Before the summer Olympics began, Cindy Hsieh, an MFA student in film and video production, didn’t know sculls from an eggbeater. By the time the games drew to a close, she was as familiar with those synchronized swimming terms as anyone – after all, it was her job.

This past summer, Hsieh was in London working as a researcher on synchronized swimming, as well as fencing, wrestling and shooting for NBC.

The research room was open 24 hours and Hsieh worked the night shift, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. She considered that a plus, knowing it meant she didn’t have to shift her sleep schedule too much and she had the opportunity to watch some “awesome sports” during the day.

She watched the gold medal soccer game of Brazil against Mexico. “Hearing 86,000 people erupt like that was electric,” she said. Hsieh saw the “epic” four hour and 26 minute tennis match between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon. She remembers watching beach volleyball and looking over the city and thinking it looked like a postcard, it was so beautiful.

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

And in the middle of it all she was spending hours in the research room. At any moment Bob Costas or Mary Carillo would walk in and look for the researcher responsible for a various sport to answer questions.

“It was time-sensitive material,” she said. “We were constantly monitoring the news wires. You didn’t want to be the last one to know any details about your sport.”

She didn’t get her sports assignments until the week before she left. She used an Olympic guide book and YouTube videos to get up to speed. She learned the star athletes and knew all about the Americans who would be competing. She kept up with schedules and let producers know when to cut over to her sports. She also was prepared with information such as what happens in case of tie-breakers.

The researchers arrived 10 days before the games began and started work on their first assignment – discovering the names and pronunciations for each flag bearer in the opening ceremony, along with an interesting fact for the announcers.

“It was a little like being a detective,” she said.

While she wasn’t familiar with the sports she researched, she was familiar with how the research room worked. She had worked as a figure skating researcher for the winter Olympics in Vancouver. That time, she knew her sport inside and out.

She started skating when she was 12 and performed in ice shows for a few years after getting her undergraduate degree. Eventually, a former competitor helped her get a job with ABC Sports, which led to a job with NBC and research for the Vancouver games.

She loved it. When the summer games were approaching, she emailed her contact and asked for a job in London. It was a long shot, but it worked. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Hsieh loves the ins and outs of sports journalism but she has a different goal in mind as she works on her MFA.

“I want to head to LA and become a director for Hollywood film production,” she said. “I like the hustle and busyness of being on set. And the product you come out with is satisfying.”

This semester, she’s back at UNCG working on her degree. But the Olympics isn’t far from her thoughts of the future.

“I am totally blessed in how this opened up for me,” she said. “Four years from now I would love to be in Rio.”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations