Wacky Moments In Winter Olympic History

The problems with decrepit hotel rooms and stray dogs in Sochi, Russia, are stealing the headlines, but they are hardly the first Olympics to stumble. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Esquire Magazine's AJ Jacobs about some of the more inglorious moments in Winter Olympics history.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A.J. Jacobs joins us now with what amounts to leftover Olympic news from the past. Of course, A.J.'s an editor-at-large at Esquire Magazine and appears on this program whenever our will is weak. A.J., thanks very much for being with us.

A.J. JACOBS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: This effort for the Olympics to be young and pertinent with, you know, new sports like the ski halfpipe, this isn't new, is it?

JACOBS: No, the - well, you know, the Winter Olympics are not opposed to weird sports, so you have your curling, biathlon, but my favorite weird sport is no more, and that was skijoring. Skijoring is when skiers are pulled across a racetrack by horses and it was an exhibition sport for a bit, but it was rejected after the 1928 Olympics, much to the relief of horses and cleanup crews.

SIMON: We should point out, by the way, to try and forestall some e-mail. There's, you know, there are people that think curling is a great sport and don't get ice hockey.

JACOBS: I have nothing against curling. Huge fan.

SIMON: Tell us about ice skating outfits, 'cause they have certainly changed over the years, haven't they?

JACOBS: Yes. I was particularly fond of the scandal in the 1920s ice skating competition because in the early years, the women's ice-skating outfits, they looked like burqas, full coverage. But in 1920, the Europeans started lifting the hemline and America decided we have to keep up, so a seamstress was hired to raise the dress of Theresa Weld, our skater, and she was appalled.

She said: I insisted the result was far too immodest, as it was only six inches below my knees, below my knees, and I knew the audience would see my bloomers when I jumped.

SIMON: Oh, my. For the days that people were just gazing at bloomers. By the way, do you believe in miracles? OK, 1980 Olympics, the miracle on ice, U.S. team, upset - I'll say they upset them - the Soviet hockey team. Now, the Soviets lined up and shook hands afterwards, but this was really a bitter blini for them to swallow, wasn't it?

JACOBS: It was. They get the gold medal for bad sportsmanship because when they lost, first of all, apparently the Pravda newspaper never mentioned the loss in their coverage. It just did not happen. And the Soviet players didn't bother to get their medals engraved. They got the silver medal. One Soviet player said he tossed his medal in the garbage before leaving Lake Placid. And here's the saddest part to me. The cleanup workers found 120 empty bottles of Vodka in the Soviet hockey team's rooms, which one writer called the detritus of despondence.

SIMON: Of course they had to go home to the Soviet Union after that, too, you know, which is nobody's idea of, you know, welcome home.

JACOBS: That's right. Not a tickertape parade.

SIMON: The ultimate dream deferred story, I gather, something on your plate for us.

JACOBS: Ah, yes. I love this. The medal for patience goes to American ski jumper Anders Haugen, who was awarded the bronze medal 50 years after his jump. In 1974, a sports historian discovered a mistake in the scoring of the 1924 games, so he was awarded, belatedly, the bronze; and a Norwegian jumper had his medal taken away. So, you know, you never give up. You should hold out hope. Maybe in 50 years we'll find out the Broncos won the Super Bowl.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You know, I like to think that in a number of years, A. J., you and I will be mysteriously told that we've just won an Olympic medal.

JACOBS: Could happen.

SIMON: Even though we didn't compete. A.J., we began this so-called conversation with you defaming curling. I gather you have an opportunity to kind of restore the honor of curling.

JACOBS: That's right. I want to make clear how pro-curling I am because for just $2.4 million, any listener out there could become one of the most powerful people in curling because the tiny, uninhabited island in Scotland that provides the best granite for curling stones is up for sale. So you could be, you know, a curling magnate, the Mark Cuban of curling.

SIMON: Well, as we say every four years: Citius, Altius, Fortius. Have any idea what that is?

JACOBS: Faster, higher, stronger?

SIMON: Something like that, yes. A.J. Jacobs, his latest book is "Drop-dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection." Thanks so much, A. J.

JACOBS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CURL")

JONATHAN COULTON: (Singing) Pushing these rocks around, trying to gain some ground. Got to keep the Canadians down and all I've got to do is curl. Oh, yeah I know I've got to curl.

SIMON: Jonathan Coulton. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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