Curling and Couric in PyeongChang: What Zach Hrinuk ’18 took away from the 2018 Olympics

Zach Hrinuk ’18 says he has always been a “huge Olympics fan.” How huge?   

Following nearly 24 hours of travel, Hrinuk explored South Korea's coast and ventured to the Olympic rings at the beach on the Sea of Japan. The interlocking rings symbolize the five continents of the world united for the purpose of the Games.
Hrinuk sat with Elon's 2014 Commencement Speaker Mary Carillo at an NBC welcome dinner on his first day in PyeongChang. Carillo offered career advice and talked about what it has been like covering the Olympic Games for over two decades. 
Following the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Hrinuk and family members gathered for a day at a club in Westchester County, New York, to learn curling, the unique sport better known in the United States’ northern neighbor that had fascinated his family during the just-concluded international competition.

It was an experience that just added to Hrinuk’s desire to take in the Olympics in person. And this year, he made that dream a reality as part of NBC’s team in South Korea.

Hrinuk with Katie Couric (left) and Team USA fan favorites Matt (second from left) and Becca Hamilton (far right) following their match. The Hamiltons or #HamFam as social media named them, competed in the first-ever Olympic Mixed Doubles Curling. Matt Hamilton also competed on the Men's Curling Team that won this year's gold medal.
Hrinuk leveraged his networking skills and showed dogged determination in landing a position with the network as a production associate and runner. In fact, he finished his degree at Elon early so that he would be able to take the time to work at the Olympics.

“I was determined to make this happen,” said Hrinuk, who is originally from New Jersey. “I set this goal for myself as a freshman, and have been determined to finish my degree in under four years so that I would potentially have this opportunity.”

A journalism major, Hrinuk has actively sought out experiences across the broadcasting industry. Internship opportunities have taken him to the “Today Show,” where he interned in summer 2016, and to Washington, D.C. as part of NBC News’ inauguration team.

“I’ve been very lucky,” Hrinuk says. “What I’ve done with my short career is I try to set a goal, and think about what I want to do with my life, and find a way to make that happen.”

Hrinuk got his first taste of being a part of the Olympics coverage in 2016 when as an intern at “The Today Show,” he helped with their coverage of the Rio Olympics from New York. That was just a prelude to the month he spent in South Korea preparing for the international spectacle and then working long hours to help bring the competitions to the world.

As a production associate and runner, he worked in support of the ice sports competitions held in venues at the Gangneung Coastal Cluster. He assisted with production needs — helping videographers with cables, assisting with logistics, helping distribute passes and tending to the needs of NBC’s VIP guests. As he helped with logistics, he worked side-by-side with NBC News staff including Kate Snow, and spent time with Katie Couric.

Spending the morning with Couric allowed Hrinuk to talk about his career aspirations, and get input from a woman who has been a fixture in network news for decades. “She was awesome to be around, and was very much a mentor to me,” he said.

Of course, the Gangneung Coastal Cluster was also home to the Curling Center, where U.S. athletes would go on to take home a gold medal in the sport for the first time. “All of a sudden, they were in the semifinals and then the finals going for a medal,” Hrinuk said of the U.S. men’s team. “After that, everybody wanted to see curling. People were so fascinated by the sport.”

Hrinuk’s schedule ended up allowing him the time and opportunity to take in the history-making opening ceremonies, which saw athletes from North Korea and South Korea walk into the arena together after decades of conflict and tension. Experiencing that in person, along with the spectacle that is an Olympics opening ceremony, “was a dream come true,” Hrinuk said.

In the limited amount of time Hrinuk was able to spend away from the Olympic venues, he traveled to the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries. It was a trip that was personally powerful, as his grandfather fought in the Korean War, not far from where the Olympic venues were located.

​“You can see the soldiers from North Korea, with their flags blowing in the wind — it was a very strange feeling,” Hrinuk said. “You feel this weight on your shoulders — how have we as a world allowed this to happen, and how has it gotten to this point?”

The trip was Hrinuk’s first international experience, and he was grateful for the opportunity to interact with the South Korean population while he was there. One keepsake from the experience was his name and title written in calligraphy by a South Korean volunteer who offered it to him as a gift. “The South Korean people were wonderful people — so very kind and welcoming,” Hrinuk said.

Now back stateside and recovering from the time difference and a plane trip that carried him halfway around the world, Hrinuk is focused on his career, and looking to build upon the experiences he has had while interning and working in a broad range of broadcast venues during his undergraduate years. He’s built networks that he hopes will open doors for him in both the short and long terms, and packed in memories he’ll be sharing for years to come.

“This has been the experience of a lifetime, and I am so lucky to have been there,” he said.