NEW YORK (AP) – Terry Gannon doesn’t fit the profile.
Sure, he’s dunked plenty, and hit some long-range jumpers. But he certainly hasn’t landed a quad or attempted a camel spin.
An NCAA basketball champion at North Carolina State and a professional sportscaster handling hoops and golf, somehow Gannon has become the lead play-by-play voice of figure skating.
Actually, his roots in the sport of axels and sequins go back nearly a quarter-century to when he was with ABC and was asked – pretty much out of the blue – to call a professional event in Tokyo. Back then, he was truly a novice and Gannon knew exactly what to do.
“You talk about what you know and stay away from what you don’t until you know more about the sport,” he says. “I was very general and generic in my conversations on the air.
“Then you start to learn. There were a lot of people early on who taught me the sport and the details and one jump from another. And then you grow with it.”
Gannon has grown so much in the role that he’s not intimidated by partnering with 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and three-time U.S. champ Johnny Weir. The commentary by Lipinski and Weir is built on expertise and opinion – with plenty of enthusiasm and humor thrown in – and Gannon is happy to be along for the ride.
“Never a dull moment,” Gannon says with a hearty laugh. “What they are like on camera is exactly what they are like off camera. They walk into the room with energy and excitement, which keeps it young constantly.
“What really stands out is how much love they have for the sport.”
Gannon feels the same way about what has become a niche sport, but takes center ice every four years.
“Coming from a team sport, you always had a teammate in those tough sports to bail you out,” he says. “It amazes me every competition. This is such a singular sport.
“There are other sports where you are not part of a team and out there by yourself; golf comes to mind. However, in figure skating what will continually impress me is how a 15-year-old girl can stand on the ice with 20,000 people in the building and millions watching on TV, and have a choreographed, planned program, and not be reactive. And she goes out and somehow pulls it off against all the attention and pressure.
“And the whole side that is so theatrical, with athletes pushing it to the limits, but then you have to show emotion and land your jump right on the beat of the music. There is so much going on; to let it all go and just be an athlete is the great challenge.”
Gannon was quite an athlete himself, part of the famous Wolfpack that upset Houston for the 1983 NCAA title – remember Jim Valvano running onto the court searching for someone to hug? He was the school’s career free throw shooting leader and in ’83 led the nation in 3-point shooting.
Behind the microphone, he has a calm demeanor that plays well with the hyper tendencies of Lipinski and Weir, who have become as popular as commentators as they were as skaters.
All three could face a major challenge in Pyeongchang. The U.S. team might have only two medals contenders, men’s favorite Nathan Chen, and one of three ice dance teams. So the nationalistic approach won’t necessarily work.
Gannon reasons that regardless of how strong the Americans might be, there’s so much more to the Olympics.
“There would not have been an Olga Korbut if they didn’t tell her story on the Olympics broadcast,” he says. “There are compelling stories all over the map. We want to tell those stories and get people to understand why they might care about a specific athlete.
“You have two things that really stand out when trying to broadcast an Olympics: the people/personalities and their stories.”
Lipinski had one of the great stories in games history and understands the importance of presenting those tales properly.
“We want the viewers and the fans to feel exactly what we are feeling and what the fans in the arena are feeling,” she says. “We try to tell the whole story because it’s so exciting and moving.”
And so pressure-filled, which Gannon, who knows all about Final Four stress, finds fascinating.
“There is no greater pressure than those 4 or 4 1-2 minutes, one shot at doing something that will last a lifetime,” he says, his voice rising, perhaps in anticipation of describing such moments. “It’s such a balancing act, as they do their programs, try to tell stories and laying out everything, all of it enhanced by the pressure they are under.
“With the two people I am working with, Tara and Johnny, I think we are really equipped in our approach to doing that, bringing across all of that. Be authentic, say what you are really feeling, and be in the moment.”