Carolyn Manno, co-host of “The Next Olympic Hopeful” talent search, is a veteran sports reporter for NBC Sports Group. Her credits include everything from track and field to horse racing, including NBC’s “Football Night In America,” host of NBC Sports Network’s “NASCAR America” and anchor for NBC’s “Sports Update Desk.”
She talked with TeamUSA.org about her experience on “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” which re-airs at 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBCSN.
TeamUSA.org: As someone who isn’t an athlete but who sees elite athletes train and compete all the time, what was it like filming this?
CM: I was impressed with the level of athleticism in this group. I've spent the last decade around athletes from so many different sports: NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB and many Olympic sports. You know what to expect with those athletes who have made it to that point. This was something completely new. The athletes came from everywhere and each had a unique story. So many of them had worked so hard. There was more to a lot of these athletes than met the eye.
TeamUSA.org: What’s the difference between the way we look at the athletes and the coaches look at the athletes?
CM: What surprised me the most is that some of the athletes who looked like surefire pros didn't have the intangibles the coaches were looking for, and some of the grittier ones who looked more like outliers really showed up. Some competitors looked really fit, but they gave up in the yo-yo sprint before it was over. Or they isolated themselves from the group. And those traits went further than I thought for the judging panel in determining who was really in contention. The judges looked at the overall character and heart of those hoping to be the next hopeful. It was about who was willing to risk it all and who was really engaged.
TeamUSA.org: Why did you decide to tackle some of the tests the athletes were going through?
CM: Not by my own free will (laughs). I had my arm twisted and opted to go through a series of skills and tests. It was my own fault for shooting my mouth off. The hardest thing may have been the shot put toss. They didn’t put me in the yo-yo sprint. The Wattbike test (for track cycling) was truly one of the most incredible tests I’ve ever seen. It was fascinating to see the explosive power of some of these athletes and to see their heart rates climb so high over such a short amount of time.
TeamUSA.org: What was it like in the training camp like with all the different athletes?
CM: This was a phenomenal experience. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked through the door at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. I was truly surprised at the level of talent they were able to bring in for the first show. They brought in athletes from 24 Hour Fitness, or who had been to an Olympic trials or were at a high level before an injury or life caused them to take a different path from their Olympic dream. This was the final shot for many. And then they had the younger level of athletes who excelled in one sport who were there to see if their skills transferred to another. I’ve always rooted for an underdog, and for me, I was rooting for those athletes giving it their last shot.
TeamUSA.org: What was your role?
CM: Dain Blanton and I, our roles as host were primarily those of mentors. We had the coaching mentors like Carlin Isles in rugby, John Daly in skeleton, Lauryn Williams in bobsled and Sarah Hammer in track cycling, but I was surprised by the number of athletes who came looking to me for support. I had one athlete, Kyle Plante (bobsled), who found me in a hallway and was extremely emotional. She had laid everything out on the line to get there. She was working a regular job back home and was afraid she wasn’t going to get selected and was dealing with that stress. She felt like her life was on the line; it was her final shot. The judges we had from the national governing bodies were an intense group and demanded perfection. They didn’t sugarcoat it. They knew what they were looking for and those kids felt those expectations.
TeamUSA.org: Of the four sports, was there one that impressed you the most?
CM: I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with bobsled and skeleton. One of the things that impressed me the most was how some of these athletes were expected to step onto the rugby pitch and learn the sport without any prior knowledge. If you think of the athletes that competed in rugby at the Olympics or a World Cup, they’ve spent their entire lives around the sport. To ask a track athlete — we had someone who was an ice skater — to go onto the pitch and play rugby, the rules are quite complicated. The cycling was fascinating. The Wattbike test was truly one of the most incredible tests I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen all sort of athletes train, and the Wattbike test, when they brought out trash cans because they said they were for athletes to throw up in, I thought, “Hmm, this is going to be exciting.”