Winter Olympics 2014 Opening Ceremonies: Maria Sharapova, Matt Lauer and Bob Costas head to Sochi
Yes, this Eastern European resort city of 340,000 on the northern shores of the Black Sea is not your average Winter Games host, boasting a climate closer to Virginia than Lake Placid, Lillehammer or Innsbruck. But that shouldn't detract from the action on the slopes, ice or halfpipe, given indoor venues, high-elevation ski trails and advanced snowmaking technology.
Coverage gets going Thursday, Feb. 6, with the first of 17 days of action in alpine skiing, snowboarding, figure and speed skating, bobsled, biathlon, and more. NBC will team with broadcast partners NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC and USA Network to provide 539 hours of televised events in addition to the more than 1,000 hours of live streaming action on NBCOlympics.com.
Bob Costas will host NBC's prime-time and late-night coverage, with the peacock network's broadcast talent pool of correspondents and studio hosts including Dan Patrick, Mary Carillo, Matt Lauer, Lester Holt, Maria Sharapova, Al Michaels and Vladimir Pozner.
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Costas, who will host his record 10th Olympics with these Games, is eager to see the 12 new events, including the figure skating team event, women's ski jumping and ski halfpipe, making their Olympic debuts at Sochi.
"Ski halfpipe is among many that should bring more of the infusion of youth and energy to the Games that we've seen with snowboarding's halfpipe competitions," Costas tells Zap2it. "While ski halfpipe is definitely one of the most highly anticipated new events, figure skating's new team competition should not be overlooked. Premiering the night before the Opening Ceremony and concluding the first Sunday of the Games, it should be a great way to kick off the figure skating program in a country with such a deep appreciation of the sport. Adding to the drama: The U.S. and Russia should both be in medal contention."
Figure skating is also a major storyline in women's singles, where the U.S. has not won a medal since 2006, a drought that Costas thinks could come to an end in Sochi.
"The U.S. will have three women skaters in Sochi," Costas says, "and two of the hopefuls have demonstrated the potential to win a medal -- two-time reigning U.S. champion Ashley Wagner and the up-and-coming 18-year-old Gracie Gold, who placed fifth and sixth, respectively, at last season's World Championships. Winning gold may be out of reach with the sensational Vancouver champion Yuna Kim of South Korea returning for Sochi, but the Americans should challenge for a place on the podium."
Wagner, who will be making her Olympics debut at Sochi, sees the women's field with Kim as being "extremely competitive" and thus has ramped up the technical complexity of her routines. She's happy to accept the mantle of being the American women's next great hope.
"That type of recognition just means that I've been doing really well over the past couple of months, and I have something to be very proud of," the 22-year-old Californian says. "At the same time, it's overwhelming. It definitely adds a little bit of pressure, but it's pressure that I welcome."
"I've been through the Olympic qualification process before in 2010, where I failed to make the team - I was the first alternate," she continues. "So it's definitely intimidating just because I came so close last time ... . But once I make it to the Olympics, the hard part is already over. I mean, I made it there, so I will be able to enjoy the experience."
Another athlete who is looking forward to her Olympic experience is U.S. bobsled driver Elana Meyers. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Meyers and partner Erin Pac pulled off what many considered to be an upset when they piloted their USA-2 sled to a bronze medal, when many experts had them slotted for a finish off the podium.
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Recalling that day, the 29-year-old Georgia native says, "That was a pretty incredible experience. And to go into that race and to not have much expectation to win a medal -- well, I expected us to, but from the outside world, nobody expected us to -- and to go there and put together an incredible performance and walk away with a medal, it was an amazing experience, and it was something of my dreams. My ultimate dream is to win a gold medal but that was more than I ever thought it could be, winning a bronze medal, and I was so proud to be up there representing my country on that podium that day."
Now, with an Olympics and a medal under her belt, Meyers has her sights trained firmly on winning.
"At the end of the day," she says, "I'm focused on going into Sochi and putting together four fantastic runs and seeing what happens when I get to the bottom.
"My goal is to drive the best I can, to push as fast as I can and just to see what happens," Meyers continues. "If I focus on a medal or I focus too much on just the outcome, it's not going to result in me doing what I need to do, which is drive well. If I drive well and push fast, the results will take care of itself."