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Closing Ceremony ratings drop big from '02

NBC's telecast of Sunday's Closing Ceremony was watched in 59 percent fewer homes in big U.S. cities than the finale in Salt Lake City four years ago.

Overall, NBC drew 8.9 percent of the 110.2-million U.S. households with televisions, according to Nielsen Media Research's preliminary figures, which might point to the lowest ratings ever for the Winter Games.

A final national rating will be available today, Nielsen said.

Through Saturday, the Games attracted 12.3 percent of national prime-time viewers, 35 percent less than 2002, according to Nielsen. The prime-time low for an entire Winter Olympics is 13.4 in 1968 in Grenoble, France. No comparison was available with preliminary national ratings for previous Winter Games, Nielsen said.

In the 56 largest U.S. markets, the Closing Ceremony was watched in 9.5 percent of homes, 59 percent fewer than Salt Lake City, which drew 23.3 percent. The 1998 Winter Games' Closing Ceremony from Nagano, Japan, drew 12.6 percent of large-market viewers.

Big-city ratings account for about 70 percent of total U.S. households with televisions.

NBC paid a record $613-million for broadcast rights to this year's Olympics. NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said last week the network would generate a profit of between $50-million and $75-million on the Games.

Prime-time ratings have fallen steadily for most major sports events during the past two decades as cable and satellite television gives viewers more options.

SPIRIT AWARDS: Joey Cheek, Lindsey Kildow and members of the snowboarding team won the U.S. Olympic Spirit award. The winners were picked by fans, fellow U.S. athletes, former U.S. Olympians and members of the media for best representing the Olympic Spirit.

Cheek, who won a gold and silver in speed skating, won the men's award for donating his $40,000 in performance earnings to charity.

Kildow is the first woman to win the individual award while not winning a medal. Despite being hospitalized after crashing during practice, she competed the next day, finishing eighth. Still struggling with her injuries, she competed in four of her five events.

The snowboarding team earned seven medals.

MILLER FALLOUT: U.S. skier Daron Rahlves said he isn't surprised by the comments or behavior of teammate Bode Miller. He said Miller spends much of his time partying and "trying to look for girls."

"For him to go out and party, that's nothing new," he told the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal. "He does that all the time. He doesn't just do it at the Olympics. He does it all year."

Rahlves said he wasn't bothered by criticism from Miller, who poked fun at his teammates for taking the Olympics too seriously.

"It's been an awesome two weeks," Miller said last week. "I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."