Universal Sports Provides Olympic-Caliber Coverage of National Gymnastics Championship

This weekend, Universal Sports and NBC Sports will present a combined 13 hours of USA Gymnastics’ 2011 VISA National Championships from the XL Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. With less than a year to go until the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the 2011 competition will feature some of the biggest names in USA Gymnastics, including Beijing medal winners Shawn Johnson, Alicia Sacramone, and Jonathan Horton, as they make their case for a spot on the 2012 United States Olympic squad.

Universal Sports kicked off its live coverage of the VISA Championships last night with the women’s competition, and continues tonight at 8 p.m. ET with a live presentation of the men’s competition. NBC will carry live primetime coverage of the women’s final day competition on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET and taped coverage of the men’s final day coverage on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Universal Sports will stream gymnastics coverage live on UniversalSports.com, and provide additional Web content including interviews, news stories, photos, and video highlights. Fans can also access Universal Sports’ new iPad app, which features video highlights, analysis, and up-to-date broadcast schedules.

The Choreography of Gymnastics Production
For 15 years, David Michaels and his team have broadcast all the action from the uneven bars, parallel bars, high bar, balance beam, rings, pommel horse, vault, and floor, and have the production plan down to a science.

“I have a crew that has worked together [on] almost every gymnastics event since ’96, and everybody knows the drill,” says Michaels, director of the VISA Championships. “We know how fast we need to move, we know where we need to be, and where we don’t need to be.”

Michaels’ pre-planned approach is essential to the successful broadcast of an event that features 21 senior female gymnasts and over twice as many senior men, with each competitor performing routines no longer than a minute.  Prior to each event, the production crew seeds the athletes with the broadcast team.  While proximity to the Olympics has given this particular VISA Championship a star-studded feel – Shawn Johnson returns to the national stage for the first time since winning three silver and a gold in Beijing – Michaels and his team focus on the top 10 to 12 competitors, rather than just three or four superstars.

In order to bring gymnastics fans all the routines from their favorite athletes, Michaels & Co. use four cabled handhelds, as well as four hard cameras and a jib. For the VISA Championships, the team will introduce the Vision Research Phantom Series V641 camera to the broadcast for ultra-slow-mo replays.

Working alongside USA Gymnastics, Michaels actually has a say in how the event progresses, holding a competitor’s start until another has finished in order to broadcast both. Often, however, judging deliberations slow the rate of the competition, giving the production crew ample time before moving onto the next competitor.

“In a live event, most of the time it works out where you get the full event and then you end up waiting for [the next competitor] to go,” explains Michaels. “So we’ll be at the floor [exercise], the competitor finishes, we do a replay, they hug their coach, the coach tells them ‘great job,’ and then we’ll go over to the vault. Again, it’s choreographed because our entire crew has worked together for so many years.”

Same Crew, Bigger Stage
That same crew will travel across the pond next summer as part of NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2012 Olympics.  While the stage is certainly larger, Michaels’ same production, camera, and audio team will produce their own broadcast, selecting only a few isos from the Olympic Broadcast Services feed to complement the production.

“The same guys who’ve done Sydney, Athens, and Beijing will be in London,” says Michaels. As the gymnastics production team also covers figure skating for the network, he continues, “We’ve done Salt Lake City, Torino, and Vancouver. It’s an Olympic crew and we’re constantly honing our production.”

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