Dain Blanton, Olympic gold medalist and host of "The Next Olympic Hopeful", interviews a participant at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
When the casting call went out for “The Next Olympic Hopeful” this past May, several thousand athletes applied. Of that initial pool, 100 were invited to spend five days at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for intensive screening and sport-specific training.
Eight of those athletes will have the opportunity to train with the national teams in bobsled, skeleton, rugby and track cycling when the talent search show airs at 9 p.m. ET on August 25 on NBC Sports Network.
Dain Blanton, a two-time Olympian and 2000 Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball, is one of the hosts for the show. TeamUSA.org caught up with Blanton to talk about his impression of “The Next Olympic Hopeful.”
TeamUSA.org: What is it like to host a show about regular athletes looking for an Olympic pathway?
DB: Hosting the show was really awesome. The cool thing is that it’s what I would call a competition, but with that reality vibe of people trying to accomplish something, and the prize is being able to train with the U.S. Olympic Team in bobsled, skeleton, rugby or track cycling. These athletes knew this was their last option to make the Olympics in some capacity, so it was intense. They ended up with 90 athletes going into the camp. It’s that pursuit of the dream that makes it a fascinating show.
TeamUSA.org: Tell us about the concept of the show.
DB: It’s really cool because it’s real. It’s not like the contestants are trying to win $50,000. They’re training to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, which everyone can relate to. It means you get to put on the USA jersey and represent your country. For an average Joe type of athlete to have that second opportunity is an incredible motivator.
The whole formula is genius. It’s why I think people will be so fascinated and enthralled viewing it. I could see this becoming a series. I have no doubt it will become a series based on the initial one and how it’s being received. I think you’ll see this turn into something really big and exciting for people to watch and get people involved. It’s just a great concept and I was fired up to be a part of it!
TeamUSA.org: What was it like filming the training and the show?
DB: I was there the whole day every day, and we shot it in four or five days, 10-14 hours of constant shooting. Every little test that they were doing, from endurance and speed, to rugby scrimmaging, to them going to the velodrome to do track cycling. That Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is amazing! It was really a treat for them to be on the campus and be a part of it. You can tell how much the participants enjoyed being a part of it.
TeamUSA.org: Had you been to the OTC in Colorado Spring before?
DB: I had never been there. I had just trained in Southern California. Just being at that training facility was an incredible experience. This is state of the art. If you’re an Olympian or Olympic hopeful and haven’t been there, you have to go. The tests they can do can simulate any environment. Some of the rooms they train in are exact to the specifics for Tokyo in terms of altitude, temperature.
TeamUSA.org: What impressed you the most?
DB: A lot of them were in such great shape. I know the show came together quickly, but it just goes to show you there are people that stay in great shape and are always ready to go. You know how they say, ‘If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready?’ There were a solid handful of athletes who really stood out. I think we’re going to be surprised by the winners. I think some of these athletes will make an Olympic team. Maybe not in 2018 or 2020, but in the near future because the prospects that were picked are the real deal.
TeamUSA.org: How did “Joe Athlete” translate to the specific sports?
DB: I know the four sports they picked have transferable athletic skills. If you have speed and power, you can do bobsled. The learning curve is a little longer for rugby, but if you have football player or a track and field athlete, a lot of those skills are transferable with the right training.
You saw athletes that were really shining in the testing. A lot of it was combine-type testing, the beep test, the yo-yo test, tests that show what kind of shape you’re in. They were pushed to the limit, which was fascinating. A lot of the times the coaches and national governing bodies may be looking at the test results, but what they were also looking at was the mental fortitude for who stays in there, and for when you hit the wall and what happens next.
TeamUSA.org: How were the mentor Olympic athletes — John Daly (skeleton), Sarah Hammer (track cycling), Carlin Isles (rugby) and Lauryn Williams (bobsled)?
DB: They were great. They were all really inspirational, every one of them. They have been through the tests and knew what the coaches and national governing bodies were looking for, so they were able to motivate the competitors and get them to concentrate on the task. A lot of them were just given the rule and didn’t know what the next step in the process would be. Having the mentors there to fire them up and give them some guidance was important. The whole formula with mentors, coaches and national governing bodies there worked so well.
TeamUSA.org: Of the four sports, was there one that impressed you the most?
DB: I think rugby is the most fascinating because of its athleticism and running around and jumping and kicking. The other sports are on a track, more linear. I enjoyed the training for all of them, but those are very specific. The freedom for rugby is kind of cool, but the other athletes were able to show sheer power out there, like in bobsled, and they have to work as a team. The track cycling was really crazy how all-out they have to go in the sport. When they’re training on the stationary bikes, you think the bikes are going to break because they’re going so hard.
Gary R. Blockus is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who has covered Olympic sports for three decades, including multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.