Journalism Professor to Watch, Not Work, This Year’s Olympics

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University of Tennessee journalism professor Mike Martinez will watch the Olympics this year like most of us—during his leisure time—rather than working the event.

Beijing opening

Outside the National Stadium, commonly known as the Bird's Nest, during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)

Martinez has been connected to chronicling the Olympics for more than eighteen years.

Now an assistant professor who teaches sports reporting and media ethics in the College of Communication and Information’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media, he covered the Olympic games in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 and the Atlanta games in 1996 for the Associated Press.

Later, he worked for the host countries’ Olympic organizing committees at the games in Sydney in 2000, Salt Lake City in 2002, Athens in 2004, and Beijing in 2008.

“Initially, the Olympics were very overwhelming,” Martinez said. “The preparation for the games and just the magnitude of the event were incredible. Very quickly, though, you get into a rhythm and understand what needs to be done. It’s not a routine, but you get more comfortable.”

The 1994 Lillehammer winter games were Martinez’s first exposure to the Olympics, but he also was part of another first: Lillehammer marked the introduction of professional-quality digital photography to the games, a joint effort by the Associated Press and Eastman Kodak.

Mike Martinez leads the three Russian medalists who swept women’s singles tennis in a lap of honor during the medals ceremony at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. From left are Vera Zvonavera, bronze; Elena Dimentieva, gold; and Dinara Safina, silver. (Photo by Paul Zimmer/International Tennis Federation)

“I was part of a two-person team covering the sports news of the day, and it was very exciting to use the digital camera,” Martinez said. Transferring a high-quality color photo back to AP headquarters the old way took 30 to 40 minutes, he said. “This new way of taking and sending photos beat the other wire services by 20 minutes, even though we were using 56k dialup modems, which of course seem slow today, but in 1994, were amazingly fast.”

Among his favorite Olympic moments was watching the first encounter between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding after Harding’s friends had tried to break Kerrigan’s knee so she couldn’t compete.

“It was very interesting watching them studiously ignore each other. It was pretty tense,” he said.

Other fun moments were watching Andre Agassi win gold in tennis in Atlanta in 1996 and exploring Beijing during the 2008 games.

“China opened itself up to the West for the games, but not completely. You could tell that people were watching you and anyone you happened to speak to on the street,” he said. “You didn’t have the freedom you have in Western countries.”

Martinez was unable to get a work visa to help at the London games, but he said he’ll still enjoy watching them from this side of the ocean.

C O N T A C T :

Mike Martinez (865-974-1567, mtmartinez@utk.edu)

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