In Sweden, commentators have fun with Norway’s misfortunes. The Dutch can’t get enough of their speedskaters. Japan is so crazy about figure skating they show warm-ups. Canada is hockey crazy, Russia struggles to stay positive even when things look down, and the U.S. salutes its stars with the national anthem as it’s time to go to bed.
There’s only one Winter Olympics. But in reality, for television viewers around the world, the Sochi games are a different experience depending on where you tune in.
Some 464 channels are broadcasting more than 42,000 hours of competition worldwide, easily outdistancing previous Olympics, according to the International Olympic Commission. Digital platforms push that number past 100,000 hours. Worldwide viewership statistics aren’t available, but the IOC says more than three-quarters of Russians have watched some coverage, and 90 percent of Canadians.
So let’s look at Wednesday around the world. It demonstrates one thing above all: A single day’s viewing from different outposts offers an intriguing window into national passions, prides and peculiarities.
“This is Sweden’s Olympic games, full stop,” commentator Per Forsberg said on TV3 after Stina Nilsson sprinted past German Denise Herrmann on Wednesday for a bronze medal in cross-country skiing, an event that barely attracted notice elsewhere. But Swedish TV is relishing the moment.
More than a million of winter sports-crazy Sweden’s 9.5 million citizens watch popular disciplines like cross-country live during working hours, says Wayne Seretis, TV3 spokesman. It’s even more on the weekends, where 2.5 million people watched the Swedish men win gold in a cross-country relay. Smaller numbers of viewers watch prime-time roundups, he said.
On what commentators called “super Wednesday,” TV3 focused on the Nordic country’s win over Slovenia in men’s hockey, the medals in cross-country sprints and the Swedish women qualifying for the curling finals.
Swedish commentators congratulated Finland for a “well-deserved” gold in the men’s team sprint but didn’t dwell on archrival Norway’s gold in the women’s race, noting that it must feel good for the Norwegians to finally live up to expectations. Earlier in the games, Swedish commentators took pleasure in the failures of Norway, particularly the explanation that the skiers were hobbled by bad wax.
Wednesday was a plain lousy day for the host country, where Russia’s men’s hockey team was shown live at 4:30 p.m. Moscow time being eliminated from medal contention by Finland. Team captain Pavel Datsyuk later appeared on Channel One’s evening news to thank fans for their support.
During the prime-time figure skating, announcer Ilya Averbukh said “bravo, bravo” following the performance by South Korea’s Yuna Kim, the defending gold medalist. Irina Slutskaya, an Olympic medalist in 2002 and 2006, saluted American Gracie Gold. “She fought to the end,” Slutskaya said.
When at last it was time for the diminutive Julia Lipnitskaia to skate, Slutskaya said she was unable to speak and her palms were sweaty. Lipnitskaia started strong, but when she crashed on a triple flip, Slutskaya couldn’t hold back a pained gasp.
Averbukh, a former Olympic ice dancer, quickly jumped in to say that “nothing terrible” had happened. Russia’s announcers have been careful to keep a positive spin on the games.
Japanese figure skating star Mao Asada had a tough day, too. The Vancouver silver medalist finished 16th in the short program. That was big news back home, where broadcaster NHK began showing skating warm-ups just before midnight Tokyo time, and stuck with the competition live until 4 a.m. Thursday.
With Japan six hours ahead of Sochi, many of the high-profile events are shown live overnight, although NHK rebroadcasts much of it the next day. The Japanese broadcasters rely heavily on former athletes for Olympic coverage, with former figure skater Shizuka Arakawa, former tennis star Shuzo Matsuoka and Nordic combined gold medalist Kenji Ogiwara all in Russia.
Japan’s national broadcaster televised the men’s and women’s giant slalom final live in prime time on Wednesday, along with the women’s 5,000-meter speedskating event
Canada’s national obsession was evident Wednesday, when the prime-time telecast opened with 40 minutes on the men’s hockey team’s tense 2-1 victory over Latvia to reach the semifinals, even though many Canadians stopped work to watch it live during the day.
“What a game,” CBC play-by-play man Jim Hughson said. “It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.”
“Never in doubt,” commentator Glenn Healy joked.
The CBC also devoted 40 minutes to women’s bobsled, where that country’s team of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse came from behind to win gold. About half of that time was spent on a studio interview with the two-time Olympic champions, who talked about patching up a previous falling out.
“What a day it was!” Canadian commentator Ron MacLean said as the camera showed Humphries holding flowers. “The sweet smell of success. Congratulations. Blew them away.”
The focus was on the bobsled finals was different across Canada’s southern border, where the silver medal-winning U.S. duo of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams’ fall from first place coming into Wednesday was detailed in slow-motion focus. “This is like a train wreck,” analyst John Morgan winced. NBC had been touting Williams’ bid to win gold in the winter after she did so as a sprinter in London’s summer games.
Play-by-play man Leigh Diffey took comfort in U.S. teams winning silver and bronze.
“They may not have gotten the gold,” Diffey said, “but it was quite the night for the Stars and Stripes.”
NBC airs some live competition on TV during the day in U.S. time, and all of it online. The vast majority of U.S. viewers tune in during prime time for a selection of taped highlights.
Besides the bobsled and figure skating competition, Wednesday’s focus was on the giant slalom ski race won by Ted Ligety. Host Bob Costas interviewed Ligety as the night was winding to an end. Meanwhile, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen’s achievement — a gold medal that made him the most decorated winter Olympian ever — merited a sentence on NBC that night.
NBC often ends each broadcast with the medal ceremony for decorated U.S. athletes. On Wednesday, it was snowboarder David Wise’s turn to stand as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.
The victory podium where three Dutch men swept the 10,000 meter race was shown Wednesday. “For the fourth and last time,” an announcer said, referencing previous speedskating event sweeps.
The Dutch also covered snowboarder Nicolien Sauerbreij’s early elimination from the slalom. She won gold in 2010, so the showing was a disappointment. When an announcer said Sauerbreij had been dethroned, he was cut off by the former head of the Dutch Olympic Committee, Erica Terpstra.
“She wasn’t dethroned,” Terpstra snapped. “She didn’t succeed this time. But of course she’ll always remain an Olympic champion.”
Speedskating was a happier topic. The heart of Wednesday’s telecast, before a small studio audience in Sochi, was interviews with silver medalist Ireen Wust and bronze medalist Carien Kleibeuker in the women’s 5,000-meter race. The Dutch also showed the 13th installment of an ongoing segment where twin speedskaters Michel and Ronald Mulder play a board game. Nearly half the telecast was spent on the sport.
Wust was asked whether speedskaters from other countries were starting to get intimidated by the mere fact that they were competing against Dutch athletes.
“I think,” she said, “together we’ve all put a thick rubber stamp on this Olympics.”
All but one of the country’s 22 medals have come in speedskating.