Savannah Guthrie is training hard to host her first Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo.
"I'm trying to prepare for the Olympics like an athlete," she told reporters at an NBC preview Wednesday, a month before the July 23 opening ceremony. "There are 206 countries represented, so there are a lot of facts to memorize."
Pregnant in 2016, she bowed out of the Rio Games amid concerns about the Zika virus. But now Guthrie, 49, is preparing for the spectacle, even as many people in Japan object to the games, citing health concerns in the wake of the pandemic.
"This is going to be hectic and I really do think it's going to be meaningful, the world all getting together" in a pageant filled with "hope" and "healing," she said.
"People want to feel good and they want to root for the home team and they want to be inspired and they want to watch that moment when someone's life changes before your eyes. So I'm excited, and I think people are going to really catch the fever. We've all been binge-watching, but at this point how many crime shows can you watch? 'Tiger King' is great, but this is the Olympics. I think people are going to really want to see something special."
Because of the 13-hour time difference between New York and Tokyo, the opening ceremonies will air live during the "Today" show's normal 7 to 9 a.m. time slot in the Eastern time zone. NBC will then re-air the ceremony in a more "packaged, condensed and polished" version for primetime, Guthrie says, "so people have the option to watch it live in the morning or order pizza and watch it Friday night."
For the two weeks of competition, "Today" will be broadcast from Tokyo in the evenings local time. (Does she mind? "Ask me at the end of July," she tells USA TODAY in an interview.)
Aside from the usual parade of nations, what will the opening ceremony look like? If she knows, Guthrie, who will host with NBC Sports' Mike Tirico, isn't saying.
“We’ve had meetings, but it's mostly been in generalities," she says in the interview. "It hasn't been about what is the show Tokyo is going to put on, and even when they do (discuss it), I'm told I've been sworn to secrecy. We're hoping that there will still be that energy and excitement, but of course it will be different, just like everything post-pandemic has changed. But they still plan to put on a really big, beautiful, patriotic show. And whether there are people in the stands or not (IOC officials say some Japanese spectators will be permitted) we're just hoping that what we broadcast will be really exciting for people and get them in the right space for the games to begin."
To prepare, she says she's reviewed tapes of Brazil's opening ceremony – "that's part of my studying, to look back" – and remembers that event had "such a party atmosphere, and it was so close and the crowd was almost part of the show in Brazil, by nature."
Tokyo will naturally be different, not only because of continuing health concerns but "because it's a different country; it's a different culture, so we'll just have to wait and see. I don't have any great insight into what they plan or how those plans might have evolved since we're close. But usually the spectacle of the opening ceremony is kind of self sustaining, and it's so beautiful and it's so epic and so colorful that I think we're gonna have a great show no matter what."