KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Highlights from coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics:
BANG BANG: Not sure what NBC’s Todd Richards meant when he described halfpipe gold medal winner Kaitlyn Farrington’s routine as “a machine gun of awesomeness.” Sounded cool, though. And isn’t that what matters in the world of snowboarding?
SKI TIME: As disappointments pile up for many American competitors, NBC producers need to widen the lens to recognize good stories with athletes from elsewhere in the world. They did so particularly well with the women’s downhill event. NBC was ready with an interesting story about how important Slovenia’s Tina Maze is to her tiny country, lending texture to her performance as she shared the gold medal with Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin. The network’s cameras were also well-positioned to catch the tears and smiles as Gisin called her grandparents from the mountain to tell them of her victory.
THOSE LITTLE LADIES: Alpine ski reporter Steve Porino’s attempt to describe the athletic skill of the female downhill skiers went horribly wrong. He said they pull off their event with “a Lycra suit, maybe a little bit of makeup. Now that is grace under pressure.” He immediately set Twitter ablaze.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT: “I watched the men’s alpine ski event. Funny, I don’t recall mention of their Lycra suits or any reference to grace. Or makeup.”
RATINGS: NBC doesn’t just need good news for Americans to do well in the ratings. The network had 23.7 million viewers for its prime-time coverage on Tuesday, the night Shaun White’s failed bid for a gold medal in the halfpipe at a third straight Olympics. That’s well above the 20.3 million people who watched the corresponding night from Vancouver four years ago. Two mitigating factors: White did not compete the same night four years ago, and NBC faced stiff competition from “American Idol” in 2010.
IN THE MONEY: Strong ratings enabled NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus to say Wednesday the network is confident it will be “comfortably profitable” coming out of Sochi. NBC paid $775 million for the rights to the games, and expenses are in the $100 million range. National ad sales have exceeded $800 million, and that doesn’t include local ad sales (NBC owns stations in some of the biggest markets). Success also means that ad inventory NBC held back from sale in case the network had to compensate current advertisers if ratings didn’t meet projections can now be put on the market.
EYE ON COSTAS: Matt Lauer subbed for Bob Costas for a second straight night as NBC’s primetime host, as Costas continues to recover from his eye infection.
BREAKFAST ON ICE: The breakfast-time women’s hockey game between the U.S. and Canada Wednesday was a delight all around. It was tense and well-played (won by the Canadians, 3-2, with the help of a controversial goal call), and NBC’s team performed, too. Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick should never be taken for granted. His ability to anticipate moves, to convey information without crowding the airwaves and to build excitement is unparalleled. He clearly loves hockey, but doesn’t treat it as a private club no one but devotees can enter. Toward the end of the game he noted school was in session in Eastern and Central North America and “when this is over, tell your teacher thank you” for showing it. All right, maybe he overstated the interest since it wasn’t a gold medal game, but you have to love the enthusiasm.
UPCOMING: The men’s short figure skating program takes center stage, where Russia’s Yevgeny Plushenko tries to cap his career with a fifth medal before home country fans.
[PHOTO: U.S. supporters pose for photos after U.S. skiers swept all three medals in the men's ski slopestyle final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday]