By JOE REEDY AP Sports Writer
NBC’s Olympics coverage has long been built on a foundation of human-interest stories and showcasing athletes’ road to the Games. The same philosophies will apply to the coverage of Paralympics, which will air on the network for the first time.
Sunday will mark the first time that Paralympics coverage will air on the main NBC network and is part of 1,200 hours of programming airing across NBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel and digital properties. The Paralympics began in Tokyo on Aug. 24 and continues through Sept. 5.
NBC will have three weekend docu-follow series episodes which will show the stories and performances of athletes competing in Tokyo. Sunday’s episode, which will air at 7 p.m. EDT, will feature U.S. team flagbearers Melissa Stockwell (triathlon) and Chuck Aoki (wheelchair rugby), along with swimmer Jessica Long.
NBC’s Mark Levy, the SVP of Original Production and Creative, said the one-year delay of the Games due to coronavirus allowed them to be able to dive deeper into athletes’ back stories.
“We really want our viewers to feel connected to the Paralympians. We want to give them a chance to care and cheer for them,” Levy said. “It’s our opportunity through the primetime shows to reach a lot of people and share these back stories.”
Long — who entered Tokyo with 23 career medals, including 13 gold — has had part of her story shown on Toyota ads that premiered earlier this year during the Super Bowl. Sunday, though, will allow viewers to see her visit to Russia for the first time in 2013 and meeting her birth mother for the first time.
Long was born with fibular hemimelia, a genetic abnormality which caused her lower legs to not develop properly. She was given up for adoption and was adopted at 13 months old. Her lower legs were amputated five months later.
Future episodes will show Long in competition, as well as how her Toyota ad has inspired people.
Stockwell is the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat when a roadside bomb exploded while she was leading a convoy in Iraq. She was also the first Iraq War veteran who qualified for the Paralympics in 2008.
Aoki and the wheelchair rugby team are looking to win gold after a tough loss to Australia in Rio in 2016.
The shows will also show swimmer Abbas Karimi, who is part of the six-member Paralympic Refugee Team.
“To be able to showcase all these athletes with disabilities and the opportunity to create a dialogue, we’re hoping that people’s perceptions might change,” Levy said. “That’s really compelling for us and a real important reason why we’re sharing these stories.”
Levy is also hoping that people who watch Sunday will possibly tune in at some point to the 12 hours of daily coverage that is on NBCSN. NBC’s other Paralympic docu-follow series will air on Sept. 4 and 5.