Al Roker & Craig Melvin on Their Long Road to the Tokyo Olympics

Al Roker Craig Melvin Today Show
Virginia Sherwood/NBC; Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

The Summer Olympics are in full swing and there’s no denying that things look a little different this time around.

Providing a bit of normality though are Today‘s Al Roker and Craig Melvin who joined their colleagues in Tokyo on Monday, July 26. Despite the games having to adapt to COVID-19 safety protocols, the team at Today continues to provide up-to-the-minute coverage on-site and a lot of planning goes into the process.

“Our team starts almost literally a week after we get back from the previous Olympics,” Roker says. “They logistically look at what we’ve got to do, where we’ve got to go, scouting locations. All that work had already been well underway, if not fairly close to being completed when unfortunately things got canceled [last year]. So we got right back into it and we’ve got some of the best producers, researchers, writers, and crew people in the business.”

Melvin noted that his and Roker’s excitement stemmed from getting to know Team USA’s competitors through athlete profiles. “You find yourself developing attachments to players because you come to know them over the weeks and months leading up to the game, which adds just another whole layer to the fandom,” he says excitedly. Below, the duo opens up about their road to this year’s Olympics, travel tips Savannah Guthrie shared with them, and more.

Tokyo Olympics Today Show

(Credit: NBC)

What’s the most exciting part about covering this year’s games?

Al Roker: Well, I think the fact that they’re happening is the most exciting thing, given that we didn’t know whether it was going to happen or not. There are challenges, but far fewer challenges than the athletes themselves. So I’m just excited to be there and take part in this in any way we can.

Craig Melvin: I think this obstacle is certainly different from others, but it does seem as if every Olympic Game presents its own unique challenge. But we’re going to adhere to the guidelines set forth by the Japanese government and the Olympic Committee as well. So all that being said, to be a part of something global in nature every four years, it’s one of the highlights of my job. Because there are very few things these days that unite us. And you can make the argument that the Olympic Games is the ultimate uniter.

Olympics Tokyo

(Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Savannah Guthrie arrived before you. Did she share any travel tips?

Craig: We’ve been in touch. She suggested packing snacks, lots of snacks.

Al: Got a big snack bag already.

Craig: One of the things I like about [Savannah] is she’s also committed to quality sleep. And so she was giving some sleep tips on when to go to sleep, how to go to sleep, and all that stuff, because the jet lag, it’s real.

Tokyo Olympics Today Show

(Credit: NBC)

Apart from those challenges of traveling and adapting to the Olympics in amid a pandemic, which sports are you most looking forward to following?

Craig: For me, USA Basketball. I grew up watching the Olympics. This is only my third Games. I remember vividly the Dream Team in ’92, and that’s actually kind of when I sort of started following the Olympics closely. So ever since then, I’ve become a fan of USA Basketball. And when I was in Rio, I got to cover the team and spend some time with those guys at practice. I’ll be watching a lot of basketball.

Al: You go to the swimming [matches] and it’s just electric. It happens so quickly except for those longer relays and things. But that’s exciting. I remember seeing tennis at Wimbledon, and you’re just so taken up with it. And of course, there’s the men’s and women’s beach volleyball.

Craig: One of the things I always enjoyed about the Olympics is you find yourself caring about sports and following sports sometimes you didn’t even know existed. Like skateboarding, for instance, this time around, this is the first time that skateboarding is an Olympic sport. Surfing, I don’t surf. I’ve never been surfing, but you find yourself up at 2:00 am watching Team USA surf, pulling for your country. That’s one of the great things about, for me at least, about the Games.