2008 Ron MacLean

Ron MacLean
by Fred Walker

The Summer Olympic Games in Beijing were televised “live” by CBC and Ron MacLean was the network’s prime time host. In broadcast language “prime time” is defined as that time of the day between the hours of 7:00 and 11:00 p.m.

Ron MacLean

Ron MacLean

It may have been prime time in the Eastern time zone. But for MacLean, prime time began at 4:00 a.m. in Beijing thaks to the 12-hour difference between time zones.

“It was an odd start to each day”, he says. “The air was extremely heavy the first week. It felt as if we were on the equator. We were 43-degrees north which put us on a par with Washington D.C. And yet it was stifling and the humidity was sky-high. So I would walk over from the hotel which was five minutes away and even after that short walk I was in a lather. I had to stand over the air conditioning unit and try and dry my blue shirt.” The other thing that stood out in that brief walk to the Broadcast Centre was the quiet. “Beijing, they say swells to 17-million people but, from one a.m. to six a.m. you don’t hear a soul. Maybe there was an Olympic embargo on business but it was dead quiet, dead hot and you had this eerie feeling as you walked over thinking, ‘Here We Go. It’s Prime Time. The Olympic Games. This Is The Big Show‘. Yet it just felt as if you were the only soul on earth. That was about 3:30 in the morning, on my way to work and really there was nothing happening for the first three hours…no sports…very few people. It was a very odd first couple of days. You really had to crank it up internally and say OK, it’s big time kid, get going.”

His technique for appearing so comfortable when on-camera is a simple concept, he says.

“The truth of our job is whether it’s live or tape it’s just you and the viewer. One viewer. Not a million viewers. Not 10-million viewers. Not prime time. Not morning time. It’s you and one person and you’re telling a story. You may use tape or you may use a live lens. But what it comes down to is it’s your relationship with one person.” Our country’s vast geography can complicate the process. “You have to say to yourself, all right it’s midnight in Newfoundland and they’re just clearing the dinner dishes in Alberta. Those things play with your mind a little bit because you always try to visualize the listener or the viewer and what they’re doing at the time. They might be ironing, driving, etc. It’s tricky in Canada with the time zones. Still at the end, you always narrow it down to a person you’re having a conversation with.

While he wasn’t in Beijing to the end of the Games, (he returned home early because of the death of his mother), he did witness a number of memorable moments. “The Games themselves were tremendous. I was in the air on my way home when Eric Lemaze won the gold medal in the equestrian jumping competition. I would have loved to have seen that.” Yet among all the excitement for Canadians during the Games, two especially stood for MacLean. “I was really impressed with Kyle Shewfelt’s return to gymnastics…when he went up on the rings I was very emotional, seeing the comeback and you knew that five months earlier he was tormented and full of self doubt. The rings are the most difficult apparatus and that’s where he started. It was very impressive to see a guy pull himself together and do that. (Shewfelt missed qualifying for the floor final at the Olympic Games and was unable to defend his gold medal in the event. The 26-year-old Calgarian had broken both knees and tore ligaments in one of them last year.

The Olympics was his first international competition since suffering those injuries.) And Simon Whitfield’s was an amazing story. (He won a silver medal in the triathlon in Beijing) The focus of that kid for the length of time, a gold medallist in 2000, eight years later as driven as he was, he had the eyes of the world on him…it was a great moment. And then…Phelps (Michael Phelps of the United States won eight gold medals in swimming), Bolt (Usain Bolt of Jamaica in track winning the 100 and 200 metres in world record time)…it was a great Olympic Games.