The world follows Olympic cycling, marathon (and more) thanks to Flemish broadcaster VRT
Wednesday 28 july 2021 - Like any broadcaster the Flemish VRT sends its sports journalists to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. But the public broadcaster has another team in Japan, as well. Cycling, speed walking and the marathon will be filmed by a VRT team 57 members strong. Viewers from all over the world will get to see live footage captured by Flemish people.
The Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), the Olympic Committee’s television organization, calls on production teams from all over the world for live coverage of all sporting events. In this edition of the Olympics, as well, they are counting on our people’s expertise. A tradition that dates all the way back to Barcelona 1992.
“Actually, the VRT is loaning us to the OBS for the occasion,” says producer Gunther Leenders. “We shoot these sports and provide our expertise to OBS, the host broadcaster of the Olympics. They, in turn, distribute our footage to the broadcasters that hold the rights to broadcast the event all over the world. The OBS pays the VRT for our services, and we are paid by the VRT.”
“No country has as much experience with cycling. We are cycling!”, Producer Gunther Leenders
How does an international organization like this find its way to the VRT?
Leenders: “Our incredibly strong reputation works in our favor: no country has as much experience with cycling as Belgium. We are cycling! In 1992, when the OBS was established, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which held the rights at the time, looked at all European broadcasters’ specialties. The initial link was made in no time. But after the Olympics in Rio, some things changed. The EBU no longer holds the rights. Nevertheless, the OBS opted for us again, because we’ve known each other for so long, and we really are world leaders in our field. So, this is our eighth time in a row.”
What makes filming cycling so specific?
Leenders: “Outside races, because that’s what we actually do, is seen as one of the most difficult production teams during the Olympics. It’s far from a simple production, both in terms of direction and the technical aspects: 2 helicopters; 6 cameramen on motorcycles; and many fixed and independent cameras at the start, finish and various points in between. All of that on courses that are unfamiliar to everyone. Often, what first comes to mind is just the images you see on TV, but these productions are also a Herculean feat when it comes to audio. The entire team must be fully committed to the race. Otherwise, it is bound to go wrong.”
“But in addition to cycling, we also cover the marathon. Flemish people are quick to think that cycling sounds like the be-all and end-all, but to a real Olympian, the marathon really is the pinnacle of the Olympics. Especially in Japan, a country where suffering is the national sport. In addition to shooting the outside races, the VRT is also providing three professional helicopter cameramen for the Olympics, who are used for other productions on location. They record aerial shots of all of the stadiums, the city by night and Mount Fuji (if it’s not shrouded in clouds for once). Anyone in a helicopter can shoot footage. But getting the right footage demands expertise.”
“In addition to cycling, we also cover the marathon. To a real Olympian, the marathon really is the pinnacle of the Olympics.” Producer Gunther Leenders
And after Tokyo, on to Paris in 2024?
Leenders: “First, we will have to prove ourselves again in Japan. You’re always only as good as your last time! In addition to the normal professional challenges we always have, this time there is the whole Covid headache, as well. This won’t surprise anyone, but it won’t be easy to color inside the Japanese lines. But if everyone does a good job in these extremely difficult circumstances, then there is certainly an opportunity we can seize.”