Nearly 30 years have passed since Vancouver’s Karin Larsen last travelled to South Korea. In 1988, she marched proudly in the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games, the alternate for the synchronized swimming duet, as her teammate Carolyn Waldo proudly carried the Canadian flag into the stadium in Seoul.
This February, she will return to South Korea for the first time since that momentous occasion, as a member of the CBC’s broadcast team for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
In the years since she finished her competitive career, Karin has carved out a successful broadcasting career, and she will be the on-site reporter for many of the events taking place in the mountains of the PyeongChang region. She’s looking forward to conducting interviews and sharing the stories from cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, biathlon, ski jumping and snowboard’s big air.
Coming from a family of four girls, Karin’s parents emigrated to Canada from Europe, her dad from Denmark, and mother from Holland. She grew up in Coquitlam, where in the late 1960s, there weren’t a lot of sports for girls, particularly team sports. Her parents were members of the YM-YWCA, and she started swimming lessons at the New Westminster YWCA. While two sisters played water polo, Karin and younger sister Christine gravitated to synchronized swimming.
The YWCA was a big builder of synchro at the time, although Karin honed her skills at other clubs in the area, including the Surrey Aquatic Club, and the Vancouver Aquasonic. She moved to Calgary, where she spent eight years, training with the Calgary Aquabelles and then joining Canada’s national team. She was a member of Canada’s 1986 World Champion Team, where Canada topped the podium in Madrid, Spain in all three events. Carolyn Waldo won the solo routine, and she teamed with Michelle Cameron to win the duet.
At the time there was no team event at the 1988 Olympic Summer Games, so Karin trained in the duet as an alternate and swam the preliminary figures in Seoul. To this day, she remembers walking into the massive stadium during the opening ceremonies. “It is one of the moments you really focused in on as being important when you get to go to the Olympics. It was wonderful. Carolyn was carrying the flag and we were so proud of her. It really was one of the biggest thrills of my lifetime for sure.”
Although she worked part time in restaurants and bars to support herself during her swimming career, Karin showed signs at the Seoul Olympics of her future career. She and Michelle Cameron wrote articles for the Calgary Herald, sending back stories of ‘Life in the Village’ for fans back home.
Once the Olympics were over, she moved back to Vancouver and began her slow evolution to complete a university degree in communications at Simon Fraser University and to establish a media career. Now a journalist with CBC Vancouver, her initial plan was to be a sports writer. A part-time job at CBC on the weekends in the winter of 1988-89 set her on a different path. “I wanted to be a sports writer, but I had these opportunities in television and so my career went in that direction.”
Although an entry-level job, it gave her the opportunity to learn from many established CBC broadcasters, including Steve Armitage, and she is grateful for their patience as she learned the ropes. She worked as an Assistant Producer, putting together local sports packages for the announcers in the studio. As she says, “it was a great place to learn. They let me make mistakes and let me learn.”
At the same time, she teamed up with a girlfriend from Sport BC, nationally ranked weightlifter Julie Hunter, and they hosted a local community cable television show called Local Heroes where they would interview Olympic athletes. She also pursued more education in broadcasting, through night courses at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Although she had watched the 1976 Olympics from Montreal on TV, while living in Calgary Karin was able to experience the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in person. “I bought tickets and I was a fan! I saw bobsledding, and figure skating – and saw Elizabeth Manley win her silver medal.”
Karin discovered that “once that Olympic bug gets ahold of you, it doesn’t let go!” She has now covered several Olympic and Paralympic Games, both summer and winter. The coolest moment of her sports broadcasting career? “Covering my little sister Christine Larsen at the 1996 Olympics for CBC.” (Canada won silver that year in the synchronized team event in Atlanta.)
The discipline she learned as a synchronized swimmer stands Karin in good stead as she prepares for her 2018 assignments. “It’s about putting the work in. Life is often about repetition, and that’s what you have to do, put the work in to get ready.”
As part of her background research, she spends considerable time reading about the sports, as well as watching videos online, and getting familiar with the pronunciation of the names of the athletes. But she loves the excitement and adrenalin rush of live TV. “It is fun. There is nothing greater than live TV. There is such a buzz about doing television live, but the secret is that you have to do all your preparation beforehand. And then you have your moment. And that’s very much like synchronized swimming. Lots of preparation and then you have your moment. And you don’t get a do-over. You don’t get to go back and correct your mistakes that were on air 20 minutes ago.”
Karin loves the CBC mantra for their Olympic coverage, Take me somewhere. Tell me a story. And she is excited to be able to do that as she returns to Korea, sees the changes, and brings Canadians the stories from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Follow Karin on twitter: @CBCLarsen