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SOCHI – When NBC's TODAY show hits the air, it is 7 a.m. in New York and 4 p.m. here. For co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer, that's a world of difference. Instead of awakening to an angry alarm in the middle of the night, they ease into their Olympic telecast day here by the Black Sea.

"Oh, it's lovely. To be able to do a morning show at four o'clock in the afternoon, you have to appreciate that," says Guthrie.

Lauer takes morning jogs.

"We have got the most beautiful jogging path right out the door of our hotel, so I have been inspired," Lauer says. "I've run just about every day here. … And c'mon, it's 60 degrees and sunny for the most part."

Monday, they'll be back in New York. "Alarm goes off at 3 a.m. on Monday morning, and we'll be fondly remembering Sochi," says Guthrie.

FULL COVERAGE: Latest news from Sochi

This week, USA Today Sports got a behind-the-cameras look at the airing of the first two hours of TODAY. There were lots of cables and cameras (including three big ones on rolling tripods), countless countdowns (10, 9, 8, …) and makeup artists touching up on every break inside an open-air, portable set that is an Olympic vet in its own way.

Al Roker, co-anchor and weather and feature anchor, reported on big snow accumulations in the USA. "Guess, there's MORE comin','' he said on the air. Off the air, a crew member said something to him about a coming "polar express." Roker laughed and said, "Polar vortex, not polar express."

Guthrie laced on skates for a recorded on-ice segment with the flower girls who pick up the tributes tossed out a figure skating. Lauer kidded on air that she skates with the "ease, the grace, the elegance of Peggy Fleming.'' Said Guthrie, who is from Arizona: "I grew up in a desert."

And, of course, there were the Olympic staples of the show -- visits by U.S. athletes with smiles on their faces and medals around their necks.

PURE JOY: Ranking the 15 best Olympic celebrations

The TODAY show is accustomed to bringing in athletes. But for most of them, the show is a first-time experience.

"I grew up with these people (watching them on TV), and Matt Lauer came over and shook my hand and said, 'Congratulations.' It's incredible," said Alex Deibold of Boulder, Colo., surprise winner of a bronze in snowboardcross.

Deibold made a point of saying hello to news anchor Natalie Morales. They'd met in 2009 when she visited a house in Utah where he and teammates were living during training.

"We made her pancakes from scratch. She came over to the gym. We played some volleyball, tried to teach her how to ride a skate board," said Deibold. " … It was a really cool experience to meet here back then. To come back now is incredible."

The TODAY hosts are prepped on every sport, including the lingo. The audience isn't. Lauer took that into account when he sat down with David Wise of Reno, Nev., gold medalist in halfpipe freestyle skiing.

"You landed the double cork 1260. What does that mean to mere mortals?" Lauer asked.

Wise: "It's two flips and three and a half spins. It's just a lot of flipping and spinning."

The show cut to a video of Wise's 2-year-old daughter Nayeli celebrating in the USA just after he won. Without looking at a note or prompter, Lauer nailed the pronunciation (Nye-el-ee).

I looked at the notes beforehand," Lauer said. " … We were in a commercial break. I said, 'David, I just want to make sure I pronounce your daughter's name correctly.' I always do that."

The set can can be taken apart for shipping. It previously was used at the Olympics in Turin, Beijing, London, Athens and Vancouver. It currently sits in Olympic Park with a view of the Olympic flame in the background.

It's next to the Bolshoy Ice Dome, a hockey venue. Lauer and Guthrie attended the USA's hockey shootout victory over Russia.

"That was absolutely an Olympic highlight for us," Guthrie said.

Said Lauer: "When you got inside that arena right there on that night, it was intense."

PATH TO THE PODIUM: A medal's full journey

The shootout hero for the USA was T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues. Oshie appeared on TODAY. So did his mom, Tina, who said she was "on the edge of my seat" the whole shootout.

Had Guthrie previously ever heard of Oshie?

"No, but that's what we love about the Olympics," she said.

Lauer said he had heard of him. "But only because I've been following the formation of the team," he said. "Was I a big St. Louis Blues fan before that? No, but once I saw the team and who made the roster, then I kind of boned up on everybody.''

Lauer had a stint here when he was doing TODAY plus subbing for Bob Costas (eye infection) during NBC's primetime telecast. "It's a little more relaxing week this week, so it's been nice to have a chance to unwind a little bit," said Lauer.

Said Guthrie: "We've been lucky because we got to get a little bit of a taste of the culture."

She then laughed and said: "By that, I mean a lot of Russian vodka shots."

Lauer said they learned how to do vodka shots the way the Russian military does them.

"You take the shot glass and you balance it on your elbow," said Lauer, holding up his elbow to demonstrate. "And then you have to tip and drink it. … If you spill some, you have to do it again."

Of course, this is not all fun and games. At the start of the show, there was a report about deadly clashes and civil unrest in Ukraine. Going into the Sochi Olympics, there were bombings in Russia and concerns about security.

Guthrie and Lauer said that through every show they've known they might have to switch gears in an instant.

"I think we always have that in the back of our mind. And whether there had been security warnings about this particular Olympics or not, we're a news organization first, and that's how we try to approach the Games," Guthrie said.

Lauer echoed that.

"We're fortunate, knock wood, that nothing's happened," Lauer said. "But we don't get complacent. … The Ukraine is kind of exploding even as we speak. … In terms of here in Sochi, you've got, I think a good level of security. I'm impressed by it. … But, yeah, our eyes are completely open, and we're prepared to cover any story that's presented.''

What is their bottom line on the Games so far:

"I think both Savannah and I have come out and said that it clearly has exceeded our expectations. There were a lot of stories before we got here about Sochi itself, about accommodations and things like that," Lauer said.

"We can only speak to our own experience. We have a comfortable hotel. We have been treated well by the Russian people. The events have gone off smoothly. The venues are sensational. … So at the moment, I don't think anybody can say that these aren't successful Games for the Russian people."

PHOTOS: On the 'Today' show set in Sochi

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