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With Williams persona non grata, MacLean a good bet to be Sochi host

CBC Hockey Night in Canada co-host Ron Maclean speaks during the unveiling of CBC Television`s 2009 fall schedule in Toronto on Wednesday, September 16, 2009.


The quality of the Canadian Olympic TV consortium has picked up in week two, but there will be no encore performance for many of the staff when the Olympics resume in Sochi in 2014. CBC's acquisition of the broadcast rights to the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016 means that a whole new set of names and faces will broadcast the next Olympiads.

When CBC announced it was getting back into the Olympic game at the start of London, it sparked debate about who would occupy the chair as host of the Sochi and Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Brian Williams became a national figure via his long-term role as the face of CBC Olympics until the 2006 Games in Turin. Then he jumped to CTV to become their Olympic host in an acrimonious move.

Since CBC's announcement, the 66-year-old Williams has said he has no plans to return to CBC if an invitation were extended. (CBC insiders say it would be a frosty day in August before Williams was invited back after his defection to the competition.) That leaves the question: "Who's the favourite to be the face of CBC's Olympic coverage?"

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The obvious name will be Ron MacLean, the punning host of Hockey Night in Canada. MacLean has loads of Olympic experience from previous CBC Games productions and, when focused, is the best sports host in the country this side of James Duthie. But MacLean's contract is due to expire at the end of the national NHL contract with CBC in mid-2014. As well, his controversial escapades on HNIC with his buddy Don Cherry have not left him the most popular guy within CBC.

If he's still at CBC, it will be hard not to have MacLean as host for Sochi. Unless, of course, the NHL decides to take a pass on Sochi during the contract talks. Then MacLean will likely be otherwise engaged on HNIC during the Russia Games. If it comes to that or Rio in 2016, there could be a struggle within CBC for the big chair. Sports people will no doubt promote Scott Russell (the reliable face of amateur sports at the network) or Elliotte Friedman. By 2016, up-and-comer Andi Petrillo might get some love, too.

But CBC News would love to get a high-profile role for Heather Hiscox, who's been the host of CBC's coverage from London each morning. Her work has drawn much praise, and she's one of the rare news folk who can navigate sports. Should make a nice power struggle between factions within CBC.

Tracking the Games

Apologies to swimming, gymnastics and soccer fans, but we consider track and field the sine qua non of Olympic events on TV. Which might explain why we think the consortium stepped up its game in Week 2. It probably also has something to do with assigning its most experienced play caller, Gord Miller, to the marquee events. As opposed to other announcers being used, Miller calls live sports for his living. He has a sense of humour, understands modulation, when to get excited and when to let the analysts do their thing.

Speaking of analysts, Dave Moorcroft (former British Olympic star) has lent the coverage of running events real credibility and insight. He's a fan of the sport and hasn't tried to wrap himself in the maple leaf to cement Canadian status. His empathy for fallen U.S. 1,500-metre runner Morgan Uceny on Friday was heartfelt but not mawkish. In his early CBC days, former decathlete Michael Smith used to sound as if he were attending a funeral. But now he's added a wry sense of humour, some warmth, and his insights from his participation elevated the surprise fifth from 22-year-old Canadian decathlete Damian Warner.

Perhaps the crew's best moments came in the two Usain Bolt gold-medal sprints that were professional but passionate. One need only think of Rod Black's pretentious "Sky rockets in flight" efforts to understand how these moments could have gone for the consortium.

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