Mike Tirico on Replacing Bob Costas, Being the New Face of Summer Olympics Primetime Broadcast

"I was shocked by it. I didn't think Bob [Costas] was ready to move on from the role," Mike Tirico tells PEOPLE about getting the call to host NBC's primetime coverage of the Tokyo Olympics

Sportscaster Mike Tirico Team USA PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics
Photo: Harry How/Getty

A familiar face will be leading NBC's coverage of the Tokyo Olympics.

Mike Tirico is set to make his debut as the primetime host of the network's Summer Games broadcasts when the various events kick off later this month. Tirico, who helped anchor the Rio Olympics as host of daytime programming and later hosted coverage of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, will be stepping into Bob Costas' shoes after Costas was the lead host for a total of 11 Olympic telecasts from 1988 to 2016.

"The primetime role for the Winter Games — while perhaps not as big as the Summer Games because of the size of the competition, more athletes, more sports and all that — it was still a big deal for me. So I don't feel like this is my first in a lot of ways," Tirico, 54, tells PEOPLE.

The longtime broadcaster got the call about his promotion to Summer Games host in late 2016 while working in Foxborough for a feature on the New England Patriots. "I got the call from our executive producer at the time that Bob was ready to step down from his role and that they would like me to do that role. I was shocked by it. I didn't think Bob was ready to move on from the role, but, without saying, I was thrilled to have that call placed to me," he recalls.

The passing of the mic was also a bit of a full-circle moment for Tirico who was the first student to receive the Bob Costas Scholarship at Syracuse University — Costas' alma mater — back in 1987 during Tirico's junior year.

"I know both Bob and me, we've gotten to know each other through Syracuse. That's left such an impression upon me. It led me to be involved at Syracuse and to try to follow that the example that Bob set," he says. "I think Bob would be the first to say this: We happen to sit in the chair every night and welcome people, doing the occasional interviews and send you off every night to the next venue. But the real stars of what we do are the athletes and then followed by our team of announcers and production people beyond that. There are thousands that work, thousands, on the Olympic games for NBC. To be the person who gets to the front of all of that is something that is a great responsibility and one that I'm honored to share and to carry on after Bob did it so well for so long."

Bob Costas (right), who has served as NBC?s primetime host for a U.S. record 11 Olympics, passes the Olympic torch to Mike Tirico (left), who will make his debut as NBC?s primetime Olympic host at The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018 --
Virginia Sherwood/NBC Sports/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

And as Tirico notes, he has more than enough experience in front of the camera to be prepared for his new gig.

"Fortunately, I've hosted the World Cup in soccer twice and the European championships once. So those were global events that were a month in length, longer than the Olympics. I know how to do this at this point," he says.

The Tokyo Olympics will surely be a completely new experience for Tirico, given Japan's COVID-19 state of emergency and protocols that have changed how the Olympics will be executed amid the approaching two years-long pandemic.

"I've never been prouder to be a part of sports than this year," Tirico says. "I think that the last 15 months has been terrific for sports, not just in the space of the pandemic and providing entertainment and a slice of normalcy to America, but also with the athletes and social causes and other different adventures using their voice, being spokespersons for lots of the things in society that are out there."

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As a sports fan, Tirico says he's personally excited to watch the "exceptional stories" from some of the greatest female athletes on Team USA.

"I think as a country, we all enjoy watching swimming, gymnastics, track and field. For me, well, what I'm really interested in seeing are the team sports, especially on the women's side: basketball, beach volleyball, water polo, soccer," he shares. "They really represent the best set of women's teams in the world. I'm really excited to watch."

Despite the controversies of continuing on with the Olympics amid a global health crisis, Tirico hopes the Games will be a world unifier.

"I think it will be wonderful to see a celebration of sports at the Olympics. There will still be the issues that are around us, whether they're social issues, social justice, you name it. Obviously, COVID is still going to be a story and a factor. But to be part of a celebration coming together, I think, will be really great for all of us all over the world, not just American sports fans," he says.

"It seems like everyone's more fractionalized than ever, but what a chance this would be to bring everybody together," Tirico adds.

To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23rd on NBC.

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