The Olympics in Tokyo will be the first Summer Games Vicki Michaelis has not covered in nearly three decades. Between Summer and Winter Games, Michaelis has reported from nine Olympics.
Her Olympics coverage for the Denver Post, USA TODAY and TeamUSA.org has taken her to Sydney, London and Athens, Greece, among other global hubs.
She witnessed every Olympic victory from Michael Phelps, including his historic performance in 2008 in Beijing when the swimmer won eight gold medals. Michaelis wrote about documenting that history for TeamUSA.org in 2016.
“The Olympics are a potent mix of everything I love about covering sports,” Michaelis said. “You have an endlessly rich array of athletes and their narratives to explore. You also have the social, political and cultural layers of the athletes and teams competing against each other.”
Michaelis is now rooted in Athens, Georgia, where she is the John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism & Society and director of the Carmical Sports Media Institute.
Her first visit to UGA’s campus was for the 1996 Olympic Games when soccer was played in Sanford Stadium. Little did she know then that her career would one day be planted steps away from that same stadium.
“It is very special to me now,” Michaelis said. “But, to be honest, my memory of covering that game isn’t vivid or anywhere near complete. More than anything, I remember being deeply grateful for the cold hot dog that UGA sports information legend Claude Felton (ABJ ’70, MA ’71) offered after the game, as I filed my story from the Sanford Stadium press box.”
That small gesture of kindness was received with much gratitude considering Olympics coverage deadlines make sleep scarce and good meals rare. The multi-week grind was always worthwhile for Michaelis because it was a small price to have a first-hand account of athletic history.
In Atlanta in 1996, she covered the U.S. women’s gold-medal games in soccer, basketball and softball.
“I saw and chronicled those watershed moments in U.S. women’s sports,” Michaelis said. “Both soccer and softball were new to the Olympics, and it was the first time Americans — a generation after the 1972 passage of Title IX — really embraced women’s teams and not just individual women’s athletes at an Olympics. The Atlanta Games changed how we view professional women’s sports leagues and women in sports overall. That I was there for those historic Olympic victories is a career highlight.”
Michaelis was part of the ecosystem of professionals around the Olympics. Many of her best memories and connections were created in the shadow of the iconic five-ring logo. Now, she and the Carmical Sports Media Institute create similar opportunities for young journalists.
Students in the Carmical Sports Media Institute began covering the Paralympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and will continue in perpetuity thanks to the generosity of the Carmical Foundation. This coverage is in partnership with The Associated Press.
“The Paralympic Games offer all that I love about the Olympics, amplified,” said Michaelis. “Media outlets, though, generally don’t devote resources to amplifying the Paralympic stories. That gives us the opening to give our students the social, cultural and practical experience of covering a Paralympic Games while also giving them the chance to get their stories and photos published by high-profile media outlets.”
With every Olympic Games competition comes new stories from athletes and their home nations. It is where local cultures meld with sporting achievement serving as a common and universal language. For a sports storyteller, the Olympic Games are bountiful garden of meaningful narratives.
“You have the heightened drama and emotion of the competition, because every moment and every result is so consequential when the chance to shine comes only once every four years,” said Michaelis.
The Olympic Games in Toyko will be different for Michaelis. She will enjoy the spectacle as a spectator and through the eyes of the audience she’s long served. It will surely stir up a variety of emotions and memories.
Just as many athletes find themselves coaching the next generation of gold medalists, she now serves as a coach. Some Olympics content she consumes in July and August will be created by students she trained.
“As fulfilling as it was to be an Olympics reporter,” Michaelis said, “the reward of seeing our Sports Media Certificate graduates live their dreams is beyond compare.”