt it’s pretty good.
“I feel like I’ve won the lotto.”
While other broadcasters attract attention or even scorn for their presenting style, Sutcliffe is often seen by many as a ‘quiet achiever.’ It’s a label that sits well with him.
“I’ve often said we can take ourselves too seriously in what we do. People really don’t want to see too much of me or anybody else. They want to go to Live pictures. All I’ve ever seen myself as is a pretty good professional, a general practitioner with a broad knowledge of a lot of Sports. But like a doctor you go to the specialist and they give you the big insight,” he says.
“There’s so much going on so all you are is a traffic cop. You’re getting people from Point A to Point B in the quickest, most efficient possible time without being intrusive and being larger than the telecast –because you’re not.
“Less is best, just get on with it and don’t get too carried away with yourself.
“When it comes to giving an expert opinion they’ll want to listen to Kerri Pottharst or Giaan Rooney and so on. They’re the ‘go to’ people with real insight. You just colour around the edges.
“You might know a mountain of stuff but sometimes it pees people off.”
He is also adamant that viewers want their sports live in HD and with clear information. While Nine can’t broadcast every event simultaneously, there are ways to be up front with viewers.
“You’ve got to be honest and say ‘That’s happening, but we’ll bring it to you as soon as this one’s over.’ You’ve got to be upfront and tell them what’s going on. Don’t pretend it’s Live and hold it back,” he says.
“They know you can’t show 6 sports at once. It’s impossible even with all the divergence and multichanneling. But if you’re upfront and honest …. and that’s what I hope I can bring to the table. I don’t want to be put in a position where I can’t do that because they’ll come down the phone at me and rightly so.”
Sutcliffe is also looking forward to interviewing athletes, not just the winners, but those who gave it their best shot. All have a story to tell. But what events is he personally looking forward to?
“Watch out for how big BMX is going to become. It’s just such a rock and roll sport and the course over here is extraordinary. And the other thing that will be absolutely brilliant is the beach volleyball. In Guard’s Parade just off The Mall is extraordinary,” he says.
“But what am I looking forward to? I’m looking forward to everything.”
Nine’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics begins 5:30am Saturday July 28.