Officially, Marielena Balouris earned her trip to the Olympics nearly two years ago when she was selected as one of seven multimedia journalists to cover the Summer Games in Tokyo as part of a partnership between Nexstar Media Group and NBC-TV affiliates from across the United States.
Unofficially, an opportunity like this has always been on Balouris’ mind.
“It’s incredible to be on this team and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, from the time I first started thinking about working in TV,” Balouris said. “I remember watching the 2004 Summer Games with my family. My mom dressed in toga and had a torch for the opening ceremonies — the Games were in Greece and my family is Greek. It was a little over the top, but it was special.”
Balouris, an anchor and reporter for WAVY-TV, the NBC affiliate based in Hampton Roads, Virginia, begins her trip to Tokyo this week. She and the coverage team will leave from Los Angeles together and be on site through Aug. 10, providing coverage specifically for NBC affiliates and Nexstar-owned stations across the country.
For Balouris, an Emmy Award winner who earned her journalism degree from Penn State in 2015, that means a daily 4:30 a.m. to roughly 11:30 a.m. shift in Japan, during which she’ll provide live updates to 17 local affiliates across the country. That includes her home station as well as stations in 13 other states.
That’s part of what she’s expecting to be a 12-hour day each day, because she will gather content and sound for other reporting packages each day after her live segments. Every member of the team has similar duties, which allow them to cooperate and magnify the impact of their work. They’ll also produce at least one virus-related story a day. And, once they get acclimated in Japan and if travel protocols allow it, they might produce some culture and travel-related pieces as options for local stations as well.
As a Penn State student, Balouris was a member of the award-winning "Centre County Report" newscast and traveled abroad for an international reporting class. She was a reporter, editor and producer as she progressed. She also gained abundant practical experience through internships with TV stations in Ohio and Virginia. She worked for CommRadio and served as a host for the webcast of the Penn State Dance Marathon. Since leaving Penn State, she has consistently honed those varied skills and gained additional responsibilities at WAVY — most notably the trip to Tokyo.
Balouris packed lightly for the trip, mostly a mix of NBC polo shirts and either black or tan shorts. Plus, the team must travel with all its production equipment. It’s going to be hot in Japan and she’ll be at work, so functional and professional were the order of the day.
“I’m excited just to get into it and see it unfold,” Balouris said. “The thought of being able to go live from Japan and share these athletes’ stories is pretty cool. It’ll be mostly athlete-focused content for the stations, Olympians from their area, and that’s the biggest stressor for me.
“I’m expecting there to be technology glitches, but you just don’t want to drop the ball and let anyone down by not getting the story they want about the athlete from their area.”
Members of the coverage team have spent a great deal of time the past two years putting together stories about athletes from their areas. They have also conducted pre-Olympics planning and training sessions together.
All that preparation offers some comfort and familiarity during what will be an unusual Olympics — one contested with hardly any fans in attendance at the competition venues.
In addition, media members like Balouris must undergo a rigorous coronavirus testing protocol, both before they leave the United States and once they arrive on site in Japan.
No amount of uncertainty or tests have dampened Balouris’ enthusiasm for the assignment. She was a swimmer growing up and she enjoys sports. Her preparation the past couple of years has heightened her enthusiasm for both traditional competitions, like women’s gymnastics, as well as others, including BMX freestyle, karate, skateboarding and many others.
“It’s just such an honor to be part of the group and I think as a team we’re really well prepared. We’ve had a year a half to come together,” she said. “Of course, personally, you want to put you best foot forward and you know people are watching.”