Greg Hughes knows his birthday Sunday will be like no other.
For the majority of the day, the Janesville native will be on an airplane bound for his ninth Olympics.
“My flight leaves at 11:35 a.m., and I land in Tokyo at 2:20 p.m. on Monday,” Hughes said of his birthday agenda.
That’s one way of staying young—losing most of your birthday.
But that was not the objective. Hughes, the NBC Sports Group senior vice president, communications is going to Tokyo to handle his role of the network’s coverage of the 2020—now 2021—Summer Olympics.
Hughes—who has worked various Olympic competition as a freelancer, with Turner Sports and now with NBC—and the rest of the network contingent, have had to plan for an Olympics different than any other. For the vast majority of the competition, there will be no spectators due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Japan.
Planning for such circumstances began last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and ultimately forced the postponement of the 2020 Summer Games until this summer. At various points of the past year, it appeared the Tokyo Olympics might go off this year close to normal.
That changed to the worse in the past month as cases increased in Japan, which only has an 18 percent vaccination rate.
Tokyo reported 1,149 new cases Wednesday, which was the highest since 1,184 were reported almost six months ago on Jan. 22. It also marked the 25th straight day that cases were higher than they were a week earlier.
The IOC and Tokyo organizers last week banned fans from all venues in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures.
A few outlying venues will allow some spectators. Fans from abroad were banned a month ago.
The decision to ban all spectators did not catch NBC by surprise, but posed a challenge in covering the events.
It will make for coverage that viewers have never seen, or more accurately—heard.
NBC plans to amp up the sound of the competition.
“You’ll be able to hear the apparatus movements and the splashes—the stuff that is usually drowned out by cheering crowds,” Hughes said in a phone interview from New York City on Tuesday night.
And the actual competition will be just part of the sports groups’ coverage.
“We’re going to have cameras and audio of family and friends of the athletes around the United States,” Hughes said. “We have a setup in Universal Park in Orlando (Florida) where friends and families are gathering to watch the Olympics.
“We’ll be able to show their reactions. We’re ready to go. We spent a long time planning this.”
NBC had to cut back on its normal Olympics work crew that typically numbers around 2,000 persons. Hughes said approximately 1,600 people will be in Japan, but an additional 1,700 will be working outside of the country to televise the Games.
Hughes said the experience the network has gained throughout the pandemic with people working outside of the actual game venues helped in the planning for the Summer Olympics.
“The audience at home won’t be able to tell the difference,” Hughes said. “So we’re excited about this.”
Hughes will be in Tokyo for a little more than three weeks. Those three weeks won’t have many postcard memories in a country that is in a state of emergency due to the pandemic.
“We’re under a soft quarantine when we get there,” Hughes said. “We’re confined to our hotel rooms. NBC and the IOC will provide transportation. So no restaurants.”
Restaurants and Olympic planning have taken up much of Hughes’ time the past few months.
He just opened Genisa, an Italian restaurant and wine bar on Main Street in Janesville. The conversion of the Legends bar into the restaurant was done in a little more than three months and has received a positive customer response as it completes its first full week of operation.
“I wanted to make sure it got off the ground before I left the country,” said Hughes, who also owns Bazinga Classic Pub and Grille, GameDay and Barkley’s Burgers, Brews and Dawgs in Janesville. “We received a lot of cooperation from the various sectors.”
Now Hughes will concentrate on staying healthy and overseeing the NBC Sports Group’s coverage from Tuesday through Aug. 9.
He took COVID-19 tests Wednesday and Thursday and then uploaded the results into an app to gain admission into Tokyo. He had been told it will take three to four hours to get out of the Tokyo airport before the NBC workers enter the 14-day soft quarantine.
It should make for a birthday Hughes won’t forget.
Let the Games begin.