What He Learned: Rio 2016 Olympics

Omer YusufEver since I declared journalism as my future major five years ago as a high school senior, my goal was to become a sportswriter.

In my four years at the University of Memphis, I have made large strides in making my once far-fetched dream a reality. I became the sports editor at my student newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, my last three semesters in college after working there previously as a news reporter, sports reporter and copy editor.

I was also selected for an internship at The Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ largest newspaper, in the summer of 2015. I interned as a general assignment sports reporter and gained valuable experience that I used in my last two semesters as sports editor.

Right before my last semester of college, I met with the new sportswriting class professor Dr. Roxane Coche. We had a meeting to discuss her new class. Later on, Dr. C mentioned the Olympics trip she had been organizing for the past year or so and if I thought about applying.

I won’t lie; I thought my time had passed but I finally realized this was a chance to cover the Olympic Games, I could figure out everything else afterwards.

Soon after, I applied and was accepted into the program. It will always be one of the highlights of my life, no matter what happens from here. Then on July 30, 13 other students, Dr. C and I arrived in Rio.

After we received our official Rio 2016 uniforms and mastered the software where we would publish work, training at our venues soon began to become flash quote reporters for the Olympic News Service, the official news agency of the Olympics. A flash quote reporter essentially interviews the athletes and transcribes the quotes after practice or a match.

I covered weightlifting and badminton, so I knew this was a chance to show my versatility. This is where only speaking English made it difficult. The use of translator was required for more than half of the interviews I did at the Olympics, since English-speaking countries rarely did well in weightlifting and badminton.

The key was asking detailed questions but ones the translators could ask effectively. Therefore, they would receive answers that would not be as lost in the translation and thus I would have better quotes. I got more comfortable with the translators as the Olympics got along.

Of course, being able to interview athletes after they win or lose is also why I love being in sports journalism. There is no higher honor in sport than winning an Olympic medal for one’s country, and there is nothing quite like hearing the national anthem of a country following one winning a gold medal.

Seeing Kazakhstan’s Nijat Rahimov break a world record in the 77kg competition to win Olympic gold after serving a previous drug ban or Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei endure more heartbreak with his third consecutive silver medal in men’s singles badminton were also memorable moments I never though I would cover so soon in my career.

Also whether it was playing card games with my friends in our downtime, seeing the view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, walking through Olympic Park, meeting the fantastic locals of Rio and working with two good sporstwriters in Wayne Hickson and Phil Humphreys the Olympics were a fantastic experience.

Photo of Sugarloaf Mountain by Omer Yusuf

One tip I would share is the importance of research. I knew nothing about badminton and weightlifting before I was handed those assignments. I made sure I knew what the key storylines were and key athletes ahead of those competitions. I had a sense of the importance of the events I was covering. It made the competition far more enjoyable.

My advice to any aspiring journalists out there is if you see an opportunity out there take it. You never know if you will get the chance to go for that dream internship or job again. Life is too short to wonder, so make the most of it.

The Olympics went by as fast as I expected. I never thought this was possible a year ago, but somehow everything came together and I covered the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

IMG_8913Photo of the weightlifting venue by Omer Yusuf



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