WASHINGTON – Willie Geist certainly made the rounds during his time at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The co-anchor on NBC’s “Today” show and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, packed in plenty of events in Russia, seeing everything from T.J. Oshie’s shootout heroics in the men’s ice hockey win against Russia, the women’s gold-medal hockey game against Canada, speedskating and figure skating, to name a few.
“I was lucky to be in Sochi for three weeks,” Geist said. “I got to be around the athletes and get to know them and then watch them compete. Then they show up on the ‘Today’ show.”
“The Olympics are great because you have this face-to-face experience with the athletes,” he added. “You get to know them. You meet their mothers and their fathers, their families.”
Then the flame goes out and almost in a flash, the Winter Games come to an end.
Fortunately for Geist, the experience in Sochi was extended a little bit. For the first time, the United States Olympic Committee decided to have a Best of U.S. awards show in the nation’s capital to recognize some of the top American athletes from the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi.
And Geist got to host the show. For Geist, it was like hosting a reunion.
“For me, it was a great way to catch up with all of these athletes,” Geist said. “I get to see how their lives have changed.”
More than 200 members of the 2014 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams attended the live taping of the show, which featured a red-carpet entrance. The event took place last week at the historic Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., and will be broadcast Monday on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET.
Geist noted that he was especially excited to see members of the Paralympic sled hockey team which beat Russia, 1-0, to win back-to-back gold medals in Sochi. Ditto for the curling athletes and for some of the other athletes who typically generate headlines once every four years.
“I think it’s great, especially for the athletes who don’t get the notoriety to get the recognition they deserve,” Geist said.
Growing up, Geist played basketball and football but he would tune in for the Winter Games. He enjoys skiing himself, and said he really enjoys watching the X Games-styled sports, and the incredibly difficult twists and turns snowboarders and skiers do on the slopes and halfpipe.
As a co-host for the “Today” show, he also got a chance to see a different side of the athletes. One memorable moment in Sochi came the day after Meryl Davis and Charlie White won America’s first ice dancing gold medal. During their “Today” show appearance, White, who not only skates at a high level but also can play violin extremely well, played the violin.
“At first he was playing something like ‘Three Blind Mice,’ and then he started really playing,” Geist said.
Before the Best of U.S. show, Geist was on the red carpet with none other than Olympic champion Tara Lipinski and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir. Lipinski and Weir made quite a splash during Sochi, both for their figure skating commentary and for their spectacular outfits. They were part of the Best of U.S. awards, handling backstage interviews with athletes.
When they asked Geist what made him decide to host the Best of U.S. awards, he joked that he heard Lipinski and Weir were on board so he decided, “OK, I’ll do it.”
They also quizzed him about his attire, of course. Unlike Lipinski and Weir, who were donning designer duds, Geist said, “I’m just wearing a blue suit I’ve had for a long time.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.