His trip to the Olympics for NBC--where he is serving as prime-time co-host (with Katie Couric) of his fourth Summer Games--has special significance for Bob Costas, whose family came from Greece. The Renaissance man of TV sports coverage, and HBO talk-show host, spoke with TIME's Josh Tyrangiel about Athens, athletes and Omar Bongo.
SO HOW GREEK ARE YOU?
My father's side of the family is fully, 100% Greek. My grandmother was from Athens, and my paternal grandfather was from the island of Kalymnos. After he got to the United States, he ran a travel agency that specialized in bringing people from Kalymnos to the U.S.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CRAMMING FOR THE GAMES?
I've been preparing for the last six months, and really cramming for only the past month. There's only so much you can do far in advance. The athletes' fortunes change, people do or don't qualify, you don't know who the flag bearers are going to be until the last minute.
WAS THE ISSUE OF ATHENS' READINESS BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION?
I don't think it's a contradiction to say it wasn't overblown, but now [the organizers have] more or less answered the skepticism. They weren't ready six months ago. I was here in April, and when I got back here in July, the difference was astonishing.
WHAT'S THE MOST RIDICULOUS PIECE OF MINUTIAE YOU'VE READ ABOUT ONE OF THE OLYMPIC NATIONS?
Let me grab the book. How about this? "Lebanon has never won an Olympic medal, but recently a Lebanese woman won the world karaoke championship in Finland, singing the 1980s classic Fame." Oh, this is the one: "Gabon's President, as you know, is Omar Bongo, now in his 37th year as head of state. And yet again, he has promised any Gabonian medal winner a new house and vast sums of cash. But the wily Bongo is hedging his bets, insofar as they have never won an Olympic medal."
ARE YOU AND KATIE COURIC LIKE THE CRIPS AND BLOODS OVER THE BEST FACTS?
We try to parcel them out fairly, and I like to be known as a generous co-host. But if she cribs my "wily Bongo" note, I'll deck her.
NOW THAT THE U.S. IS AN UNRIVALED SUPERPOWER, DO YOU THINK THE OLYMPICS MATTER LESS TO AMERICANS?
The automatic rivalry, the battle among warring equals, just isn't there anymore. Right now none of our perceived international enemies are great sports powers. It's not like al-Qaeda is fielding a gymnastics squad.
WHERE DO YOU THINK THE U.S. MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM WILL FINISH?
I think they can be beaten, though it makes sense that they'll get better with each passing game. But I love this in sports. Some team or player completely screws up, and then they say, "You know, we learned a lesson." You learned a lesson? Like if you jack around the whole game you might lose?
WHAT OLYMPIC EVENT WOULD YOU BE BEST AT?
In sculls, doesn't the coxswain just sit there and yell out instructions? I think I'm made for that.
ON ANOTHER SUBJECT, WILL YOUR HOMETOWN ST. LOUIS CARDINALS WIN THE WORLD SERIES THIS YEAR?