Saturday Sports: Curling, Snowboarding And Doping In Pyeongchang

Feb 24, 2018
Originally published on February 28, 2018 5:38 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The 2018 Winter Olympics are racing to a close. U.S. women won hockey gold over a country just over the Detroit border - the U.S. mira-curl (ph) on ice. Meanwhile, almost every citizen of Norway seems to have won an Olympic medal. NPR's Tom Goldman is in Pyeongchang following all this. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It is always a pleasure. And, Scott, how long did it take you to come up with mira-curl? That is awesome.

SIMON: Oh, I've been preparing for it for a couple weeks.

GOLDMAN: You just spit those out, OK.

SIMON: Couple of weeks. Ester Ledecka, the great Czech Olympian - not just a one-sport athlete. She's amazing. Tell us what she's done today.

GOLDMAN: What has she done today? She won another gold medal. You know, she - two weeks ago, Scott - a little over two weeks ago, who had heard of Ester Ledecka? Maybe if you followed women's snowboarding, you would have because she was a 2017 world champion in the parallel giant slalom, which she won today. She was not a great alpine skier. But we were hearing at the beginning of the games that she was the first ever to compete in Alpine skiing and snowboarding in the same games. And then she goes out and she wins the super-G in Alpine, beating like Lindsey Vonn and all the other greats - and, you know, that classic blank stare at the finish line and her classic comment - how did that happen? And then today she wins in her stronger event, snowboard parallel giant slalom - so two sports, two gold medals. She's a great Czech Olympian right now.

SIMON: Yeah, and to put this into perspective, this would be as if Michael Jordan had actually been not only good but great at baseball.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Not that extreme - now, baseball and basketball, you're using skills - different kind of athleticism. Sorry, Michael. But both of the Ledecka's sports are moving down a mountain around gates. You have different contraptions on your feet. Still, there are unique challenges to each discipline. So let's not devalue what she did. It was quite impressive.

SIMON: I have to ask about what's going on with the Russian team - or what do they call it? - the athletes from overseas - athletes from Russia or something.

GOLDMAN: Olympic athletes from Russia, OAR.

SIMON: Most of the team was suspended from these Olympics - a punishment over a long-running doping scandal. Nevertheless, two Russian athletes were caught with banned substances and sent home. But we hear the IOC may still allow Russians to march under their country's flag during tomorrow's closing ceremony. So this means - what? - Russia's cleaned up the program, and all's on the up and up right now.

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah, right. Yeah, exactly. That's what it means. What it means is the people at the beginning of all this - the hard-liners who said, at the start of the games, kick them all out, even the innocents - they may have been right. But that was too drastic measure for the IOC. You know, whether the IOC really wanted to protect innocent Russian athletes, as it's said publicly over and over, or whether the IOC relented to the Olympic power of Russia, that question lingers. But, Scott, this issue bookends the games. We started and we end tomorrow debating Russians and doping. And Olympic sport is no closer to figuring out what to do about these issues. One wonders if there's the will to do anything among the people at the highest level of sport.

SIMON: OK, every four years, the world sees curling and says, curling, that's maybe one Olympic sport I could do. The U.S. men won their first gold medal ever over Sweden.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, and for all those who think it's, you know, the easiest sport in the world, one of the Russians who popped for drugs this week, he was a curler. So it must be tough, right?

SIMON: He did that to stay awake. But go ahead, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: But, yes, today - I'm sorry. U.S.A....

SIMON: No, it's a great - it's a sport that requires finesse, skill, grace.

GOLDMAN: It certainly does. And today the U.S. had all of that. And they won the gold medal in the big play. Notice I'm going to use very general terms here. The big play was made by veteran John Shuster, who's been through so many curling wars. He was on a team that won Olympic bronze in 2006. Now in his fourth Olympics, at the age of 35, he led the team to its first ever gold. It's a great story.

SIMON: And great to look forward to the South Korean women's team - the Garlic Girls, as they call themselves - that's later today, right?

GOLDMAN: They should be fantastic tomorrow morning - later today to you.

SIMON: They've been great hosts in South Korea, haven't they? I've been impressed.

GOLDMAN: They have been - yes, very gracious.

SIMON: Tom Goldman, at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OMNIFIC'S "SONOROUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.