Right after I had arrived in London, still giddy about all the free stuff I received and filled with anxious excitement for the upcoming Opening Ceremony, our USATF media staff informed me that the NBC Today Show wanted to interview John Nunn (fellow USA Teammate, 50k) and I for a segment about race walking. The idea was to cover an event that they hadn’t before and for the Today Show hosts to learn how to race walk on TV. I was estatic to say the least, what a great oppertunity to get positive media attention as well as an excellent chance to educate the general public back home about my Olympic Event: race walk! Of course I was on board. We would begin at 11am the morning after opening ceremonies, ahhh that meant my second night in the Village I would once again not be getting very much sleep as we did not return until 2:30am from the Opening Ceremony and I had 12k of training on my schedule. Oh well, good thing I had practiced many a times back home how to wake up sleep deprived and bang out quality training, if it was one thing I could say I was a pro at it would be training on little sleep!
It wasn’t so bad waking up to train because I was excited for the interview. I Maria Michta, the local New Yorker, competing in the lesser known event the race walk would get to meet the entire cast of the Today Show! That was deffinately good motivation to wake up in the morning! After all back home when I would train, that would be the channel I would turn on in the morning to get a glimpse of the temperature out. Sometimes I would get distracted by a catchy news segment or great interview, and on days when I got back from training and the morning show was no longer on meant that its was a late start to my day in lab. How cool that after all those mornings of watching them on TV I would be meeting them live, and filmed to be on their show, WOW!
After training and eating it was time to get ready. I was instructed to wear my new Olympic uniform, the one I would be racing in. I have never worn my competition uniform to something other than a race. Putting it on before my race felt kind of weird and exciting at the same time. In just two weeks I would be once again wearing this same uniform to race! We got a USOC van to shuttle us to the Mile End practice track facility where the majority of the segment would be shot. There we met Jenny the NBC director for the shoot. She gave us a rundown on what she was planning on having us do and how the rest of the shot would unfold.
Then it was time to get fitted with my mic. Since I race in a very minimal outfit which consists of a top slightly longer than a sports bra and brief bottoms that we commonly referred to as” butt huggers” in high school there were not many options of of where to clip and hide my mic and wires. After some fancy adjusting we got it tucked in under the bra top, smack in between my scapula. A quick mic check and then it was time to get some footage of me race walking. The got several 100m strides back and forth of both John and I together and separate. After this point the Morning Show hosts all 5 of them plus Ryan Seacrest arrived.
It was quite an image to watch them step off of their bus in their matching jump suits. Al Roker’s was by far the most eye catching as his was a bright construction cone orange. NBC personalized each of their suits with a name tag on the back. We had a quick meet and greet and then it was time for them to shoot their entrance. They were to walk down about 50 or so meters, each was instructed to stare the other down, dust off their shoulders, flash a fierce look to evoke intimidation and in general sway with a lot of swag as they walked. It was pretty hysterical to watch this. The Morning Show crew definitely has a lot of chemistry as they played off of one another well and genuinely seemed to enjoy every bit of this over the top entrance.
Then it was time for a questions and answers segment. Some questions they were told they had to ask, but the majority of it was off the cuff and they just fed off of one another and the responses that we gave. They asked some really great questions about how we got started in race walking, the support that it receives, the lengthen of our races, the type of training, mileage, and time commitment that it takes to prepare for such long races etc. Then there were some funny ones too like John asking if any of the NBC staff were single since he was too, or Ryan asking me if we could trade uniforms (now remember I am wearing basically a glorified sports bra and bikini bottom what could he possibly have had in mind). I was really looking forward to how this would turn out. I felt that this was the perfect platform to not only educate people about the event of race walking but to also show the struggles that we face due to low support and limited opportunities. Unfortunately the only part of this 15 min convo to make the cut to be aired was Ryan joking about swapping uniforms with me. Oh well it was a good try.
Next up it was time to teach the cast how to race walk. John and I broke down the basic rules that differentiate walking from running and a few technique pointers. Then we were off doing a live demo and mini clinic with them. I must say that they were generally not too bad for having never tried race walking before.
Meredith was the most coordinated and naturally fluid at it, and Ryan was also surprisingly fluid. I reminded them all not to feel too discouraged because it usually takes 6-12months of practicing to really feel smooth and fluid.
They were surprised at how much effort it took to maintain their form and how taxing it was cardiovascularly seeing as they were all out of breath in less than 200meters. John made them feel even better about it when he told them we don’t even walk that slow on our easy days. It was great hearing Matt say in between breaths, I have a lot of respect for you two because this is hard. I believe he genuinely meant it.
Now that the crew was all skilled in the technique of race walk it was time for them to have their own internal Today Show Race! We filmed the start and finish on the track and the rest of the shots were at various tourist points around London. It was a little ridiculous to have them use blocks for a down start, but hey that’s why they say not everything you see on TV is real right! The finish was also a little over the top with Matt and Ryan getting into a brawl in the last 100m, and then the ladies sprinting ahead only to be distracted by local fans (our very own Team USA Javelin thrower Kara Patterson and shot putter Ryan Whiting) at this clutch moment Al Roker sprinted through the finish and was awarded the golden shoe for his victory.
All in all it was a great piece, that gave race walk the media spot light with some positive commentary for a change. Hopefully a few people back home were intrigued enough to want to try it, and even more gained an ounce of respect for our Olympic Event. Thanks NBC for such an incredible experience! I am truly honored to have been a part of it and appreciate the positive attention you brought to race walk. Let’s not forget they also advertised that the Morning Show would be learning to race walk throughout their Olympic coverage the Sunday night preceding the Monday morning airing of the segment. Thanks again!