To know the strength that it takes to come off a jump that might have gone off a little bit sideways, or the elation and the triumph that comes from hitting your most difficult jump perfectly, that is something that can only be communicated by someone who has felt those feelings. —Scott Hamilton
It should surprise no one who hears his commentary that NBC's Scott Hamilton takes it personally when he sees empty seats at an arena for an ice skating event or a lackluster launch to an inaugural Olympics team competition.
Hamilton is at his seventh Winter Olympics as a figure skating analyst. His signature is conveying to viewers the feeling that he's on the ice alongside the competitors, exhaling in disappointment at a slip or shouting in triumph when a skater smoothly lands a complicated jump.
He'll admit to leaning a little to the right in his chair to compensate if he sees a skater that's listing to the left.
"You're a part of their performance," said Hamilton, who will call the climax to the new team figure skating competition on NBC in prime time on Sunday.
"I think that's what makes skating so exciting, especially live when you're in the building and you see the speed, you see the explosive power of the jumps, when you see just how fast the skaters crank and the stamina of having to cover so much ice," he said. "It's extraordinary. It's phenomenal, and I think television doesn't always show skating in a way that people can truly comprehend what is being done."
As a skater, the 1984 gold medal winner for the United States said he preferred someone announcing his routines who felt the excitement and wasn't a dispassionate observer.
He's firmly in the camp of those who believe that to do the best job possible as a broadcaster, an analyst should have once been in the position of the people whose work they're commenting upon.
"To know the strength that it takes to come off a jump that might have gone off a little bit sideways, or the elation and the triumph that comes from hitting your most difficult jump perfectly, that is something that can only be communicated by someone who has felt those feelings," he said.
Hamilton was put to work before the opening ceremonies this year with the start of figure skating's new team competition. He was disappointed with how it was rolled out — it needed a little more flair, he said, more production value to convey the excitement of the world's best figure skating nations squaring off.
Hamilton, 55, shudders at the thought he's announcing at his seventh Olympics and worries he's overstaying his welcome. He's had more important things to worry about. Already a testicular cancer survivor, Hamilton has also been operated on for a benign brain tumor.
"Anytime your life had been threatened, everything seems a little more richer, sweeter and more colorful, more flavorful," he said.
He's working in Sochi with a man who may someday replace him. NBC has hired Johnny Weir, who is analyzing the NBC Sports Channel's daytime live coverage of skating events. Hamilton said he's told Weir to point out things he things the veteran analyst could be doing better, and said he's available to offer Weir and partner Tara Lipinski advice.
"When you're doing this, we're all one big happy family," he said. "We support each other."