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Harding grad helps power coverage

Lure of Games brings Piper to Tokyo despite concerns over virus

Submitted photo

To work at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Warren native Tori Piper had to be vaccinated, tested, quarantined and tracked with an app she uses to check in wherever she goes.

Despite jumping as many hurdles as any track star, there’s nowhere else the 2005 Warren G. Harding High School graduate would rather be.

“I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to be a part of an Olympics where nothing like this has ever happened before,” Piper said during a phone interview from Japan. “This is one for the history books, and I want to be here for it. I love the games, and I’m glad they’re being able to take place.”

Piper, 34, is working her fourth Olympics for NBC — Winter Olympics in 2014 in Russia and 2018 in South Korea and Summer Olympics in 2016 in Brazil. She is a gaffer (chief electrician) for the opening and closing ceremonies for this Olympics and a venues lighting gaffer.

It’s not like those other Olympics came without unique challenges.

“They all had an extra something attached to them,” she said. “In Russia, there were safety issues. In Rio, there was the Zika virus. In Korea, we were less than 10 miles from the DMZ (demilitarized zone). But NBC’s always been really good in making us feel safe.”

In addition to her work on the opening and closing ceremonies, Piper is part of a roving lighting crew, a team created to set up mobile broadcast sites wherever they are needed. If host Mike Tirico decides to do a remote from one of the competition sites, it’s the job of Piper and the rest of the crew to make sure that segment looks as polished as the segments broadcast from the main studio.

The biggest challenge so far hasn’t been the virus but the heat, and wearing a mask only makes it hotter.

“Personally, I’m more of a cold weather person,” Piper said. “Coming from Ohio, I know how to drive in the snow, how to layer up. You can only take so many layers off and be allowed to work.”

Piper said she is looking forward to seeing what gymnast Simone Biles does after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal at the 2016 games, and she’s interested in seeing the competitors in first-time events such as skateboarding and sports climbing.

“I’m excited to see those athletes show their stuff for the first time,” she said.

Piper has worked everything from sporting events to presidential debates and soon will have her first major film credit. When not traveling for work, Piper lives in Charleston, S.C., and she recently completed a stint on the crew of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” an adaptation of Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel that stars Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates.

“It was really awesome being on a film set,” Piper said. “Getting to see Kathy Bates, getting to see how they took a story that I remember from when I was a kid and translating it to the big screen, I felt really honored to be a part of that. Judy Blume herself was on set with us; she even makes a cameo in the film. My 12-year-old heart was very excited those days.”

That said, Piper already is thinking about the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“I’d be hard pressed to give up traveling completely, and I definitely love doing the Olympics in particular,” she said. “The opportunity to travel and work with people all over the world has been a blessing, and I don’t see myself giving that up anytime soon, but I definitely love new challenges and new opportunities to learn and grow in different art forms.”

“I see myself doing more film in the future. Working on ‘Margaret,’ I was able to make some good connections with people. My next project is up in the air still, but I might be on an HBO series next when I get back from the games. There’s definitely a lot of balls in the air, and I’m excited to juggle them.”

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