From East Thetford To Tokyo, Broadcaster Peter Graves On Announcing At The 2020 Olympics
The Olympic Games got underway in Tokyo last week, and one Vermonter is there not as an athlete, but as a broadcaster.
Peter Graves grew up skiing in Bennington, then headed to college in Colorado on a ski scholarship. But he soon found himself announcing those iconic winter sports, including cross-country ski races and Nordic skiing events. Now the East Thetford resident is in Japan, where he’s the voice announcing road cycling and time trial events for cycling.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Tokyo Summer Olympics announcer Peter Graves. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: This year at the Tokyo Games, you're covering the road cycling events that have already taken place, some upcoming time trial events as well. For those not too familiar with the sport, what did these trials look like? Do they resemble other big cycling events like the Tour de France?
Peter Graves: Yes. And there are time trials in the Tour de France. I mean, the great Olympic cycling broadcaster Phil Liggett has often referred to the time trial as the “race of truth.” Because you have no other teammate out there, Mitch, it's only you, they're no team cars, there are no radios telling you where you're at, like in a road race, and there's nobody to get a draft from. So every 90 seconds, we will have somebody leaving the start gate, so there'll be multiple riders on course. It really is such an individual challenge, and a very kind of pure form of cycling.
That must be spectacular. You mentioned the Tour de France and the French Alps. There aren't too many places, I think, that could compete with that for sheer beauty. But you're talking about Mount Fuji here. And that must be quite a sight to see, these cyclists against that incredible backdrop.
It is Mitch, and given that the Japanese hold it as a really sacred mountain, it's very, very special. But you know, there are 13-14% gradients up there. So it's pretty significant climbing. It’s not as steep as the top of Mount Washington, however, a race that I have done over the years. I mean, that's like 20% gradient near the top.
But it's been hot and humid. And a number of journalists and riders have told me that this road racing course has been the toughest they have ever seen at an Olympic Games. So that's something.
You mentioned the time trials, and thank you for explaining what those are like, and the time that you and I are talking, it's after the weekend road race events have already happened. Can you give us sort of a thumbnail sketch of some of the most significant results from the weekend road race events?
Yeah, I certainly can. This is my 12th Games now, one of the things that happens in the Olympics is there are surprises. This is a one-day event. So fluky things happen. Richard Carapaz from Ecuador won the men's road race. He came out with a really, almost a last minute charge, which was extraordinary. The Belgians led for a lot of the race. Rio champion Greg Van Avermaet had a very long pull off the front, probably 30 kilometers or so without a break. And he retired from the race a little bit early, just totally cooked.
The women's race was exceptionally fascinating to me. So an unknown rider, she's not a pro, she's ranked 94th in the world, Anna Kiesenhofer from Austria, she went off about one kilometer out. After much of the race had transpired, she rode about 30-40k all by herself.
The peloton lost track that this young Austrian, about 30 years old, was in the lead. They're not allowed to have radios or that kind of communication at the Olympics. This woman rode incredibly hard, digging deep. There was nobody to draft off of or anything. So she wins by some minute and 40 seconds and change, something like that. The next Dutch rider, who was one of the absolute favorites, along with every member of her Dutch team, when she crossed the finish line, she thought she had won. She raised her hands in jubilation. And shortly after she crossed the finish, she kind of collapsed, because people said, “You know what? You didn't win.” She was like, “Really? Who won?” Well, it was the young lady off the front.
And it was a remarkable story. A lot of tactics, a lot of drama, and as kind of a demonstration of the Olympic Games, just about anything can happen.
What is most different for you about these Olympics? I mean, you've been an announcer at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. You know, you've been involved in broadcasting really, Olympic Games, since the 80s. And this has got to be very different. And I'm guessing because of COVID. But maybe there's some other factors as well.
Well, I think it's primarily because of COVID, which is so pervasive in all of these countries. And, you know, there's not many people on the street. I haven't seen a T-shirt shop where I could buy anything to bring home to my family. We very much are in a bubble, we take our meals at the hotel, and then we have a dedicated car driver to us every day that takes us to the venue. And we're masked all the time. And I think they should be given credit for this.
I mean, there are many people who say the Games should not have gone on, and I understand that point, and really respect it. I can only say that from what I have witnessed firsthand, the Japanese on the organizing committee have done everything humanly possible that I can see. Everybody's taking it seriously.
And while I'm going back to Vermont, quite soon after the time trial, I do return after 20 days off, to spend two and a half weeks here for the Paralympic Games, which will include at least one athlete that I know of from Vermont, in cycling. And I've been lucky to be vaccinated in Vermont, you know, well before I left, so I do feel a little bit more comfortable in that way.