The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are officially in full swing, with athletes from around the world coming together in the spirit of sportsmanship. But despite the impressive athletic prowess (and behind-the-scenes boning), we can’t seem to forget the complex and terrifying time we’re in — marked by inane tweets, discrimination, #MeToo, and a current threat of parades. So, we keep yearning for the simpler days of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, when NBC host Bob Costas had pink eye.
One day, way back in February 2014, longtime NBC Olympics host Bob Costas appeared on the first prime-time broadcast of the Sochi Games uncharacteristically squinting and wearing glasses. As it turns out, the gogglelike spectacles weren’t an attempt to fit in with hip viewers; instead, Costas explained, he had acquired some sort of “minor eye infection” in Russia. “Bear with me for a moment as I spare my friends in the press office countless inquiries. I have no choice to go all Peabody and Sherman on you for the next couple of nights since I woke up this morning with my left eye swollen shut and just about as red as the old Soviet flag,” he said at the time, adding that doctors said the infection should “resolve itself” quickly.
But of course, the infection didn’t clear up quickly. Instead, by day five of the NBC Olympics coverage, the infection had spread to Costas’s other eye, causing him to look like a teen stoner who also happened to have spent a solid week crying. Understandably, having Cheryl Blossom–red eyes made Costas briefly turn into a DGAF bro, even agreeing to taste Russian vodka during a segment (“My eyes can’t get any redder, no matter what I do. All right! Here we go. Down the hatch,” he said).
Eventually, Costas agreed to spend 24 hours isolated in the dark to try to get rid of the infection — which upset his 157-broadcast run of prime-time Olympics coverage that dated back to 1992. Matt Lauer temporarily filled in for Costas that night. (Lauer was later accused of sexually assaulting a NBC staffer in Sochi.)
“You hear it called pink eye or conjunctivitis, but, as a practical matter, I haven’t had it before,” Costas explained to the New York Times. “You have swelling and stinging and burning and eventually tearing.” So he spent a day off “in a darkened room, taking antibiotics and using eye drops, while still using [cold compresses].”
But try as he might, Costas just couldn’t seem to kick his ever-brightening pink eye — and the rest of us began to rely on it like a security blanket. Whatever insane drama was happening in the rest of the Sochi Games, we always knew Costas’s increasingly infected eye was there for us. It was strong (as in, not healing). It was dependable (as in, always spreading). But most importantly, it was … ours.
Costas ended up having to go into hiding for several nights. He was replaced on air during that time by Meredith Vieira — a historic feat for ladies, as it was the first time a woman anchored NBC’s prime-time Olympic coverage solo.
Lo and behold, although Costas looked like he had been bingeing Grey’s Anatomy throughout most of the Sochi Games, his eye eventually repaired itself after about a week and the host returned to his post. Later, NBC denied a rumor that the Great Pink Eye of 2014 was actually caused by botched Botox injections. And in 2016, Costas told USA Today that it took him months to fully recover: “It was full-blown viral conjunctivitis, not just generic pink eye. It actually affected my eyesight for a few months afterward.”