By: Elliott Almond
Chicago Tribune columnist Philip Hersh has become the dean of American Olympic writers after more than a quarter century of banging out stories on typewriters, laptops and smartphones from around the world.
He will make the long trek to the Caucasus Mountains this February to cover his 17th Olympics—second most to the Boston Globe’s John Powers, who is covering his 19th Games in Sochi, Russia.
No U.S. journalist has had a greater impact on the Olympic movement than Hersh, 67, who will be the Tribune Co.’s figure skating reporter at the 2014 Winter Games.
Hersh’s online column, Globetrotting, is a must read for the movers and shakers of the Olympics world. He often is at the forefront of breaking news about Olympic politics or presenting context to scandals involving drugs or figure skating judging.
The four-time Pulitzer Prize nominee is well suited to the task as a Yale graduate with a degree in French and advance studies in Italian and Spanish.
Hersh’s foray into the Olympics began in 1980 when he was one of two reporters for the Chicago Sun-Times to cover the Lake Placid Games in New York. He reflects fondly on the competition in the Adirondacks.
“The Winter Olympics is like having a dinner party of eight and the Summer is like a banquet for 1,000,” Hersh said of the differences between the productions.
He covered some of the most memorable moments in Olympic lore in his debut: The Miracle on Ice U.S. hockey team, and Eric Heiden’s victories in every men’s speedskating event.
Four years later while working for the Chicago Tribune, he fell in love with Sarajevo of then-Yugoslavia. Hersh describes the warmth of the hosts eight years before the city was torn asunder because of war.
He says Sarajevo also was the last truly foreign Olympics because of limited technology. “Making a phone call was an adventure,” Hersh said. “We all had to file from one place.”
By 1994, it seemed the whole world was watching in Lillehammer, Norway, where interest in figure skating skyrocketed because of the made-for-TV drama between American skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Figure skating became a media spectacle in the United States, drawing unprecedented interest that American sportswriters had to feed.
“As annoying as it was, you knew every period, exclamation point, and but was going to be read,” Hersh said.