Steve Wolff continues family’s Olympic tradition
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The Olympic spirit runs deep in Steve Wolff’s family, so it’s no surprise that the Saranac Lake native is keeping that torch burning here in Russia.
Wolff, the son of 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee Chief of Staff Phil Wolff, is working as a cameraman for NBC at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. It’s the ninth Olympics for the 62-year-old, who lives in San Diego, Calif., when he’s not on the road.
He’s spent most of his time here at the Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Center in Sochi’s mountain cluster of venues.
“It’s awesome,” Wolff said of his experience so far. “Of all the ones I’ve done, the security is the best, it’s the easiest to get around. The people here are great, and it’s fun to interact with everyone here.”
Wolff grew up in Saranac Lake and lived there until his early-to-mid 20s.
“I took some courses at Plattsburgh (state college) in television and liked it,” he said. “I moved to San Francisco and worked there for a while. I went to work in ’79 with ABC in New York and stayed there until ’93. Then I went freelance and moved back out west. I’ve been doing it a long time.”
Wolff’s first Olympics was the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. He said he spent most of the games “sitting up on Whiteface (Mountain),” covering alpine skiing as a cameraman for ABC. Having the Olympics so close to home was an unbelievable experience, he said.
“It was a dream come true for everybody in Lake Placid,” he said. “The feeling of that whole thing, and what it accomplished and my dad and everything he put into it – that was really overwhelming.”
Wolff’s father Phil was a member of Lake Placid’s 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympic bid committees. In 1978, he was appointed chief of staff of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee. He was also chief of the security committee for the 1980 games. After the Olympics, Phil Wolff was instrumental in the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum being awarded the 2005 Olympic Cup by the International Olympic Committee. He also played a key role in getting Lake Placid’s 1932 and 1980 Olympic bobsled track named to the National Register of Historic Places. He died in 2011 at age 95.
Steve Wolff has been to nine Olympics during his career in the television business, including both winter and summer games. He missed several Olympics during the 1990s when CBS had the Winter games’ broadcast rights.
He said it’s hard to pick one games that was his favorite.
“Each one was great,” he said. “I think L.A. was the only one that was pretty boring. It was just work. Every other one you get to enjoy. China was awesome, meeting those people, being in that country. I never thought I’d ever go there. In Italy, they treated us the same. I was doing cross country and we were up in a town of 45 (people). Each one was different.”
The Olympics have grown in size, scale and importance since 1980, Wolf said.
“I think it’s almost getting a little too big,” he said. “The summer games aren’t as much fun as these ones. The winter games are still a little more intimate.”
In Sochi, Wolff is part of a small crew covering biathlon. While he hasn’t had the time to explore many other venues, he’s not complaining.
“The best venues are the small ones,” he said. “Just look at the view from here, and you go, ‘Oh my gosh.’ You’d never figure you’re this close to the Black Sea. There’s guys I work with a lot that are down (in the coastal cluster) that have come up here, seen this and just look at you and go, ‘Wow. You’ve got the best.’ It’s unbelievable.”
Filming biathlon during these games, Wolff has had the chance to see a trio of athletes who are from the same area where he grew up: Saranac Lake’s Annelies Cook, Tim Burke of Paul Smiths and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid.
“It does make it different,” he said. “I’ve got their names. Every day our stats girl gives us a little sheet of the locals, so you’re rooting hard. They’re not doing so great, but it’s still fun to see them.”
Asked if he plans to be at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, or the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wolff said, “If NBC invites me, I’ll go.”
What does he love about the Olympics? Wolff compared it to covering golf’s Ryder Cup, a competition that pits teams from the U.S. against teams from Europe.
“It’s not just there to make money,” he said. “It’s there for team spirit, it’s there for your country. It’s what these people have spent their whole life doing, just for this one moment in time. And it’s so great to be there.”