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So long, Bob: Why Matt Lauer had to replace Costas on U.S. Olympic coverage

In this Jan. 17, 2008 file photo, co-host Matt Lauer, of the NBC "Today" television program, is shown in New York's Rockefeller Center.

Richard Drew/AP

Bob Costas has left the broadcast centre, presumably with someone guiding him, and Matt Lauer has stepped into his anchor shoes. NBC's coverage of the Sochi Games will go on.

For the first time since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, somebody other than the venerable Costas helmed NBC's primetime Olympic coverage.

As viewers of NBC's nightly coverage of the Sochi Winter Games already know, Lauer has been pressed into service to fill in for regular anchor Bob Costas, who has been sidelined with an eye infection. Lauer's first official fill-in duty for Costas began Tuesday night.

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And in live-TV terms, it was a change that simply had to be made. When Costas first appeared on NBC's pre-Olympics show last Thursday night, his left eye was swollen and red.

By Monday night, the infection had spread to both of Costas' eyes, which lead to him removing himself from NBC's coverage until it healed.

On Tuesday morning, NBC issued a press release saying Costas would not appear on last evening's broadcast and would not be on the network's coverage for an indefinite period. The release included a quote from Costas:

"As a practical matter, I simply couldn't do my job because my eyes had become so blurry, watery and sensitive to light."

Enter Lauer, the sturdy veteran anchor who was already in Sochi to helm the network's Today program.

And because the two men are friends and collegial colleagues, Lauer naturally kicked off Tuesday night's broadcast by apprising viewers of Costas' condition:

"I saw him in the hotel this morning," he said. "He looked a little like the loser in a prize fight, so if anyone deserves a night off, it's Bob. Bob, if you're watching, get better, relax, we'll see you back here tomorrow night."

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Sporting a scruffy beard and beige pullover sweater, Lauer was laidback and jovial throughout his fill-in shift.

At one point, Lauer introduced NBC correspondent Mary Carillo "to bring us our nightly dose of Russian culture and no vodka tonight – please. You saw what happened last night."

Lauer was making reference to a moment on Monday night's coverage when Costas boldly abandoned his ongoing medical treatment for his eye infections and boldly knocked back a shot of vodka on-air.

Costas told Carillo: "My eyes can't get any redder," and predicted, "tomorrow morning I'll be lying on a curb in Minsk."

To his credit, Lauer kept viewers mindful that Costas was ailing on Tuesday night's coverage.

Midway through the broadcast, Lauer said, "I keep expecting Costas to follow in the footsteps of Willis Reed and hobble heroically in and take us through the second half but so far no action in the wings…"

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All of which has many people wondering if Costas will ever return for the Sochi Winter Games. In the NBC release, he's quoted as saying, "I'm hoping the symptoms will improve in the next couple of days and I can return to the broadcast."

Costas also says: "The last thing I want is to go through the rest of my life owing Matt Lauer a bunch of favours."

Lauer's puckish response: "I'm happy to keep his chair warm – although I might Purell it before I sit in it."

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