NBC Bay Area news anchor Raj Mathai shared his experiences covering the Olympic Games with the Rotary Club of Los Altos via Zoom Sept. 16.
Mathai, a Los Altos resident and graduate of Los Altos High School, has reported on location from seven Olympics. The 12-time Emmy Award winner said last summer’s Tokyo Games were the best but most difficult to cover. News events such as COVID, political demonstrations, disputed election results and the potentially canceled Olympics have “defined this generation,” he noted, adding that he values the important role of local news reporters to keep people updated during fluctuating COVID mandates.
Reporting from the Tokyo Olympics was difficult because media personnel were required to quarantine 14 days before and after the games, Mathai said, and broadcasts and interviews were often done from hotel rooms converted to temporary TV studios. Before leaving the hotel each morning, he said, protocol required a “spit test” sample to submit for COVID analysis. Members of the media were allowed to leave their hotel rooms only for 15 minutes at a time – just long enough to dash across the street to the closest store.
Mathai shared pictures and anecdotes of some of the medal winners he interviewed. The Warriors’ Draymond Green loaned his Olympic gold medal to coach Steve Kerr for Kerr’s photo with Mathai, because coaches and other support personnel do not receive medals. Like other athletes at the games, Green missed the support of his family, so he brought along reminders, including one of his baby daughter’s clean diapers. Monica Abbott, a silver medalist in softball, thanked her parents and coaches for their support in training and shuttling her to tournaments over many years. The two beach volleyball gold medalists, April Ross and Stanford University grad Alix Klineman, towered over the 5-foot-10-inch Mathai during their interview.
In response to a question from the Rotary audience about the attitudes of the Japanese people, Mathai noted that despite Japan’s low 10% vaccination rate as the Olympics were set to start, and after intense discussions, the Japanese ultimately decided to host the international event while requiring very cautious
COVID practices. He said he appreciated that and felt that their “spirit of perseverance” accounted for the safe conditions.
Mathai’s Los Altos roots were in evidence during the meeting – he was introduced by friend and Rotarian Lina Broydo, and recognized in his hometown audience “Mrs. Armistead” and “Mrs. Dabb,” as he called them growing up.
The Rotary Club of Los Altos Board of Directors honored Mathai with a Paul Harris Fellowship, Rotary International’s highest award.
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.