Most FasterSkier readers will be familiar with the name Peter Graves, also referred to as the voice of cross country skiing (and incidentally, the author’s uncle). This summer, Graves lent his voice to the cycling venues near Tokyo for the 2020-turned-2021 Olympic Games. For Graves, this marks his twelfth time announcing at the Games, including summer and winter appearances. Needless to say, he has a wealth of experience.
FasterSkier connected with Graves on a recent call to understand how the coronavirus pandemic may have affected this year’s games, and what insights the Tokyo Games might provide for the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022.
Graves was quick to highlight the great announcing and production team he worked with and the graciousness of the host country, Japan. “They ran great events,” he said, “I think they did a truly remarkable job under a very difficult set of circumstances.” For context, the Tokyo Games drew roughly 11,091 athletes from 206 participating countries, and over 770,000 COVID tests were conducted from July 1st onward. Of those tests, the cumulative total of positive COVID cases (including airport tests for Games participants and Tokyo 2020 screening tests) came to 567, with three additional positives coming fourteen days after leaving Japan. Graves called this, “a very admirable record,” all things considered.
Graves was in Japan for ten days, announcing at the road and time-trial cycling events. To fans watching from home, a stark difference this year was the lack of spectators at most events. However, cycling was one of the three venues that allowed socially distanced spectating and particularly during the road race, Graves noted that there were lots of spectators along the road where he “saw a lot of joy of free people sharing the Olympic spirit.”
For Graves, this year’s games were a very different experience than past years, particularly socially. His first Olympic announcing appearance came in 1980 during the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, at the cross country skiing venue, which Graves describes as “the last of the smaller, more intimate games.” (Lake Placid at the time had a population of just 2,490.)
Reminiscing about the “joie de vivre” of the main street, which was turned into a pedestrian zone for the Games, Graves described the tradition of trading Olympic pins, another strong memory from Lake Placid and other games. “I have a collection of probably 3,000 pins from over the years and I love trading but I just didn’t see any of that [in Tokyo]” said Graves. “I brought a lot of pins to Tokyo and didn’t trade a single one because there was nobody to trade with!”
Being “in the bubble” meant that Graves and his team were tested for COVID everyday. Before departing the US, he needed two negative test results within 72 hours of departure and was tested again upon his arrival in Japan. The initial COVID testing procedures alone took six hours.
Graves was stationed at the Fuji International Speedway, about two hours from Tokyo, where the road race and time-trial events finished. Everyday the same car took the announcing team from the hotel to the venue, and everybody was masked. Their temperatures were taken daily as they entered, and they left the venue at the end of the day in the same car, with the same crew. Graves and his announcing crew were allowed approximately fifteen minutes to get their dinners to bring back to their hotel rooms. In contrast to other Olympics, there weren’t any nights of eating with friends or colleagues for Graves this time around. “The story of life in a bubble,” he said. There was virtually nobody out on the streets and while Graves said he can’t vouch for Tokyo, he thought it was the same sort of scene there.
“The Olympics are first and foremost about the athletes and their performances,” stated Graves, “[this year] gave me more respect for the athletes, most were in the Olympic village and that was quite secure as well, in terms of COVID.”
Usually, he is able to meet and interact with the athletes a bit but there was none of that this year, “I didn’t get the chance to speak to them personally or to take photos,” Graves explained. Nevertheless, he shared some personal highlights, including very tactical road races which were “fascinating.” “I enjoyed watching and commenting on them,” said Graves, “there was a vast amount of tactics, as there always is. The Tour de France had just ended the Sunday before and many of the same athletes were competing in Tokyo.”
Graves also emphasized the important messages about mental health that athletes such as Simone Biles shared. “I left with a great appreciation for people like Simone Biles who made, I think, a really important case to speak about mental health,” said Graves, “to make it okay to be truthful, to make it okay to say ‘I’m not feeling well, mentally or physically.’ I think those messages are really important cautionary tales to everyone. Those were the things I was impressed with by the athletes.”
Graves voiced his support for the Olympics going ahead, in spite of the arguments against them happening.
“I’m glad they did the Games,” he said, “I’m well aware there were plenty of nay-sayers. It robs the athletes of an opportunity that may never come again. My hope is that the athletes found joy taking part in the Games, because the spirit is embodied by their humanity and enthusiasm. On TV, I saw countless examples of really great sportsmanship. I think the athletes should really be praised for how they managed themselves over there.”
Given the delay to the 2020 Games, we are now less than six months away from the Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in Beijing starting February 4th, 2022. While Graves was clear that he can’t speak about Beijing per say, his experience in Tokyo may shed some light on what the upcoming Winter Games may look like. “One wonders, with the Beijing Games just six months away and the resurgence of the Delta variant globally,” pondered Graves, “I have to believe priority number one for Beijing will be keeping a good and tight bubble for those Games too.”
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.