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Saturday Sports: Olympics Begin


Now it's time for sports.


SIMON: The Winter Olympic Games have opened in South Korea. They began with fireworks, dancing drones and thousands of athletes upholstered into down-filled coats. NPRs Tom Goldman is there. Tom, thanks for being with us. And look, I recognized you immediately as the guy bringing out the flag for Tonga. You were terrific.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Do you know how long it took to get that oil off?

SIMON: I can only imagine. No, I don't want to imagine how long it took to get it off, but I'm glad you're with us this morning.

GOLDMAN: And it's off now, I want you to know.

SIMON: All right. Good to know. First full day of competition. I understand the host country, South Korea, is cheering today.

GOLDMAN: Is still cheering. If I listen closely, I might be able to hear it - no. But Lim Hyo-jun - remember that name, Scott - won the first gold medal of these South Korean games for South Korea in the 1500 m short track event. Huge cheers at the arena where he won. It was a close win for Lim Hyo-jun, but he set an Olympic record in the process.

Interestingly, the person who won the bronze medal was from Russia. Or shall we say he was an Olympic athlete from Russia? Russian athletes, of course, are competing as neutrals because of the country's punishment for its massive doping system. So Olympic athletes for Russia won their first medal of a controversial Olympics. But you can bet Russians, without the Olympic athlete from, are high-fiving, knowing that their country's on the board.

SIMON: I'm not sure the high-five has made it to Russia. I could be wrong. But they're celebrating at any rate. There was another gold also, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there was. The first actual gold of these Pyeongchang games went to Charlotte Kalla of Sweden. She won the women's skiathlon in cross-country skiing. But more significantly, at least for the record books, is that Marit Bjoergen won the silver medal, and she became the first woman to win 11 medals at the Olympic Winter Games - that's quite a haul. She's from Norway. She's incredible.

SIMON: Tonight in the United States - and I guess that's a month from now in the morning for you - the time zones confuse me.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: The men's downhill, which is always exhilarating and terrifying - what can you tell us - and that's just your part. What can you tell us about the race for the athletes?

GOLDMAN: Yeah and I'm just watching, right? There have been some complaints that this Olympic downhill course isn't as challenging and fast as downhill courses are supposed to be. But as U.S. downhiller Bryce Bennett told me, even if you crash at 70 or 75 mph instead of 90, it still hurts. I think it will be a challenging course. It'll be a treat to watch the best and bravest men's alpine skiers in the world.

Watch out for the attacking Vikings of Norway, as they call themselves, a group of fantastic Norwegian skiers led by one of the best ever, Aksel Lund Svindal, as well as his countryman Kjetil Jansrud. Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any country in history. But it's never won an Olympic gold medal in men's downhill. So Svindal, Jansrud or one of their teammates have a good chance of ending that drought today.

SIMON: I felt a little sorry to watch the Russian athletes walk in - all in, you know, in grey upholstered coats but no national symbol.

GOLDMAN: I know. It's going to be subdued for them, although, as I said, they are celebrating. But yeah, they have to watch themselves. No public displays of affection for their country. No waving the flag. No public anthem. So - but this is what happens. This is the punishment.

SIMON: Tom, have fun. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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