As The Games Begin, A Look At Early Results

NPR's Tom Goldman talks with host Scott Simon about the first medal events, including cycling and swimming.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And NPR's sports commentator Tom Goldman joins us now from London, where he's covering the Games. Hi, there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott, how are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. But you, you, my friend, were in the Olympic stadium, and I tell you when James Bond and Queen Elizabeth came out of the plane, or came out of the helicopter in the parachutes, my first thought was, oh, no, the queen is going to hit Tom. So, it's good to know you're all right.

GOLDMAN: I had my hands out. They jumped right over me, but darn it, they went outside the stadium. So, there you go. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You've been following the men's race, cycling event, which was won today by Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan.

GOLDMAN: Vinokourov, yes.

SIMON: So, that's the guy I meant. I beg your pardon. For 125 race, and, what, you run alongside them?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. No, no, no, no, no. I watch from my watching post, my listening post. Actually, 155 miles long. We'll add another 30. And as you mentioned, 38-year-old Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won the gold. But Scott, that's not going to be the headline in the British press. The headline in the British press is: hopes were dashed right off the bat in these Olympics. Team Great Britain had high hopes with the cycling squad, described as a dream team. Included Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, who was the gold medal favorite. Team GB was in control for much of the race, but they let other riders build up leads that they couldn't make up in the end.

So, a lot of doom and gloom, as the crowd slinked away with limp Union Jacks in their hands, and kind of deflating after they big start last night with the opening ceremony.

SIMON: Well, it does raise the question, is there such a thing as home field advantage, as we call it in our culture, in the Olympics? Would Great Britain figure to win a lot more medal than they have at past Olympics?

GOLDMAN: Well, yes, there is. And numbers actually back that up. Goldman Sachs economists with, I guess, not much better things to do with their time, found that a country that hosts the Olympics on average earns 54 percent more medals than it does normally. Now, Britain in 2008, the last Summer Games, won 19 gold, 47 overall. The British Olympic Association set the target of 48 medals at these Games, one better than last time; very typical British way of underplaying things. But, in fact, the team is projected to win between 65 and 68 medals, although didn't happen today in men's road race.

SIMON: Are there some British athletes we should watch?

GOLDMAN: Definitely. And you may see some British euphoria tomorrow with Rebecca Adlington, the swimmer, the winner of the 400 and 800 meter freestyle in Beijing. Her first big moment is tomorrow in the women's 400 meter freestyle final. You've got heptathlete Jess Ennis. You've got another track cyclist Chris Hoy, who carried the flag for Team GB. Teenage diving champ Tom Daley is another guy to watch. And distance runners Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah could do good things.

SIMON: Every time I hear the name heptathalete, all I can think of is a jazz singer saying, hey, man, you are one heptathalete.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I know that's not the event. It's something different. I want to - Michael Phelps - everyone's been anticipating the big face-off between Michael Phelps, who won a hundred medals in the last Olympics, and Ryan Lochte, and it almost wasn't, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It was the first almost-shocker of the Olympics. This morning, Michael Phelps barely qualified for the final later today of the men's 400 meter individual medley. He took the eighth and last spot. And if he had been 8-100ths of a second slower, he wouldn't have qualified. And Phelps said, you know, in kind of an understated kind of way: That one didn't feel too good. He said the only thing that matters is just getting a spot on the final. You can't win the gold medal from the morning. So, he's hoping things go better. It is a highly anticipated race with Ryan Lochte. It's a real classic rivalry between the two of them. Lochte beat him at the U.S. swim trials, beat him in this race, the 400 meter individual medley. But, you know, Phelps, he's in there and, and, you know, they probably were trying to save a little. At least, you know...

SIMON: Well, I was going to ask. Is it possible that this is gamesmanship?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, they have to kind of, you know, keep some gas in the tank, if you will. I mean, I wouldn't go so far as saying it's gamesmanship. It's saving stuff for later. But, you know, it got a little close to the edge for Michael Phelps today.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, speaking with us from London, where he's covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Tom, thanks very much. Talk to you later.

GOLDMAN: My pleasure, Scott.

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