Use double quotes to find documents that include the exact phrase: "aerodynamic AND testing"

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary – Shoes off, standing in socked feet, instinctively sensing the next move, following the athlete’s performance with his body and mind.  This is how you will find Kyle Shewfelt, 2004 Olympic gold medalist, doing his job as the CBC gymnastics analyst at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero.  Shewfelt’s approach is unusual, but one he comes by honestly after discovering he just doesn’t feel right sitting behind a desk.

“The words don’t come to me when I sit, I feel flat. So I started standing. I’m free and the words started to come out with more energy” says Shewfelt, who’s heading to his third Olympics as a broadcaster.  He adds, “You get a sixth sense as a former gymnast of what move is coming next.  I’m there grabbing the bar with them.”  Shewfelt relishes the opportunity to share this knowledge – he knows most of the athletes’ routines by heart – and his passion for gymnastics with the thousands of viewers at home watching the Games. 

For Shewfelt, one of six CSI Calgary alumni filling television roles for the CBC in Rio, there are two key things that contribute to broadcasting success: extensive research and preparation, and being genuinely excited to see it all unfold. The biggest challenge though, and often the most difficult to learn, is being able to communicate that knowledge and passion effectively to the viewer in an entertaining way. 

“Economy of language is so important and it’s exceptionally difficult to do” says Kelly Vanderbeek, Olympian and alpine skier-turned-broadcaster.  In television, there is no room for long-winded or technically complex commentary.  Shewfelt agrees, “It’s knowing when to talk and when to let the action breathe.  It’s pinpointing the moments when the action speaks louder than my words. I want my comments to add to the performance rather than distract from it.”

In addition to educating viewers, analysts weave in storytelling and react to what is happening in the moment, meaning they may have to change their tack quickly, and smoothly, from telling a story about an athlete to explaining a sudden error or change in play.  In many respects, the analysts need to perform on demand in much the same way they did as athletes.  Blythe Hartley, Olympic bronze medalist in diving finds, “when I’m on the air, the feelings I have mimic what athletes feel – I have to respond in the moment, perform when it counts.  I get nervous and feel the adrenaline rush.”

However, the switch from sport to broadcasting isn’t necessarily an easy one. Good athletes don’t inevitably make good TV analysts or personalities. But many of the qualities and skills that propelled them to the top of their sport are what make them good broadcasters, too.  Namely, endless practice, being coachable and an attitude that they can always improve and get better.  A little bit of star power helps too. 

Vanderbeek didn’t seek out a career as a broadcaster.  It was a happy accident borne out of a devastating knee injury that forced her to the sidelines before the 2010 Winter Olympics. Her on-air performance during those Games was notable and noticed and since then she has been to three Olympics and taken on the Calgary Stampede and Rogers Cup Tennis. “I just fell into this and it turns out I’m really good at it,” she says with a laugh.

Still, Vanderbeek, like Shewfelt and Hartley, works incredibly hard to hone her new craft, collecting stacks of binders full of background research prior to each Games. Her work is primarily centred on telling the human story of the games and about the families behind the athletes.  She helps bring the athletes to life beyond their sport, connecting them with the viewers.

This is ultimately the end goal – these former athletes telling the story of the Games and engage Canadians with their knowledge, skill and personality.  For all, it is an honour to have the opportunity and one they take very seriously.  For Shewfelt, it goes one step further, “I try to remember that there is some kid out there watching who’s going to fall in love with gymnastics. I want to connect with that kid.”

Let the Games begin!

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary

Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover

Photo: Kelly VanderBeek