While most of us are taking in the London 2012 Olympics through the screens of TVs, laptops and cell phones, Nicollete Coontz is getting a decidely more up-close-and-personal vantage point of the Games.
Coontz, a 21-year old Stanford resident and senior at Eastern Kentucky University, landed the summer internship of lifetime and finds herself smack dab in the middle the Olympic hype and hoopla. In fact, she’s helping to create it, working for London’s Channel 5 television station and other media outlets to cover the world’s biggest sporting event.
And Coontz has definitely been set afire by the Olympic Torch.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” Coontz said in an email exchange Friday, hours before the Games’ opening ceremony. “Every athletic talent is an art here. The gratitude and loyalty of each country’s fans to their homeland is incredible. I definitely feed off the atmosphere, but being able to work in this atmosphere has sparked my creativity and passion. Every assignment I’m given, I search for the newest angle and am able to relate to the foreign crowds to produce a report that is special for them.
“The nearest thing I can compare it to is the Big Blue Nation on steroids. As an avid UK fan, I know how outrageous Wildcat fans can be during football and basketball season. Imagine Rupp Arena stretched out across the entire state of Kentucky. Envision the screams and yells, the KY Blue outfits and costumes, the smiles and game face. Then multiple that crowd by thousands, if not a million. That is how each Olympic match seems to be.”
Coontz, 21, daughter of Dwight and Patty Coontz, is a broadcasting and electronic media major who hopes to go to work as a reporter for a Lexington TV station after her graduation next spring.
Her internship began June 8 and runs through next Sunday. She plans to stay in London for the remainder of the Olympics, freelancing print stories to various media outlets before returning to Richmond for her final year of college.
Landing such a prime time gig is a “literally a dream come true” for Coontz, albeit one that was four years in the making. She first started researching the possibilities of interning abroad when she was still at Lincoln County High School, inspired after spending five weeks at Morehead State University as a Governor’s Scholar.
“That summer was the biggest cultural experience of my life at that time. I had never really left my small town and never really explored the ideas of culture beside my own,” she explained. “By this time, I was forward planning for my broadcast career and I began to research different academic studies abroad programs. I soon found the London 2012 website and realized I’d rather intern abroad than study abroad. I calculated the time frame and was aware I would be in my junior-to-senior year during the 2012 Olympics.”
After repeatedly finetuning her application and working out details for her Visa, housing and transportation, Coontz was finally good to go.
“So, to be honest, there was definitely a lot of hard work, dedication and targeting that landed me this competitive internship, but also huge luck that allowed me to be selected from the thousands that applied for the same position as me. It has been a very eventful four-year application process and journey. It is still unbelievable how everything ended up working out in the end.”
Along with the Games, Coontz has gotten a taste of how British TV covers other splashy events such movie premiers, album releases, concerts and press conferences promoting American shows picked up by Channel 5. She’s been in the company of many well-known British celebrities as well visiting American stars such as Kevin Kostner, Carrie Underwood, Usher and Adam Lambert.
“Channel 5 has many programs that are sponsored by American affiliates that run as acquisitions on the network. My team has been very welcoming and has allowed me to actually work as a colleague rather than a stereotypical intern,” Coontz explained. “I get to work directly with Channel 5 talents and celebrities to coordinate press and publicity events. I am not doing any on-camera broadcasting. For my stint with the press team, I strictly do behind-the-scenes PR. I am with the talents their entire day and cater to their needs. I get to pick them up from transportation, attend their publicity events with them, eat, entertain, etc.
“The journalism and PR in London is very different from that I have ever worked with in the states,” she continued. “Everything here is high-profile, celebrity/athlete coverage. Things here are extremely fast-paced, exclusive, and maintenance is of high-priority. London press and PR is very stealth. But the foundation of networking and contacts are clearly the same. It all depends on who you know and how you pitch.”
But it is the Olympics, of course, supplying most of Coontz’s thrills. She’s already toured the Olympic Park and Village.
“That was an experience!” she reported. “It’s so crazy because famous athletes are everywhere. I was able to meet some members of the Canadian, Dutch, French and Brazilian teams.”
Today, Coontz will be in Manchester to cover soccer matches between Belarus and Brazil, and Egypt and New Zealand, something she is especially looking forward to. After that, “I will basically be on-call to cover any Olympic event I am sent to. I am really hoping to work with Team USA somehow, some way next week!”
Coontz has already picked up a lot of British slang and throws it around comfortably, using words like “rubbish,” “posh” and “loo” with regularity. “Nick” means to steal; “ping” is to email.
It’s funny when I have to switch from British English to American English. Though it is the same language, it’s so entirely different. Even when ordering food and such, you have to order differently. For example, if I ordered a latte at Starbucks and wanted milk, I’d have to say ‘Nosh of latte, tad of white.’ Strange, but cool!”
She’s also picked up on the very rigid British class system, which has made her a little prouder to be an American.
“In America, one can kind-of mingle between a social class structure and kind of live an American Dream — someone from a humbled beginning having a successful career and good life. Here, in England, that is unheard of. In fact, they mock the idea of that. If you are poor, you stay poor. If you are wealthy, you remain wealthy. There is no mixing. I have had an amazing life and journey, but I’m from a working-class family. That absolutely blows my colleagues’ minds!”
Much like being in London, for the Olympics, has done to Coontz.
“It is such an iconic world event,” she said. “Being able to not only attend, but to work with its media coverage, is a dream come true to any sport fan.”