U.S. Figure Skaters Are Underdogs In These Games

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are just days away, and some 230 athletes will be representing the United States. Representing team NPR is Sonari Glinton. He gives NPR's Scott Simon a rundown of who to watch on the ice.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are just days from opening in Sochi, Russia. Now, recently, there have been charges of corruption, lots of finger pointing. But it's time to put that aside because soon great athletes from all over the world will gather in Sochi and start playing to win. Two hundred and thirty athletes are on the U.S. Olympic team, the largest delegation at the Games. NPR will field a somewhat smaller team to cover those Olympics, including Sonari Glinton, who joins us from NPR West to talk about sharp blades on blinding ice. Sonari, thanks for being with us.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: It is great to be here.

SIMON: So, what's a guy who usually covers the auto industry doing covering the Winter Olympics?

GLINTON: Well, it's fun. That's the first thing. And, you know, if you take figure skating, for instance, there is speed, agility, there's design - you see what I'm working with - and there's a lot of...

SIMON: I'm not totally convinced yet, but...

GLINTON: There are a lot of ice skaters who come out of the Detroit area and so do cars. Actually, all of the ice dancing pair skaters come directly from Michigan. So, you see, there's a direct line between cars and figure skating, in my book.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: All right. We look to our panel of judges. Wait, they're raising the cards. They agree with you. So, let's begin with ice skating - the men's side first. Who should we be looking for?

GLINTON: Well, for the U.S., there are two. There's Jeremy Abbott, who's 28, and Jason Brown, who's 19. And on the Olympic team, a 28-year-old is a seasoned veteran, and that's Jeremy Abbott. Brown is 19 and he's only barely out of the junior ranks. And so in men's figure skating, neither of these guys are going to rival Evan Lysacek, who won the 2010 gold medal. But this is a medal the U.S. could easily lose because Canada is sending Patrick Chan, and he's dominant and there's two Japanese guys who do quadruple jumps, which is a super-risky maneuver, as easily as LeBron does a lay-up.

SIMON: How are the U.S. women looking?

GLINTON: Well, this is the 20th anniversary of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, the incident in...

SIMON: Ow.

GLINTON: ...yeah. There's drama on the women's team always but not that kind of drama this time. So, there's Gracie Gold, there's Ashley Wagner and there's Polina Edmunds. And now the drama comes in because Wagner was chosen over Mirai Nagasu. And even though Wagner fell twice during the national figure skating title, you know, she still got on the team. And this is where subjectivity comes in. You know, a whole host of things are going through the judges' heads. Part of the idea is that she's 22. She's the elder statesman. And that may help her with the Olympic judges.

SIMON: And how do they look in the competition?

GLINTON: Well, this is a stronger team than the guys, and there are some contenders out there. There's Yuna Kim from South Korea. She won last year's world championships and she's the one to beat. She's the favorite. And then there's Mao Asada from Japan. She won the silver in 2010. But here's the thing, Scott. On any given night, one of these skaters could skate the program of their life, you know, defy the odds. And that's why I watch, because ice skating is one of the most electrifying events of the Winter Olympics.

SIMON: NPR's Sonari Glinton, who's part of the team that's going to cover the Winter Olympics for NPR. You can follow them all on Twitter and Tumblr and on other social media at #NPRSochi. Sonari, good skating to you, my friend. Have a nice trip.

GLINTON: Thank you, Scott.

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