BEIJING — A veteran now of broadcast coverage at six different Olympics in the past dozen years, Vai Sikahema has added a new wrinkle to his Games repertoire.

The former BYU football standout and NFL Pro Bowl return specialist is in China this month covering the Beijing Games both as sports director/anchor at Philadelphia NBC affiliate WCAU-TV but also as an NBC correspondent, contributing to a daily network show during the Olympics.

It's the latter that's a new job description.

Sikahema is one of six correspondents working on a nightly NBC show, "The Olympic Zone" (it airs on KSL in Salt Lake City every night at 6:30). His first piece — a tour of Beijing's famous Ming Tombs — was scheduled for Tuesday night.

One of Sikahema's favorite experiences associated with his Olympics assignments is attending LDS Church meetings and watching athletes attend church, sometimes wearing uniform warm-ups or national team gear.

He recalls one such meeting four years ago in Athens.

"We sang 'We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet' for the opening hymn, but no one could read the Greek hymnbooks," he said. "So, everyone just put their books away and spontaneously we all just sang the song in the language we knew.

"A volleyball player from Venezuela in front of me sang in Spanish, a Brazilian next to me sang in Portuguese," he continued. "I felt compelled by the moment to sing it in my native Tongan, and I heard it in Italian and, of course, Greek."

Last Sunday, he attended church meetings with the Beijing China First International Branch, meeting and greeting the expatriate members who reside in Beijing as well as visitors like himself — several Olympic athletes, family members of Olympians and other media types covering the games.

"I love the simplicity of the church in that our meetings and doctrine is uniform," he said. "Any place, any setting, any building or hut, in any land, it is the same."

Sikahema calls his new show in Beijing a cross between "Access Hollywood" and the Olympics.

"Basically, the premise is for NBC Sports to contribute three athlete profiles for each show and we on 'The Olympic Zone' staff contribute three features," Sikahema explained.

"It may be cultural in nature, like my Ming Tomb piece, or if it's an athlete feature, it's the kind of story where we take the athlete to go shopping or fishing or something outside their field of competition."

In addition, when time permits, he will file live reports for his station back in Philadelphia — but "The Olympic Zone" remains his first priority while in Beijing.

Other projects for Sikahema either waiting to be aired or in the works include a feature on U.S. women's soccer player Natasha Kai of Hawaii's Kahuku High and one on the husband-and-wife shooting team of Matt and Katerina Emmons.

Katerina won the first gold medal of the Beijing Games competing for the Czech Republic, while Matt won one in Athens for the United States four years earlier.

"But it was the gold that he missed when he fired upon the wrong target that won the affection of Katerina," Sikahema said. "They struck up a friendship and became marriage partners."

In addition to his broadcast work, Sikahema is trying to get out and see China, such as a day trip last weekend to the Great Wall with his staff.

This is Sikahema's sixth Olympics assignment, having worked the Games in Atlanta, Sydney, Salt Lake, Athens and Torino.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com