University of Virginia athletes aren’t the only ones getting in on the games in Rio this summer. Third-year Alexandra D’Elia has been in Brazil for weeks helping with NBC’s live coverage of the Olympics as a runner for the “Today” show.
While the Olympics are a new experience, this is actually D’Elia’s second trip to the country. The a media studies and foreign affairs double major is also a Portuguese minor and spent five weeks in Brazil last summer taking language classes and visiting family there. Now she’s using her language skills to help “Today” staff work with locals to put on a live show each day.
As the games are heating up, D’Elia spoke with UVA Today about what it’s like to be behind-the-scenes for this major live broadcast.
Q. What made you want to apply for this position?
A. I met with one of my media studies professors, Wyatt Andrews, to discuss internships for the summer. After he discovered that I can speak Portuguese, he told me, “We’re going to get you to Rio.”
Q. What kind of work are you doing for NBC while you’re there?
A. As a Portuguese-speaking runner, every day brings something new and exciting. To aid the language barrier between the talent and our drivers and the producers and our drivers, Portuguese runners tag along on shoots, interviews, rehearsals, airport pickups, shopping and more.
Q. You arrived a few weeks before the Games. What kind of preparation goes into a major broadcast like this?
A. There is a lot of prep work going into such a large live production. It has been amazing to see the progress in the past two weeks, not only on the set, but also the Olympic venues. I spent a few days shopping for and decorating the green room, which is where guests wait to go on air, and the hair and makeup room. Building the set and compound so that it is show-ready is part of what we did leading up to the Games.
We also took many trips to the different Olympic parks and stadiums to get a lay of the land and figure out routes and entrances so that guest pick-ups and transportation work smoothly during the live show.
Q. Are you assigned to work specific sports?
A. Instead of working with specific sports, we work on the production side of the “Today” show to ensure that everything is running smoothly and everyone is where they need to be. During the show, all the Portuguese speakers are picking up guests for the show.
Q. What’s been the most exciting part so far?
A. Hoda Kotb kindly invited me to her interview with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team! Watching the team interview as well as Hoda’s interview with head coach Martha Karolyi was a blast and such a great learning experience. At the end of the team interview, Hoda invited myself, another runner and a production member to join in on a selfie with her and the team. It was such a fun night!
Q. Are there any Olympic heroes you’ve met or are hoping to meet there?
A. I really wanted to meet the women’s gymnastics team – I’m lucky I got to cross that off of my list before the Games even started. I’d also love to run into fellow Wahoo Leah Smith. I interviewed her last fall for a WUVA video news story, so it would be great to see her here in Rio. I attended the first day’s preliminary swim heats and saw [UVA swimmer] Yannick Kaeser place first for Switzerland in his heat.
Q. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned about live television and working in broadcast journalism?
A. You always have to be one step ahead. In live television, every second matters!
Q. Have you had a chance to explore Rio while you prepare for the games? Any favorite spots?
A. The first Sunday after we arrived, myself and three other runners hiked more than four miles up Corcovado Mountain to see Christ the Redeemer. The two-hour hike was intense, but the view overlooking Rio made it worthwhile. We spent the rest of the day on the beach.
Q. Are there any aspects of Brazilian culture that have really stood out to you?
A. Footvolley [a sport that combines elements of beach volleyball and soccer] is so intriguing to me. It’s impressive to walk along Copacabana and watch people play volleyball with any body part but their hands. One of these days I’m going to give it a try.
Q. How do you hope to use this experience toward your academic path and future career plans?
A. I am already learning so much from this job and I have no doubt that it will fuel the energy and excitement I have for my upcoming broadcast and media studies classes.