Four years after the Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, it’s unlikely that most Americans could recall the top stories of what happened on the ice and snow.
Bring up the story of Bob Costas getting pinkeye at those same games, and it’s a different story.
Of all the strange and offbeat Olympic stories we’ve written about here at Yahoo Sports, the curious case of Costas’ conjunctivitis ranks with ‘why do divers shower?‘ in terms of unexpected interest. The drama surrounding the pinkeye that sidelined NBC’s top Olympic host was a multi-night drama with each installment driving significant traffic. Costas first acknowledged the problem on Feb. 6, was forced off the air on Feb. 11 and finally returned on Feb. 17.
To mark the four-year anniversary of the saga, Kelly Conaboy of the Vulture talked with three of the story’s principals: Costas, fill-in Meredith Vieira and NBC Sports executive producer Jim Bell.
Here are five things we learned from Conaboy’s reporting (apart from the fact that Costas’ first fill-in — Matt Lauer — must have been unavailable for comment):
1. The studio lights were what drove Costas off the air
Costas, who hosted his last Olympics for NBC in 2016, said he’s felt worse on-air than he did the first few days he had pinkeye. But as the condition worsened, he was unable to keep his eyes open under the bright studio lights. Costas had become so sensitive to light that he could only listen to NBC’s coverage in a darkened hotel room.
2. The decision to leave the air belonged to Bob Costas … or did it?
Bell told Conaboy that the decision to take Costas off the air “was not difficult” and that Costas “could not have been a better soldier about it.”
Costas, however, said it was his decision to focus on getting better.
“It was my decision, by the way, in the first place,” Costas said. “I told them the last night I was on the air before I took the week off, I said, ‘you better get somebody up in the bullpen. Because I can’t keep going this way.'”
3. NBC flew in a doctor from California to look at Costas’ eye
Costas initially met with “two extremely capable” doctors that were working for NBC and they told him it was a viral infection and that there was nothing he could do but drops and hot compresses. A specialist from California was flown across the world to address the situation … only to come away with the same conclusion as NBC’s doctors.
4. Meredith Vieira didn’t have “anchor-type clothes” in Russia
Lauer filled in for Costas the first three nights, but was soon tired by having to do double duty between the Today show and prime-time coverage. That paved the way for Vieira to become the first woman to anchor NBC’s primetime coverage of the Olympics.
Vieira did a great job, but was criticized on social media for her wardrobe, which was more suited for the job she had originally come to Sochi for.
“I didn’t have anchor-type clothes, because I was reporting there,” Vieira told Vulture. “The next day I had on what I thought was a perfectly appropriate orange sweater. So many comments. “Who does she think she’s supporting, the Netherlands?” Supporting the Netherlands? What are you talking about?! I have on an orange sweater! It was like it was the most anti-USA thing you could do. So I’m the first woman, and what do they talk about? My clothes.”
5. People have still not stopped asking Costas about his eye
Costas covered 12 Olympics for NBC and was a part of so many big stories, from Tonya and Nancy to two Olympics on American soil to all 23 of Michael Phelps’ gold medals.
Yet all anyone wants to do is talk about the time Costas got pinkeye at the Olympics.
“Now and then, people sometimes, when they just want a conversation, or an icebreaker, when they see you in an airport or something, they might say something that’s … less than perfect,” Costas said. “Two or three times I’ve had people say to me: ‘Do you remember that time when you had pink eye at the Olympics?’ And my answer is, ‘…No! I’ve forgotten. What was it that happened? Did something happen?'”
More Olympic coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Team USA hints at bad sportsmanship, bad play by O.A.R. in lopsided loss
• Mikaela Shiffrin pours heart out on social media
• The story behind the famous Olympic escalator stunt
• Ester Ledecka celebrates surprise gold medal with trip to KFC
• Swiss father bikes 10,000 miles to watch son ski in Olympics