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NEW YORK — The E! Entertainment network didn’t have to look hard to find a Kardashian connection for its upcoming Olympics coverage.
“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” family patriarch Bruce Jenner, the 1976 decathlon gold medalist, will head to London to be part of the E! team later this month. E! became one of NBC Universal’s stable of networks a year and a half ago, so this is the first time it will take advantage of NBC’s status as Olympic television rights holder.
The company is building a studio for E! so celebrities and athletes can stop by for interviews. Its coverage, anchored by Giuliana Rancic, will be featured on the network’s entertainment newscasts, which run weeknights at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. The idea is to showcase the lighter side of the games, the parties or athletes whose personalities have broken through.
“The Olympics is where the cultural conversation is for those two weeks,” said Cyndi McLellan, president of network strategy and E! News.
Jenner will attend with reporters Catt Sadler, Ross Mathews and Robbie Laughlin. News correspondent Melanie Bromley, a former London resident, will be on the party circuit and give E! viewers a taste of London nightlife.
An older generation may think Olympic champion first when Jenner’s name comes up. That’s not the case for fans of the Kardashians, E!’s First Family, the bulk of whom are women not even born when Jenner ran, jumped and shot-putted his way to fame in Montreal.
“They just know you as Kim, Kourtney and Khloe’s dad, and Kendall and Kylie’s dad,” he said. “To me, I think that’s great. I have a lot of fun. They don’t know what your past is. And that’s fine.”
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The gold medalist turned reality TV star even seemed a little ambivalent about his assignment.
“They asked if I would go over and obviously E! has been good to my family, so it looks like I’ve got to go,” he said.
Revisiting a time when your public image was Olympic Champion may seem attractive, but Jenner said, “I’ve kind of moved on. I don’t dwell on it. That was a great, great time in my life. I had a wonderful time and I worked hard doing it, but when I was done with it I moved on.”
He hasn’t attended an Olympics since 1996 in Atlanta, he said.
Jenner was more animated about attending a get-together before the Olympics in Germany that will gather most of the living medalists in the decathlon competition. He’s curious about Mykola Avilov of the then-Soviet Union, the 1972 gold medalist and 1976 bronze winner, an intense rival whom he hasn’t seen since they climbed down from the medal stand in Montreal.
In London, Jenner offers E! the unique perspective of knowing what it’s like to stay in the Olympic village and prepare for competition. He’s looking forward to meeting the athletes and sharing their stories about what it’s like to compete on what, for many of them, will be the biggest stage of their lives.
“I would go to watch table tennis,” he said, “because you know these are the best guys in the world and they’re going for the Big One. It really doesn’t make that much difference what the sport is. It’s just the magnitude of the games.”
E! won’t be keeping track of the medal count. But if the network does its job right, McLellan said viewers will get a good sense of what it’s like to be at the games. For E!, it’s also a chance to demonstrate that its correspondents can do more than make small talk with stars on the red carpet, she said.
Jenner said his extended clan is staying home. At least, that’s the plan.
“Who knows?” he said. “Some of them may just show up. That’s usually the way it works — ‘Oh, Bruce is over in England having so much fun, I’m going over to England with him.’ All of a sudden, my room fills up with kids.”