Fall/Winter 2016-17

Unscripted: Olympic Mind Games

Joe Martin, the maestro behind NBC’s Olympics swimming coverage at Rio, addresses how his team captured lightning in a bottle in the rivalry between Lilly King and Yulia Efimova.


Joe Martin, who directed the swimming venue during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, had the benefit of chronicling two of the more dominant athletes of the Summer Games: Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky. But it was the unfolding drama between their American compatriot Lilly King and her Russian rival in the 100 meter breaststroke, Yulia Efimova, that provided some of the Games' more memorable moments.

Martin, who had covered eight previous Olympics dating back to Athens, was aided by 12 cameras, one of them in the warm-up pool and another in the "last call" or ready room. "We go through each individual race, who we're going to talk about, what order we're going to talk about them in, lay out a camera plan and an EVS record plan, and then I take that to the cameramen and we do the show."

1. King, who had been critical of Efimova for previous doping violations, candidly expressed her disapproval early on when Efimova won her heat. "We went to break with a reaction of her in the pool and [Efimova] was wagging the No. 1 sign with her finger," recalled Martin. "Our robocam was shooting Lilly King in the last call room and she happened to walk over to the big program monitor, and when we were showing the replay, Lilly reacted by wagging her own finger—more like a [NBA pro] Dikembe Mutombo finger wave when he would block a shot and indicate 'no, no, no.'"

2. When the two swimmers were about to mount the blocks in the final, King stared Efimova down in taunting fashion. "I don't think anyone thought Lilly King would be playing a mind game with her," said Martin, "but we definitely knew she was determined to prove she could win as a clean swimmer."

3. When King out-touched Efimova for the gold, "we were watching for the moment to get the look of disappointment from Efimova," recalled Martin. "We obviously showed Lilly right away when she realized she won—her reaction, the fist pump and splashing the water. And we were keeping our eye on Efimova when she lost to the person who basically had been calling her out. And you can see the moment of disappointment when she dropped her head and realizes it."

(Photos: NBC Olympics)

Directors discuss the preparation and work that goes into creating unscripted content.
More from this topic
More from this issue