NBC has built a formidable team of former ice champions to talk about current ones in Sochi, but has left one of them — 2002 women's figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes — back in the United States to try something new.
Hughes teams with broadcaster Russ Thaler on "Olympic Ice," an hour-long television-style online daily show designed to feed interest in skating, generally the most popular Winter Olympic sport.
While Scott Hamilton, Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski and Tanith Belbin analyze performances in Russia, Hughes works out of the NBC Sports Group facility in Connecticut. She communicates with fans via social media during NBC's prime-time coverage of figure skating, and analyzes performances during "Olympic Ice."
"It's really a dream job because I get to watch skating with people who love skating," said Hughes, who is 28. Since her days as a skating champion, she's worked as a corporate spokesperson for NBC's former owner, General Electric, done philanthropic work and graduated in 2009 from Yale University. The Long Islander's TV experience includes covering stories from the Athens summer Olympics for CBS stations.
The quick-moving "Olympic Ice" on Tuesday showed social media pictures and messages from and about skating personalities, had Hughes dissect the performance of American gold medal ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and previewed Wednesday's women's figure skating. She conducted a Skype interview with former Canadian Olympic ice dancer Shae-Lynn Bourne.
The people who live and breathe skating every day represent a much different audience from those who get interested every four years during the Olympics. Right now Hughes said she prefers communicating to the latter group.
"I'm really enjoying talking to people who are enjoying it with fresh eyes, because they have a completely different perspective from the people I'm talking to all season long," she said. "I always find it fascinating what jumps out at people who haven't been following it as closely."
While an analyst like Hamilton concentrates on the technical and physical performances, Hughes tries to take a broader look in speaking about how the music and costumes play into the performances, said her producer, Rob Dustin.
Simply from running in to people in public, Hughes said there's a hunger to learn details about specific moves that skaters make.
"The more educated you are about the moves and the scoring, the more interesting it becomes and the more enjoyable it becomes," she said.