Gadi Schwartz hasn’t had his Olympic moment just yet.
After years of hard work and training earned him a coveted invite to Brazil for the Summer Games, the Albuquerque native will tell you the goal now is to end his month in Rio de Janeiro atop the medal stand.
But to get there, he knows an inevitable showdown still awaits with one of the best in the business.
“Lester Holt is a mean ping pong player,” Schwartz said. “I’m not even kidding. … Holt sounds a lot like (Usain) Bolt in our world.”
Holt, of course, is the anchor of NBC’s Nightly News. And Schwartz, the 33-year-old who graduated from Cibola High School and New Mexico State University, is a correspondent with NBC Nightly News.
Both have spent the month in Rio helping out with the network’s arduous task of providing more 2,000 hours of Olympics content broadcasted to 11 networks and another 4,500 streamed online through the NBC Sports app.
And when not covering the world’s elite athletes, those in the International Broadcast Center seem to enjoy their own heated games of ping pong — or table tennis as it is more respectfully referred to in Olympic circles.
“It’s just an everyman sport,” Schwartz said. “And that’s sort of one of the appeals about the Olympics that’s so great. At first in some of these events, you think, ‘You know, I think I might be able to do that.’ Then when you get up close, you realize how elite these athletes are.
“Most of them don’t have big sponsorships. They do it for the love of the sport and national pride. So getting up close and personal with a lot of these guys and seeing the amount of time and effort they put into this is just amazing.”
And that — telling the stories of the Games as opposed to playing them — is what Schwartz has been tasked with this month.
It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for the former high school wrestler who has spent the past decade as a news journalist in Albuquerque (KOB) and Los Angeles before his recent call up to the big leagues to NBC Nightly News.
“It’s all about storytelling,” Schwartz said of his job this month. “It’s all about finding those tiny little moments that people have that we all can relate to.”
One such moment came Aug. 4, the day before the Opening Ceremonies while working a feature story on Team USA’s fencing sisters — Courtney and Kelley Hurley.
After being beaten — badly — in a match by younger sister Courtney, Schwartz witnessed how the unique personalities of the sisters seemed to shine through in their approach to the sport.
It made him think about his younger brother, Matthew Schwartz, a “cerebral” type who is a doctoral student at the University of New Mexico studying anthropology.
“One of the sisters is extremely passionate and goes after the kill and is very aggressive,” Schwartz said. “And the other one is very technical. They were describing how their personalities match their fighting styles and I was thinking about Matt.
“That’s kind of how Matt approaches life and how I approach life. Even our dancing styles. We both have that Guatemalan blood and when Matt is dancing, it’s super technical. Anytime he’d dance the Salsa, it’s very technical and beautiful and smooth. Meanwhile, I’m kicking and flailing and trying not to kill people on the dance floor. But we both have fun in our own ways.”
Family has been a big part of Schwartz’s path in journalism. His mom, Karen Mings, was a longtime teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools. His father, Sergio Schwartz, was a weatherman for Univision when the brothers were young.
“He’s kind of the reason I got into news,” Schwartz said. “I would tag along with him. He would kind of put me to work editing stuff and he would always take me on shoots. I kind of got the bug then.”
Originally a prelaw/government major at NMSU, he started working with the KRWG public access, on-campus television station in his second year in school and hasn’t looked back since, aggressively attacking his career at each turn, which now has him based in Los Angeles.
Waiting for news or opportunity to come to him hasn’t been his strong suit. On the second day in Brazil, he realized waiting for a media bus to get him to an assignment in the congested roads of Rio wasn’t going to work. So he walked across the street to a mall and bought a bike, which he has taken to assignments whenever possible.
He says the city and the Games have seemed, for the most part, like a “controlled chaos” and he hasn’t seen a mosquito once, though is well versed on the Zika virus.
Aside from athlete profiles, among the stories he’s worked that have appeared both on television and online are features on rock climbing and surfing, both of which will be introduced at the 2020 games in Tokyo. Monday, he visited a soccer academy where children dream of using sport to escape poverty to become the next Ronaldo or Pelé.
And, of course, the fan in him has also come alive. He was able to watch compete, in person, Olympic legends Simone Biles and Michael Phelps and the opening ceremonies on television along with broadcasting legend Tom Brokaw.
“I’m still a small town kid from New Mexico and sometimes I’ve just been walking around in awe a little bit at all of this,” Schwartz said. “But I’m having so much fun.”