While many local families are getting ready to camp out in front of their TV sets to soak up Olympic moments via cable and satellite, Erica and David Levens of South Salem have already donned headsets and traded Olympic pins in London where the 30th Olympic games will begin this Friday.
That's because the Emmy-award winning couple is working on bringing the stories of the games, and the athletes who play them, to life for millions of viewers around the world.
David Levens, a senior audio engineer for NBC, arrived in England over a week ago and was joined on Friday by his wife Erica, an associate director for NBC's Today Show, and their children Philip, 16, and Terrence, 14, students at John Jay High School.
They'll all be there together for three weeks—David pulling 14-15 hour days for the network’s prime time Olympic coverage, Erica working an average of 8 or 9 hours from the special Today Show set that travels the world.
And their kids?
“They’ll be touring,” their mother explains. “They’ve done their research and gotten their subway passes and will be seeing the sights in London.”
They’ll also engage in the one Olympic sport practiced by thousands of spectators—pin trading. “It’s an obsession,” said Levens. “There are pins for country, pins for sport. Everyone from athletes to broadcasters trade and amass pins—I’ve seen people wear vests covered with thousands of them!"
While their workdays don’t leave much time to view the games live and in person, Erica said that “through the kindness of their NBC colleagues,” they have taken in some special moments in the numerous Olympics they’ve attended. (It’s David’s ninth, Erica’s fifth, Philip’s fourth and Terrence’s third time attending the bi-annual games.)
One of her favorite memories was at the 2008 Bejing summer games.
“We stood on the roof of the NBC center just across the way from the Bird’s Nest [stadium], where the opening ceremonies were held. And as I stood there watching the fireworks, I thought of how lucky I was to be there and experience this with my kids.”
During those games, they took in swimming, gymnastics and basketball—the boys’ favorite. Philip and Terrence have also been able during past games to visit the IBC International Broadcasting Center, where they met hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, skier Lindsay Vonn and Olympic snowboarder, Shaun White, among others.
Erica was also able to watch a figure skating event while seated next to legendary skaters Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming.
“Dorothy narrated the action for me, which was pretty amazing,” said Levens.
On how the Olympics became an annual family pilgrimage, Levens said her husband was asked in 1992 by Brent "Bucky" Gunts to work the Barcelona summer games. Gunts, of Wilton, CT (and also a multiple Emmy-winning sports television director), was head of production for NBC’s Olympic coverage. It went so well David continued each year.
The Levens’ Olympic family tradition actually began with David's father, who was the vice president in charge of technology operations for ABC from the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City through the 1988 winter games in Calgary.
As for what the future holds for their children and their continued Olympic attendance, Erica said they appreciate the experience each year.
"Seeing another culture, meeting people from around the world—it's just an amazing experience to have as a family.”