Savannah Guthrie Gets Solo Spotlight in ‘Dateline’ Special on Olympic Gymnastics Scandal

Savannah Guthrie Gets Solo Spotlight in 'Dateline' Special
Courtesy of NBC News

Savannah Guthrie says she hates to miss a broadcast of NBC’s “Today,” but recently decided to make an exception. The results of that choice will be seen this Sunday.

In what is being billed as Guthrie’s first stand-alone primetime special at NBC News, she and a team of producers managed to push further into a story that has shocked and saddened Americans: the revelation that dozens of U.S. Olympic gymnasts were sexually abused by team doctor Larry Nassar. In a Sunday “Dateline” broadcast that airs April 22 at 7 p.m. on NBC, Guthrie interviews former USA Gymnastics National Team Coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi, who speak for the first time on what is seen as the largest – and most shocking – sex abuse scandal in the history of Olympic sports.

Guthrie did a lot of work on the story after her “Today” broadcasts had concluded, but found she had to travel to Texas for interviews. “The ‘Today Show’ comes first,” she notes in an interview, but she enjoys the opportunity to “put on my reporter hat and delve into something of substance.”

As part of the special, Guthrie  also interviews Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, who describes for the first time the sexual assault she endured and how she sounded the alarm of Nassar’s abuse years before his arrest. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman adds detail about how she pushed for Nassar to be investigated and was met with pressure to keep quiet.  And Gina Nichols, mother of gymnast Maggie Nichols and the first parent to learn of the sexual abuse, tells how she also pressed USA Gymnastics for an investigation into Nassar more than a year before his arrest.

The “Today” co-anchor says the ability to tell an in-depth story played a big role in getting people to talk for the special. “It’s different than doing something on ‘Today,’ where it’s live and we have the clock ticking and we have to make it fit,” she says. “Our producers and team spent months talking to the gymnasts and the Karolyis and creating a relationship that enabled them to say, ‘OK, we’re going to do it. We are going to answer the questions.”

Securing the Karolyis brings new detail to a story that has proved gripping and repulsive in equal measure. Their facility has been the site where many of the most famous Olympic gymnasts have trained, including Mary Lou Retton. “Why didn’t they know? They answer every question, and they know that people want to hear what they thought about Larry Nassar, whether they had any inkling about what he was up to,” says Guthrie. “I think it’s really important to hear what they have to say.”

NBC News benefitted from the perspective of producer Sarah Fitzpatrick, who recently joined NBC News from CBS’ “60 Minutes,” and produced this hour of “Dateline.” She produced a February, 2017 piece on USA Gymnastics for the CBS newsmagazine, which is a finalist for a Peabody Award.

While the Nassar story has generated many headlines, Guthrie believes viewers will find more information worth knowing. “You may think you have heard everything there is to hear. We all saw that painful testimony in court day after day, but there are allegations here that still need to be heard, and there are people and organizations that people want to be held to account.”