National News

February 18, 2014

Olympic Viewing: Twizzles, aerials and Costas

Highlights from television coverage of the Sochi Olympics:

TWIZZLERS: For a night of theater and beauty on the ice, it was hard to imagine better performances than those provided by American dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White and their Canadian rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, on Monday. Before the Americans began, NBC’s Tom Hammond skillfully set the stage for sports fans who will never equate twizzles with home runs or jump shots. “Whether you’re a fan of ice dance or not, you really have to appreciate two athletes at the top of their form,” Hammond said, pointing out the pressures they faced. It was impossible for a nonexpert to tell what made one team deserving of a gold medal and the other team the silver, however, and NBC analyst Tracy Wilson never got around to explaining it.

EYE ON COSTAS: Bob Costas was back as NBC prime-time host after six days out with an eye infection, thanking subs Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira and viewers who supported him, while apologizing for the uncomfortable distraction. His eyes looked better, though not fully healed. It was a long wait in a hotel room to get better. NBC made sure Costas was able to follow the games by having the feed of its American broadcast wired in to his Russian hotel room. He watched devotedly, with the exception of a break Saturday to watch Syracuse, his alma mater’s undefeated basketball team, keep its record intact by beating North Carolina State.

UP CLOSE: NBC’s Olympics chief says that criticism over reporter Christin Cooper’s interview with Miller won’t stop NBC from telling stories about the lives of Olympics competitors. There was an angry online backlash to the interview televised Sunday, where Cooper repeatedly asked Miller about his late brother as the skier collapsed in tears. Miller said Monday he wasn’t angry at the reporter, which NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell said “ought to take some of the temperature down on it or should, anyway.” In a case like that, “you’d be irresponsible not to tell that part of the story,” Bell said. It’s even more important with the Olympics because fewer people know the athletes involved, he said.

TWEET OF THE DAY: “NBC Olympic coverage: From infection to tears, your one-stop source for damp human eyeballs.”

JINXED: Swiss aerialist Renato Ulrich has a point if he feels jinxed. He was about to take off for his freestyle ski run when NBC announcer Matt Vasgersian made note of American Mac Bohonnon’s nervous wait to see if his own performance would be enough to make the finals. “Not that you root for failure,” Vasgersian said, “but he needs one more crash to guarantee a spot in the next found.” As if on cue, Ulrich’s jump ended in a wipeout.

BOBSLED: It was easy for NBC to concentrate on the American team of Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton winning a bronze medal in the two-man bobsled, with Holcomb fighting through a calf injury. And there were plenty of calf closeups. But NBC put the race in even better perspective by telling the story of Russian Alexander Zubkov, who came out of retirement at age 39 to compete in his fifth Olympics and win his first gold medal. Play-by-play man Leigh Diffey does a nice job of building up tension for the competition. Even if it turns out to be product placement, it was hard not to smile when he wondered if the Americans’ new BMW-designed bobsled was “the ultimate sliding machine.”

RATINGS: NBC rebounded from the lowest-rated Sochi night so far to get 21.3 million viewers on Sunday, a night that featured ice dancing and American skier Bode Miller. While below the 23.3 million who watched the comparable night in Vancouver four years ago, it beat the 19.2 million who watched the Italian Olympics in 2006.

UPCOMING: 18-year-old American skier Mikaela Shiffrin makes her Olympic debut in the giant slalom Tuesday.


David Bauder can be reached at or on Twitter, @dbauder. His work can be found at


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