With practice, John Benton has gotten used to the rhythms of a telecast, such as feeling comfortable in front of the camera and learning how to work in tandem with a play-by-play announcer. It isn’t easy — but then, neither is curling, particularly at the Olympics.
Benton, 44, admitted it might be tough to remain completely objective while working as an analyst for NBC’s broadcasts of the Olympic curling tournament. At the 2010 Winter Games, he was on the ice as a member of the U.S. men’s team skipped by Duluth’s John Shuster. In Sochi, Shuster and teammate Jeff Isaacson will be competing again, while Benton describes the action for the American TV audience.
“This will be a whole different side of the game, one I didn’t experience in 2010,’’ said Benton, who also is director of curling operations at Blaine’s Four Seasons Curling Club and a national team coach for USA Curling. “It’s going to be challenging to not be part of the team, but I’m up for it.’’
He is among four Minnesotans to move from the elite-athlete ranks to the broadcast booth at these Olympics. Pete Fenson of Bemidji also will serve as a curling analyst, eight years after winning a bronze medal at the Turin Games. Three-time Olympian and former Gopher Natalie Darwitz of Eagan will be NBC’s studio analyst for women’s hockey, and Chad Salmela of Duluth — a former member of the U.S. biathlon team — will provide commentary on cross-country skiing and biathlon.
Benton had no television experience when NBC asked him to audition for a job as the analyst at last fall’s Olympic trials. His work there won him a spot on one of two broadcast teams for curling in Sochi. The sport, a popular TV presence during the Olympics, will be shown on four NBC-owned networks, and he expects to call two games per day.
After experiencing life as an Olympic athlete four years ago, Benton said he will miss the rush of competition. But like the other Minnesotans who are preparing, supporting and celebrating the athletes in Sochi, he is grateful to be part of the Winter Games in any capacity.
“It’s such an honor, I get a little bit emotional about it,’’ he said. “Just to be able to go to another Olympic Games is really special.’’