Five-ring Circus

Promote Chad

NBC Sports needs to give this wonderful Olympics announcer a prime-time gig. I know just the marquee sport for him.

Chad Salmela speaking in studio gesturing at himself with NBC's Olympics logo over his shoulder.
The Chad in question. Screenshot by Justin Peters/NBC

We are now at the point in the Winter Olympics where my thoughts start to turn to promotion and relegation. Not for countries or athletes, as fun as it might be to imagine relegating Shaun White to some minor-league Olympics. I mean promotion and relegation for NBC announcers. By this point in the Games it’s clear that some of the commentators in some of the marquee Olympic sports are not quite ready for prime time. It’s also clear that there are some announcers doing excellent work in relative obscurity who richly deserve a promotion. So listen up, NBC: I’ve done the legwork and can confidently say that there is one very obvious candidate for promotion in advance of the 2026 Milano Cortina Games. That person is Chad.

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Who is Chad? The very fact that you have to even ask such an insulting question just underscores my point. Chad is Chad Salmela, who does analysis for NBC’s cross-country skiing and biathlon broadcasts. If you don’t know who he is, then you probably haven’t watched cross-country or biathlon this year. You’re not the only one who hasn’t. Cross-country and biathlon are the Winter Olympic sports with perhaps the highest barriers to entry, insofar as they are the sports for which the casual viewer will likely have the fewest points of reference. There are a lot of recreational cross-country skiers, but there’s no Cool Runnings for cross-country skiing. And biathlon doesn’t just lack a Disney movie; there are way, way fewer recreational biathletes than there are  recreational skaters, snowboarders, and downhill skiers. These sports aren’t even quirkily obscure, like curling. They’re just obscure, and this is why you’ve rarely seen them in NBC’s prime-time programming.

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Their absence is a shame for many reasons, not least because Salmela is a prime time–caliber announcer who knows how to make these random sports super fun, mostly by screaming a lot as the various races wind down to the finish. But Chad isn’t just loud. He is knowledgeable enough to explain to the viewer what’s happening and why it’s hard, and he is enthusiastic enough to make you care about the outcomes of these events. While competing in cross-country skiing is almost definitionally tedious, watching the sport doesn’t have to be. For the past several Winter Games, Chad’s energy and passion have helped turn the cross-country and biathlon events into must-watch television.

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Chad is perhaps best known for his spirited call, in 2018, of Jessie Diggins’ come-from-behind finish line push in the women’s team sprint event, in which Diggins helped the U.S. capture its first cross-country skiing gold medal in history. NBC itself has deemed “Here comes Diggins!” “one of the greatest calls in Olympic history.” You can watch the call here if you haven’t seen it already. (Chad is the announcer who sounds like he’s trying to be heard on an airport tarmac.)

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It’s impossible to watch that clip and not get swept up in the excitement of the moment, even if you know nothing about cross-country skiing. That’s what good announcers do: They make you care even when you have no reason to care, and sometimes they also scream at relevant moments so you know when you’re supposed to be paying attention. Chad has done that throughout the Beijing Games, and I’m not the only viewer who has taken notice.

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What more evidence do you need? Clearly, NBC needs to promote Chad. But where to put him?

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The trouble with promoting Chad is that most of the booths this year have been very good as-is. The Todds—Todd Richards and Todd Harris—became instantly iconic with their memorable call of Ayumu Hirano’s controversially scored second run in the men’s halfpipe competition. Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir, and Tanith White brought flair, precision, and moral clarity to their commentary on this year’s figure skating events. The hockey announcers were great, the curling announcers were great, and the speedskating announcers were great. The one booth that wasn’t that great, at least in my opinion, was the alpine skiing booth.

Everyone loves alpine skiing. What’s not to love about watching skiers swerve downhill at dangerous rates of speed? It’s one of the most classic and irreplaceable Winter Olympic sports. And yet, NBC’s alpine skiing team of Dan Hicks, Steve Porino, Ted Ligety, and sometimes Lindsey Vonn has somehow made downhill skiing at the Beijing Games seem less exciting than cross-country skiing, which feels like it should be impossible. Skiing down a hill is inherently more exciting than skiing in big circular laps over and over until you collapse. It’s actually very impressive that NBC’s alpine quartet has made the races this year feel like such a slog.

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It’s not that, individually, any of the four commentators are bad at their jobs, per se. Hicks is a competent announcer, and Porino is a competent analyst. While Ligety and Vonn are clearly new at this, they’re each all-time great American skiers who know how to read a run and know what the skiers are going through; with time and training, they will learn how to communicate this information with more clarity and concision. It’s that, as a unit, the foursome has made downhill skiing sound about as placid as golf. Which is nuts!

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High-level downhill skiing is a sport practiced by maniacs who willingly launch themselves down slippery and dangerous hills at rates of speed that would get them ticketed on many highways across the U.S.. There should be more yelling! It shouldn’t be all yelling, of course. But the almost total lack of yelling has made the commentary unmemorable. This is a booth that could really use an energetic commentator who can deftly communicate the emotion of the moment. This is a booth that needs Chad.

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Maybe you think this wouldn’t work because calling a downhill ski event in which one skier goes at a time is different than calling a race where multiple people approach the finish line all at once? Yes, but it’s not that different. There’s drama to be found in a race against the clock, and Chad is the man to narrate that drama.

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In what world would promoting Chad to the alpine skiing booth make the telecasts less fun to watch? Is there concern that Chad isn’t a downhill skiing expert? Well, he’ll have four years to become one. His work covering biathlon and cross-country skiing has proved that he’s a professional who can do it. But you know what Chad is an expert in? Charisma—which is something the downhill skiing booth sorely lacks. What if Chad doesn’t want to switch to downhill skiing? Sorry, Chad has no choice in the matter. This promotion would be for the greater good.

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2026 will be a great year for Olympic downhill skiing. The Winter Olympics will return to one of the traditional meccas for the sport: Cortina d’Ampezzo—in the Italian Alps, and the host site of the 1956 Games. After an unusually inconsistent performance in Beijing, Mikaela Shiffrin will likely return to the Winter Olympics in four years intent on redemption. The setting and the storylines are there. NBC just needs an announcer who can do them justice, who can augment the technical analysis of a skier’s run with a full-throated Here comes Shiffrin! Here comes Shiffrin! Chad is that announcer. NBC needs to promote Chad.

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