Another night, another NBC prime-time host. Meredith Vieira replaces Matt Lauer, who replaced Bob Costas, who we hope has nothing more serious than pinkeye. At this point we’re getting worried. Costas must return for Closing Ceremonies, or the entire nation will switch channels to the “Downton Abbey” season finale. (Okay, not the entire nation, but still.)
Meantime, Vieira doesn’t have a lot of material with which to work tonight. Just three sports are on NBC’s playlist: women’s skeleton, men’s super combined and men’s skating. Vieira will have to do a lot of tap dancing with that sparse lineup. Good thing she has all that experience on the “Today” show.
Vieira should bring flowers and chocolates to American Noelle Pikus-Pace, who should be the lynchpin on the telecast after winning silver in the skeleton. Pikus-Pace was knocked out the Turin Games in 2006 after being struck by a bobsled, causing a compound leg fracture. She came back for Vancouver only to finish fourth by .1 seconds.
Now that she’s got her hardware, she can help Katie Uhlaender deal with her disappointment over finishing fourth in Friday’s competition — by .04 seconds. Tough sport. Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold won gold and Russian Elena Nikitina took bronze.
NBC surely hoped for better things from the men’s super combined, but the U.S. Alpine team is not giving the network a lot with which to work. Bode Miller and Ted Ligety skied conservatively, and it cost them — Miller was sixth and Ligety 12th. Jared Goldberg climbed to 11th.
Sandro Viletta of Switzerland was a surprise gold medalist, followed by Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic and Christof Innerhofer. Kostelic’s father Ante is a skiing official and helped set up the course on which his son won his fourth Olympic silver medal.
“I’m a ‘Silver Surfer,’” Kostelic said. “Actually, it’s funny, because way before this time, my gaming nickname was ‘Silver Surfer,’ so probably I made my own destiny.”
And then we come to the men’s free skate. An event that should have produced some drama, especially in the final group, was somewhat of a snooze-fest. Two suggestions for figure skating: Take 30 seconds off the aptly named long program, and allow music with lyrics. Talk about dragging on and on. In fact, one skater used music with lyrics — I was listening with half an ear, but I’d swear it was “Tutti Frutti.”
American Jason Brown went last with an opportunity to move into third place. But the likable young man couldn’t get it done. Pity, because Brown had the best music of the afternoon. Another suggestion for figure skating: More Irish judges!
Brown is a bright spot on an American skating scene desperate for one. With Jeremy Abbott leaving the scene, there is plenty of room for Brown to take over. He’s 19 years old and finished ninth at his first Olympics, and was sixth starting the day. That’s a fairly impressive performance.
Abbott, despite a bad hip, came through with a solid performance in the free skate, just when it mattered least, and finished 12th. Thursday, when he fell during his short program, it was hardly surprising, and he appeared to be in quite a bit of pain. But the largely Russian crowd, disappointed with Evgeni Plushenko’s earlier withdrawal and with no other Russian in the competition, began clapping, urging Abbott to his feet. He got up, finished his program, and earned a lot of fans in his last Olympic appearance.
And then he went on the attack, saying of his detractors: “I just want to put up my middle finger.” There was a scathing second half to that quote deemed unusable by a family newspaper/Web site, but trust me, it wasn’t “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Enough of that. Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu had a big lead entering the free skate, and although he put it in jeopardy with some big mistakes, Patrick Chan wasn’t able to pick up the ball and bring Canada its first gold medal in the event. Denis Ten of Kazakhstan came out of nowhere — well, 13th place — to take the bronze.
The women’s freestyle aerials event was originally on the network’s posted lineup, but for some reason it was scratched. My guess: You’ll see some of it anyway, even though Virginia native Ashley Caldwell flamed out in the first round of the finals and Emily Cook the second. Still, aerials is a lot of fun, and NBC could use some fun. Stat.