At this point in our Olympics-watching history, it is an expected fact that NBC, American broadcast home of the games, will edit any material that makes it to air on the network. This is true of nightly primetime coverage, of course, but also every Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony. At the start of the Sochi Games, NBC removed several portions of the Opening Ceremony from its broadcast, including some fairly creepy action with mascots and not-so-missed portions of speeches.
The same occurred at Sunday's Closing Ceremony, although this time a few of the cuts could be construed as part of a larger attempt at messaging by NBC. As noted by Deadspin's Timothy Burke on Twitter, the NBC broadcast cut 50:44 from a 2:12:10 broadcast, or 38.4 percent. While Burke listed several interesting bits of culture taken out of the ceremony, such as a virtuoso piano performance and the Russian military band drum corps, most of the cuts involved such time-savers as the shuffling-in of athletes as they entered Fisht Stadium and highlights of the games. The NBC audience did not miss much of its desired content.
Notably, though, NBC also cut several complimentary references to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who made the Sochi Games a project of great importance for both his own legacy and his image of a new, ascendant Russian state. According to Burke, NBC cut a short moment during which Putin received an ovation from the crowd and a portion of IOC president Thomas Bach's speech during which he thanked Putin for hosting. While these cuts may not have been the most exciting moments of the broadcast, they are not without importance.
First, it's worth making clear that NBC did not deprive its viewers of what they came to see. For many years, the network has focused its coverage around the spectacle of these ceremonies (as well as the sports themselves), and that's what they delivered on Sunday night. We saw elaborate depictions of Russian art, ballet, and literature; the athletes entering the stadium as a unified group; the handover to Pyeonchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics; Mischa the Uncanny Valley Bear; a joke about the snowflake-ring snafu from the Opening Ceremony; etc. NBC is far more interested in these big, splashy moments than bits of a speech or a reaction from the crowd. It's likely that their editing decisions were primarily influenced by these factors.
On the other hand, the network has not shied away from discussing Putin over the past few weeks. The Russian president was a major presence and subject of debate on the broadcast of the Opening Ceremony, back when commentators could note controversies about anti-LGBT laws and problems with the preparations for Sochi. As recently as Friday, Bob Costas related to the ongoing unrest and mounting hostilities in Ukraine to Putin's habit of quashing dissent. Clearly, Putin is fair game on NBC at certain times. So why wasn't he more of a factor in Sunday's coverage?
The simple answer is that the Closing Ceremony is a celebratory affair at which people are inclined to congratulate organizers, leaders, and athletes on a job well done. That was certainly the tone of the night's several speeches, and it makes sense that Putin was marked out for special commendation. He made the Sochi Olympics his personal project — any successes would reflect on him. When Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and guest commentator Vladimir Pozner spoke of the Olympic fortnight's many great moments and the good work of many, the absence of many references to the Russian leader was quite apparent. After two weeks of referring to Sochi as Putin's Olympics, it was peculiar to suddenly disregard that connection. Ultimately, it seems as if the congratulatory tone of the night didn't have room for the messy task of noting that these Winter Olympics will almost certainly help Putin.
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