Cape Breton native Scott Oake covering his 12th Olympics
SYDNEY — There's been a Cape Breton voice behind some of the biggest Olympic moments of the past four decades, and he's calling the races once again at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Scott Oake, a longtime CBC sports broadcaster who was born and raised in Sydney where his dad was a steelworker, is commentating and reporting on alpine skiing events in Sochi, Russia — 38 years after he covered his first Olympics in Montreal in 1976.
"It's an honour, that's for sure. You don't ever take anything like this for granted," said Oake, in a phone interview with the Cape Breton Post, from Russia. "It's the best athletes in the world gathered together for 16 days trying to win for themselves and for their country. Keeping track of our athletes — it's a thrill, always has been."
Oake's career in sports broadcasting began in the early 1970s while in university and included two summers working at CBC in St. John's, N.L., in radio and television. He was hired full time by the national broadcaster in 1974 and proceeded to drop out of Memorial University in St. John's.
"My father was pretty upset," recalled Oake. "He wanted what most fathers of that generation wanted, which was for their kids to do just a little bit better than them, and that included a university education. My father just passed away last month and I think he asked me up until about a month before he died when I was going to go back to school to finish my degree so I'd have something to fall back on."
A well-known personality in the hockey world as a reporter and host with CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada," Oake is also a familiar face on the Olympic scene having covered a range of sports in both summer and winter Olympics, including wrestling, hockey, swimming, rowing, diving, boxing and alpine skiing.
"These are my 12th Olympics and I've done skiing at every Winter Olympics that I've been to, going back to Calgary in 1988, so I can say with some authority, I guess, that the downhill is kind of the jewel of the alpine portion of the Olympics," he said just hours after he called the men's downhill event, won by Austria's Matthias Mayer. "There's always tremendous anticipation over it and it's the race that the big skiing countries like Austria and others really want to win, and, of course, so do the Canadians."
For these Olympics, Oake is based about 50 kilometres outside of Sochi at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort near Krasnaya Polyana, and he is once again working alongside Kerrin Lee-Gartner, an Olympic gold medallist in the downhill in 1992.
Oake said the venue for the alpine events is spectacular.
"It's designed in a way that the downhills, the super-Gs, and the slaloms are right beside each other and they all have the same finish line, stadium finish. It really is stunning," he said.
The Sochi Games haven't been without their issues, from the fact that some hotels and rooms are unfinished — Oake said he is fortunate to have nice, completed accommodations — and widespread concern about the security of these Olympics.
"Certainly coming here I was, like everybody else, concerned — nervous might be the best way to put it," said Oake. "I thought coming here it might end up looking like an armed camp but it hasn't been that. They've done a pretty good job of letting you know that there's security there but it's not oppressive."
As for Canada's medal hopes, Oake said the country is in good hands as Canadian athletes have a real shot at medals in many team and individual events.
"I like the fact that we're now coming to Games expecting to be one of the leading nations. We're not satisfied anymore with just a couple of medals," he said.