It will be interesting to watch NBC's coverage as the women's figure skating competition gets under way tonight just to see how many times the Sasha-Cohen-banging-into-Michelle-Kwan story is referenced. Particularly given the fact that the network's lead analysts say it's a non-story.

"Can we put a stop to that now?" said Sandra Bezic, who went on to call the entire story "absurd."

The story was that Cohen bumped into Kwan twice during warmups for the recent U.S. Championships, leading to speculation that the 17-year-old challenger was trying to intimidate the 21-year-old champion. And the story cropped up again when they nearly collided again soon after arriving in Utah for the Olympics.

But both Bezic and Scott Hamilton said that this sort of thing happens all the time in warmups. "Sometimes, it just happens," Hamilton said. "I've seen everyone get in everyone's way. It's just a typical thing.

"You can always read more into it than there is. And I think in this particular case, it was just misunderstood and a big deal was made out of nothing."

Of course, NBC's own Bob Costas helped keep this story alive early in the Games when he interviewed Cohen and Kwan simultaneously and pressed them repeatedly on the issue.

So, will NBC use "nothing" to hype the competition ? and the ratings? Stay tuned . . .

ON THE UP AND UP: Hamilton and Bezic, who were largely responsible for turning "Skategate" into a national and international incident, say they're not worried about another judging debacle in the women's competition.

"Honestly, when I look at every event that's happened so far, everything except for that one incident has been defensible. . . . The men's event was judged perfectly," Hamilton said.

"I believe that the ladies' event will be judged straight," Bezic said.

The judges will, however, remain a part of NBC's coverage.

"It certainly has called the judging into closer scrutiny," said Tom Hammond. "When the dance began, obviously, people had as many eyes on the judging panel as they did on the skaters.

"I don't think there will be any radical change in the coverage. The judging has always been called into question in televised skating."

THE TRUTH AND A LIE: In a taped comedy bit, Conan O'Brien asked gold medal-winning speedskater (and NBC analyst) Dan Jansen, "Do you ever look at these kids today and think, 'Those punks ? they don't know nothin' about the game' ?"

"Of course," Jansen replied.

But then O'Brien slipped into one of those form-fitting speedskating outfits and asked, "So, Dan, be honest ? what do you think?"

"You look damn good," Jansen lied.

KING OF THE FLAME: The most recent episode of Fox's animated "King of the Hill" followed the Olympic flame through Texas on its way to Salt Lake City. And Hank Hill was chosen to carry the torch.

He, of course, dropped and extinguished it ? proving the wisdom of SLOC's decision not to let any cartoon characters carry the torch.

Hank remains, however, a big fan of the Games.

"Boy, I've always been a sucker for the torch-lighting ceremony," he said. "That and the four-man bobsled. I just wish they didn't have to sit so close together."

A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE: Some Utahns were up in arms when NBC host Bob Costas dissed the Medals Plaza gymnasts. But not everyone felt that way.

Diane Holloway of the Austin American-Statesman wrote: "After a clumsy start in the opening ceremony, Costas has settled nicely into his hosting duties, and his occasional wisecracks are refreshing. 'If Siegfried and Roy come out next, I don't know what I'll do,' he said, shaking his head at the Cirque du Soleil-like number that preceded the first medal ceremony."

THE RATING GAME: NBC's Olympic ratings spiked upward on Sunday night, climbing to a 17.1 national rating and a 27 share. That's still nine-tenths of a rating point lower than the corresponding day at the 1998 Nagano Games (although CBS did three hours on Day 10 four years ago; NBC did four hours on Sunday).

After 10 days, NBC is averaging an 18.3/29, 10 percent higher than Nagano.

NBC calculators also figure that 80 percent of U.S. households have tuned in to at least part of the Salt Lake Games ? a total of 167 million viewers.

Again on Sunday, Salt Lake City led all local markets, averaging a 30.9/50 on Day 10.

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com