Tragedy looms over TV coverage of Olympic opening

NEW YORK (AP) — Television networks, including Olympics rights-holder NBC, did not shy away from airing sickening video of the practice run accident that killed a 21-year-old luger from the republic of Georgia on the opening day of the Vancouver Winter Games.

"We owe folks a warning here," NBC News anchor Brian Williams said at the beginning of his network's coverage of the opening ceremony Friday. "These pictures are very tough for some people to watch."

NBC showed a portion of the practice run three times, once stopping the video before Nodar Kumaritashvili slammed into a steel support column after hurtling over the track's wall. NBC aired the video soundless, omitting the thudding clank at the moment of impact.

NBC, ABC and CBS also showed the video on its evening newscasts; CBS and NBC made it the top story and ABC the second one after the Afghanistan offensive. NBC, which usually carefully guards against use of Olympics video on other networks because it paid hundreds of millions of dollars for exclusive footage, released it because it was a significant news event, a spokesman said.

"We want to warn you the video you are about to see is difficult to watch," ABC's Diane Sawyer said on "World News." On the "CBS Evening News," the accident was shown three times — the last time in slow motion.

NBC immediately reported on the story as its Olympics coverage opened, with Williams saying the tragedy "will set a tough tone to overcome tonight." The network discussed worries that the luge track was too fast. Its own luge commentator, Duncan Kennedy, sniffled and looked down silently when asked to describe his emotions.

After a commercial break, Tom Brokaw and Al Michaels attempted an artful segue.

"There will be a big pause for these athletes," Brokaw said. "But once the games begin, Al, knowing these competitors, they'll set about competing against the greatest athletes of the world. And the rest of the world will have a chance to see the glories of this host country, Canada, and its very unique relationship with the United States."

That introduced a recorded report on the topic. With some 835 hours of coverage ahead over 17 days, NBC Universal seemed intent upon not letting the tragedy define the games.

For the next hour, Kumaritashavili was barely mentioned, except by U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, who paused to note the death before updating viewers on her own health, during an interview in a room oddly decorated by several candles. It didn't come up when Michaels interviewed speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno; NBC spent much of its time before the ceremony began setting up stories with American athletes that will play out over the next two weeks.

When Matt Lauer noted that the games follow closely on the heels with a major disaster, he was talking about Haiti — and introducing a video for a "We Are the World" remake.

As the ceremony began, Bob Costas noted that "the exuberance of the opening ceremony is tinged with sadness." At the same time on CNN, Larry King's topic was "Death at the Olympics."

After several hours in which the NBC Olympics Web site included only a text story about the death, the network posted its video of Kumaritashvili's death.

Canada's CTV spent much of its time on the torch relay as the story was breaking, but did break in for reports. The network also aired the video, with a warning to viewers, and posted it on its Web site.