Alan Abrahamson is an award-winning sportswriter, best-selling author, and Olympics analyst. His passion for the Olympics is unmatched—PyeonChang 2018 marks the 10th Olympic Games Abrahamson has watched unfold on the ground. We got a chance to speak with Abrahamson the day after he arrived in PyeonChang, as he revved up for all the excitement of the games. Read our interview below, and don’t miss finals in alpine skiing, the biathlon, figure skating, and more this week! Sadly it’s all coming to a close, so be sure to tune in on Sunday for the Closing Ceremonies from PyeongChang. Watch live or on-demand at home, anytime, anywhere with the DIRECTV App!
When did your fascination with the Olympics really begin? What elements of the games really drew you in?
I’ve been fascinated with the Olympics since I was 13, almost 14 years old. I was growing up outside Dayton, Ohio, and I watched rapt as the kidnapping and murders of the Israelis played out on ABC in 1972. [Television sports journalist] Jim McKay, who later became a very good friend of mine, was magnificent. Later, when I had the chance to become friends with Jim, he said something to me that’s always stuck with me. He said, “You know Alan, as journalists it’s our job to slow down and look down side streets.” Jim was magnificent during the entire ordeal. That was the first thing that drew me in… I’m Jewish, and it was the first time I really viscerally understood that someone might want to hurt me because of my identity.
The second thing that really struck me during those 1972 Olympics, was the American team’s loss in Basketball! In Dayton, the Dayton Flyers were the only thing we knew about in the Winter, and for the Americans to lose in basketball was stunning.
The third thing for me was Frank Shorter! When he won the marathon on the last day of the Olympics, I was like, “Wow, this is the most incredible thing of all time,” and I resolved literally, right then and there that I was going to be a part of this—someway, somehow! So I started working at my hometown newspaper, then went to Northwestern’s journalism school and studied Russian with the idea of getting my journalism degree to cover the 1980 Moscow Olympics… only to have the United States team boycott. But from then on, it was a lifelong quest to part of it!
What are some of the most underrated Winter Olympic sports that you wish received more media attention and fan devotion?
I think the biathlon is amazing! In Europe it’s big, but in the United States biathlon gets almost no run, and that’s really unfortunate because it’s so incredible. It’s insanely grueling, and it’s a mystery to me why Americans aren’t crazy about it. I wonder why the country that gave the world Rambo and Dirty Harry can’t win a medal in this sport! I’m also a huge snowboarding fan. I think snowboarding has been a huge win for the IOC (International Olympic Committee), and when you see some of the tricks that are done in the halfpipe you have to be blown away. To watch the progress and evolution of snowboarding over the past 20 years has been incredible, and I think the huge win at these Olympics is going to be big air [snowboarding]. People are going to go, “Oh my God!!!”
You’ve worked with some incredible athletes like Michael Phelps and Apolo Ohno to tell their stories via the written word. Do you have your eye on any new athletes who you’d love to work with in the future?
That’s a great question. I guess it’s kinda presumptuous to say I’d like to work with someone. Usually, it’s the other way around! It’s humbling and flattering for them to come to me and say, “Will you help me tell my story?” I guess the ideal situation is to work with somebody who’s got a great story to tell—there’s texture and nuance to their story. Someone like Lindsey Vonn has an amazing story to tell. Look at what she’s done and what she’s overcome, and I’ve seen a lot of her races—but I’m not lobbying here Lindsey! Just saying she’s got an amazing story, right?
Can you speak a little bit about some of the trends that you’ve seen unfold in the past couple years? Changes in judging, changes in execution, artistry versus athleticism—any other trends like that, that you’ve seen?
For sure! The IOC’s number one objective is to remain relevant with its key demographic, and that’s young people. It’s aggressively trying to figure out why snowboarding in particular has become a huge hit at the Winter Olympics. During the Summer Games in Tokyo 2020, you’re going to see 3-on-3 basketball, skateboarding, and surfing. The IOC is trying to replicate the win that it’s unequivocally had in snowboarding, all over the place. Another possible big hit will be rock climbing, which you’ll also see in Tokyo because it’s an Olympic sport now too!
You’ve said the Olympics are “a symbol of hope and peace,” and I think this year, more than ever, we really need that beacon. How do you think these Winter Games could inspire true togetherness on a global scale?
Rodney King famously said, “Can’t we all just get along?” I think in a lot of respects, that’s what the Olympics are all about. The Olympics offer us this chance to take a deep breath and say, can’t we all just get along? With both North and South Korea marching in together, we’re given a moment of reflection in this jittery world to say, “Well maybe… maybe we can.” When the athletes of the world can put aside their rivalries, push themselves to their limits, and show us all the amazing limits of human excellence, it seems like anything is possible. So much of the headlines are full of bad news. God knows, I was at the LA Times for 17 years! So the Olympics affords us a chance to think, “maybe.” Of course the Olympics are flawed, as all human enterprises are flawed, but the world is so much better off with the Olympics than without them.