by Kathy Pace
Ron C. Judd, a Western Washington University graduate and Bellingham resident, is an Olympic contender. He has participated in the Games every two years since 1998.
This man goes for the gold in events such as “the bus relay,” “the mixing zone heats,” and “the 20-day marathon endurance contest.” Sometimes, Judd competes in five events in a single day.
Judd also participates in the World Cup events that occur between the Olympic Games.
This mountain of a man shrugs off the rigors of the Games. Judd’s schedule demands, day after day, that he is up at 4 a.m. after getting a few hours of rest. Enduring extremes of sweltering hot and shivering cold temperatures are all in a day’s work.
There are times he asks himself, “What in the world am I doing here?” Or those dark, ominous times when the pressure is on, and he admits, “I’ve got nothing.” Yet, he manages to deliver.
He says he is just lucky. We know different. Ron C. Judd is an Olympic journalist.
Ron C. Judd is like a Joseph Campbell of the Olympic Games. He doesn’t just report the scores, the times, the winners and the losers. He relays the human drama that unfolds during the Games—the glorious victories and, yes, the gut-wrenching agonies. He writes of transcendent experiences, of impossible feats, of “moments that are beyond description.” Nevertheless, he does try to describe them in his testaments.
Most of the athletes who compete in the games have Judd’s admiration. “What they go through is really phenomenal. They train their whole life,” he says. “Yet, they are completely out of the spotlight.”
Every day they go through these brutal regimens, because they love what they do, he says. Most of them will never make any money or gain celebrity even though they endure long, grueling hours of training, with no pay, just for the chance of competing in the Olympics.
“Ninety-eight percent of Olympic athletes that compete will never win a medal,” he says. Judd’s high regard for the Olympic athletes is because they follow their passion, or as Joseph Campbell would put it: They are following their bliss.
Judd prepares for the Olympics at least a year in advance. He researches the athletes, how they train and their stories. He says he tries to discover their dreams, their obstacles and their personal histories. He wants to know how they became involved in the sport in the first place. His background research leads him to athletes who have incredible competitive instincts such as Gary Hall Jr., an Olympic gold medal winner for the 50-yard freestyle dash in swimming.
About 10,000 reporters/journalists cover the games. Six thousand of these work for NBC. Out of the 4,000 reporters who do not work for NBC, only a couple dozen of them cover the Olympics full-time. These full-time Olympic journalists call themselves “ringheads.” Among these ringheads, there are four or five who have covered the Olympics for the past 30 to 40 years.
Judd is a self-described ringhead. He has been following the games since he was in high school, watching the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics on TV. He is a journalist for The Seattle Times where he has worked for the past 21 years. After lobbying his editor at the Times, he was allowed to attend and report on the 1998 Nagano Olympics. He has never looked back.
His favorite event, he says, is the opening ceremony because it is a unique opportunity for a country to go on stage before the world, and tell its story. “Here’s who we are; here’s what we are about,” he says. “Here’s what we like for you to know about us.” He says the journalists, photojournalists and videographers are making a first draft of history as it is taking place. “The Olympics are the one moment, really in modern global society,” he says, “where the whole world is tuned into the same thing at the same time.”
When he recalls the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Games, he speaks of a transcendent experience. He tells of watching Cathy Freeman, the first Aboriginal athlete to represent Australia, light the Olympic cauldron. “It was an incredible moment in history,” Judd says. “It wasn’t just a ceremony; it was a national catharsis.” Australia chose that moment, by selecting Freeman to light the cauldron, to acknowledge its past of institutionalized racism and to show that Australia wanted to change. He says, “This is the kind of event that can only happen at the Olympics.”
There is even an Olympic love story in Judd’s life. He met his wife Meri-Jo Borzilleri, a free-lance Olympic journalist, at the 2006 Turin Games. He proposed to Borzilleri at the Lake Placid Olympic Oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals in speed skating. Coincidently, Borzilleri attended high school in Lake Placid during the 1980 Olympics, where she and her sister sold bagels to the press corps. Now she is the journalist buying the bagels.
Another Olympic coincidence for Judd is that he moved to Bellingham from Seattle in 2001, and the 2010 Winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver—just an hour away from his home. This occurrence inspired him to write his first book covering the games. It was published in 2009 and is titled “The Winter Olympics: An Insider’s Guide to the Legends, The Lore, and the Games.”
Let’s hope that Ron C. Judd, Olympic journalist, continues to go for the gold.
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