“Well, it’s our five seconds of fame,” said Pēteris Stāks. Speaking to a reporter via his mobile phone Friday night, Feb. 8, Stāks had not yet heard of his and others’ success in convincing the NBC network to air the Latvian team’s appearance in the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Stāks was standing outside Rice-Eccles Olympic Stadium, watching a direct feed (rather than the NBC broadcast) of the ceremony on a large television screen.
He was the spark behind Salt Lake City broadcaster KSL-TV’s “adopting” Latvia as its team, an effort that was rewarded by a promise from NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol that this year the network would indeed show the team. In all other Olympic Games since the country regained independence, Latvia’s appearance on U.S. television screens has been preempted by commercials.
According to KSL news anchor Bruce Lindsay, Ebersol said that NBC would still cut to commercials before Latvia’s appearance, but that the network would record the moment and show the team’s entrance right after the commercial break.
Instead, NBC waited until the team had started its entrance, long enough to see a live broadcast of hockey player Harijs Vītoliņš carrying his country’s flag and leading the rest of Team Latvia into the stadium. Meanwhile, NBC’s co-host for the opening ceremony, sportscaster Bob Costas, noted the significance of the moment.
“They score points with an effective campaign to appear on television during this opening ceremony after years of being relegated to commercial oblivion,” Costas said.
According to reports posted to the Latvians Online forum and the SVEIKS discussion list, television viewers in Australia, Canada and Germany (and, of course, Latvia) saw the entire Latvian team during the opening ceremony. Television commentators in Canada and Germany noted the Latvian effort to convince NBC to broadcast the team’s appearance.
What U.S. television viewers didn’t get to hear was the cheer that went up when the Latvian team entered the stadium, Stāks said.
“It was definitely above average,” he said.
Millions of television viewers in the United States saw Latvian hockey player Harijs Vītoliņš carry his country’s flag in the Parade of Nations during the opening ceremony of the Olympics broadcast on the NBC network. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)
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