Downhill skiing champion Lindsey Vonn, who withdrew from the Sochi Olympics after an injury, will cover the games for NBC, letting the network capitalize on her star power even though she won’t compete.
Vonn will report from the U.S. on the games, set to be held in the Russian resort city Feb. 7-23, providing commentary to the “Today” show and NBC Sports, according to a statement yesterday. NBC, owned by Comcast Corp., also will host a live chat with fans on Facebook Inc.’s site.
NBC is counting on Vonn to help recoup a multibillion-dollar bet on the Olympics. The company agreed to pay $4.38 billion in 2011 to retain broadcast rights through 2020, including $2 billion for Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Before Vonn withdrew from the games this month, the network had planned to heavily promote her involvement.
Vonn, 29, is a four-time World Cup overall champion and the top-earning U.S. skier in history. In her first interview since deciding not to participate in the games, she will appear this morning on the “Today” show to discuss her new role at NBC.
The skier announced on Jan. 7 that she wouldn’t be competing in the games, seven weeks after hurting her surgically repaired knee in a training accident. Vonn tore her anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in February and then reinjured the knee on Nov. 19. She returned to competition two weeks later, finishing 40th at Lake Louise, Alberta.
“I did everything I possibly could to somehow get strong enough to overcome having no ACL, but the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level,” she said.
With sponsorship deals from Procter & Gamble Co., Under Armour Inc., Red Bull GmbH and Rolex Group, Vonn was being marketed as the biggest star of the Olympics.
Without Vonn competing, NBC plans to spotlight U.S. skiers such as Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety or snowboarder Shaun White, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said at a news conference this month. The network also could spend more time promoting teams such as the U.S. and Canadian hockey squads, he said.