Local announcer Carl Roepke will be local voice at Pyeongchang Winter Games
It’s hard to have a conversation with Carl Roepke without noticing his connection to the Olympics. He works at the Utah Olympic Park. His license plate reads “Luge.” He met his wife, Michele Roepke, during the 2002 Winter Games when she was working as a volunteer. To top it all off, Roepke has been to as many Olympics as just about anybody and this year, he’s going back, as evidenced by a little patch on his neon green winter coat that reads “Hello Pyeongchang.”
“I am hired by the Korean Olympic Committee to be the English-speaking announcer at the venue,” he explained. “And I worked here for the Games, Italy for the Games, Vancouver for the Games, Russia for the Games, I worked in London for the Games and now I’m leaving next week for 26, 27 days.”
He got his start in the 1990s when he worked as the announcer at the UOP back when it was still called Utah Winter Sports Park. After announcing the skeleton, bobsled and luge events in the 2002 Winter Games, he was asked to work in Turin, Italy, and that momentum carried into the subsequent Olympics.
He suspects that he keeps getting invited back because of his respect for the athletes and the sports. He said he wants every athlete to feel they are treated fairly, which comes down to consistency in his announcements — a difficult task at times.
“I want to make sure everybody gets treated the same, and that’s not easy when you see those three letters come up – U.S.A, stand bye — because it gets your heart rate up,” he said.
His voice in a whisper, Roepke imitated a production team member.
“Carl, we’re 20 seconds away from the bronze. Fifteen seconds out. Take a deep breath, take a deep breath, here it comes. Bronze medal.”
He instantly cut into a lower register, dropping his voice into a rich broadcaster’s tone.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your bronze medal for the…”
Then he jumped back to his speaking voice.
“I don’t want to look (at the medal ceremony) because I don’t want to screw it up,” he said. “I don’t want to see you down there on the podium; I don’t want you to wave at me, because I’m going to cry. You know what I mean? That is their Olympic achievement and I don’t want to screw it up.”
Instead, he hopes to educate the spectators by giving them an idea of how the sport works. “I know for a lot of people, (bobsled, skeleton or luge) is their third choice,” he said — so he has to impress upon them how difficult those events are, and give spectators a couple tools for evaluating performances themselves, like rules and technique.
He also describes course conditions and how each racer’s run looks. But he’s got to pace himself, and choose his words carefully — both for the sake of his voice during the 15 days he’s on the mic, and because too much talking kills the atmosphere.
“Next time you go to an event, whether it’s baseball — the (Salt Lake) Bees — and if you’re listening, ask yourself how much you’re listening,” he said. “Or ask yourself how long before you quit listening, or do you have any interest anymore because you’re not listening — that, in my mind, is because he or she is speaking too much. You just quit listening.”
But regardless of Roepke’s cadence, there will be a small, dedicated audience keyed into the sound of his voice — his family.
Back in Park City, Michele Roepke will have all three TVs in the house tuned to the Winter Games, listening for his familiar voice in the background of the broadcasts.
“This morning, I was checking we have all those NBC channels that will be running 24/7, because it’s an Olympic year; you’ve got to,” Michele said after her sons’ recent Nordic combined competition.
She said that, with everything going on, and Carl going out of the country, she is developing a kind of anti-schedule for the upcoming Olympic whirlwind.
“It’s the one time when I don’t feel guilty saying no to everything and everybody,” she said. “We’re all busy (modern) families around here, so there’s always something to do for work and play and etc., etc., but I don’t feel guilty saying, ‘Nope, I won’t be attending X, Y, Z function during the month of February.’”
Instead she will be rooting for the athletes and listening intently during the early hours of the competition to hear her husband’s voice in the background.
“It’s a famous little moment that Carl is almost always the first voice that you hear, because luge is usually Day 1 of the Olympics — Morning 1 of the Olympics,’” she said. “You can almost always hear Carl’s voice — maybe not for more than 10 seconds — but his voice is always the very first one to be heard in the background of the television commentators. That’s always exciting.”
Of all the things Carl will say in Pyeongchang, what he hopes for most is to announce a gold medal in men’s luge for the U.S. — something which has eluded the U.S. team.
He tried the sentence on for size.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your gold medalist in the men’s singles luge, from the United States of America, Tucker West!”
He then slipped back into his speaking voice.
“And then to hear in my earpiece, the person next to me saying it in Korean, then wait five, six seconds and hear the French announcer saying the same thing. That’s pretty powerful stuff — so powerful for me that I can’t stare at those TV monitors, I just have to do my job.”
In the past, Carl and Michele have gotten the chance to announce those moments together. In Turin, Italy, they became the first husband-and-wife team to announce at the Olympics, but having kids complicates that prospect.
“Unfortunately, these opportunities are for me and not for the family,” Carl said.
So instead of going to the Games while one of them is working, which Michele said would be “too hectic,” the Roepkes are looking toward Games when they go together as spectators.
“Maybe not this Games, but the next Games in Beijing,” Carl said.
“That would be fun,” she said. “I’m turning a certain age that will remain nameless, so it’s that kind of birthday when you plan big family trips. So maybe in the Summer Games we will go as a family to Beijing.”
If things go to plan, the Roepkes could watch the medal ceremonies — tears and all.