Bob Costas will return to NBC’s prime-time coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics Monday night (Feb. 17) after missing the previous six days while fighting an eye infection. He’s not completely better, he says, but he’s well enough to go back on the air.
“It won’t look as bad as it did the last night I was on the air, and probably it will look better 10 days from now, but the Olympics will be over,” Costas says with a laugh on a conference call with reporters. “You just go with it.”
The infection was visible to TV viewers on NBC’s first night of coverage on Feb. 6, and it forced Costas off the air for six nights starting Feb. 11. He says that moreso than the visible signs of the infection, he was suffering from a sensitivity to light and blurred vision that made it impossible to work. He has kept up with NBC’s coverage of the games from his hotel room, but aside from the occasional walk on the hotel terrace or trip to the hotel restaurant, he’s been largely confined to the room.
That wasn’t fun, but more frustrating was the fact that he couldn’t join his colleagues in bringing the Olympic telecasts to viewers.
“My thought really wasn’t, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m personally missing these nights on the air,'” Costas says. “My thought was all the people, all my colleagues and friends who work so hard, many of them harder than I work, putting in 18-, 20-hour days, and I just want to hold up my end of it. It’s like when your team takes the field for a big game, you want to be able to do your part of it.”
Almost as much as anything that happened in the various Olympic venues in Sochi, Costas’ eyes were the talk of the first week of the games. That’s not something he would have hoped for, but he understands why his bout of viral conjunctivitis became a story.
“I don’t follow social media, and I didn’t see the vast, vast majority of what might have been said or written. I’m aware generally and I’m aware from friends that this was viral both literally and figuratively.” Costas says. “I think it would have been water-cooler talk no matter who the host of the Olympics was at any time, because it’s such a front-and-center position. If the same thing had happened to Jim McKay in 1984, people would have talked about it. It’s just that the Internet didn’t exist then, and there weren’t as many cable television outlets. Plus he would have been saved somewhat by an absence of hi-def TV [laughs].
“So you have kind of a perfect or imperfect storm of circumstance that made this a bigger deal than what it was. I really have felt uncomfortable about that. I don’t feel comfortable having anything other than the work itself be what people are talking about, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable. This was one of those very rare situations where it was unavoidable.”
You can see Costas’ return to NBC’s Olympics coverage starting at 8 p.m. ET/PT Monday.