Sochi An Olympic Spectacle Even Without The Games

What a week in Sochi, Russia! NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Olympics correspondent Tamara Keith about the ill-fated opening ceremony, stray dogs and bad hotel rooms, as well as who won the first gold medal.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. It's the first day of Winter Olympic in Sochi. Winners and losers are flying off the slopes. Those that don't want to know what happened before you have a chance to see it on TV, consider this is a spoiler alert. We're joined now by NPR's Tamara Keith from Sochi. Tamara, thanks very much for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

SIMON: And let's start with the biathlon because someone who's regarded as a legend, I guess, has performed....

KEITH: Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah, go ahead. Please tell us.

KEITH: Yeah. So he is a Norwegian skier, and I'm very sorry to him now if I totally screw up his name. But it's Ole Einar Bjorndalen.

SIMON: He has a hard time saying Tamara Keith. So, go ahead.

KEITH: I bet he does. And so, this, he won gold just pretty recently, and it is his 12th medal in biathlon. And that makes seven gold medals. He's 40 years old, which is ancient by biathlon, or even pretty much Olympic standards. That is the most medals ever in the Winter Games, tied for that.

Biathlon, for those who don't know, is this crazy sport where you do cross country skiing and then you stop, and you have to get your heart rate way down, and you shoot a rifle at tiny targets. And then you go fast, fast, fast again, and then you get your heart rate back down, and you shoot some more. And then you race some more. It is a wild sport.

SIMON: And the first gold medal winner of the games was an American, Sage Kotesenburg, who won for snowboarding.

KEITH: Yes. He's from Park City, Utah. He was competing in the sport of snowboard slope style. This is an extreme snow sport; new to the Olympics this year. It mixes sliding on rails, with jumps and twists and flips. And he said at a press conference that he rolled out a new signature move that he was calling the holy crale.

SAGE KOTESENBURG: It's a Japan grab, which is a mute grab pulled behind your back. But also, with the crale grab, which is your backhand reaching up to your nose of your board. So, you're in like a pretzel going 1260 degrees in the air.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Which is three-four rotation.

KEITH: Yeah, he speaks a completely different language. They all do. But to them it makes complete sense. He beat out a Canadian named Mark McMorris, who had been favored but who broke a rib a couple of weeks ago and was really struggling. He ended up getting bronze.

SIMON: The U.S. women's hockey team won their first game over Finland 3-to-1.

KEITH: Yes, and it was pretty dominate. This was a qualifying round. So, although beating teams like Finland is important for the American women, it's really all about Canada. And the Canadian women also had their first game, and they destroyed Switzerland. So everyone is looking forward to the America-Canada game in women's ice hockey. It's this fierce rivalry. There have been fights on the ice, and a lot of people are hoping that ultimately the gold medal game is USA-Canada.

SIMON: And let me ask you about the opening ceremonies, those operatic balletic(ph) ceremonies, because they were, you know, they were - OK, there were four rings that did go on when they were supposed to. There was one that didn't but I gather you might not know that, if you were watching in Russia.

KEITH: That's correct because in Russia, the producers of the program saw that this was going terribly wrong and they switched the Russian TV footage from the live event to footage from practice, where it worked perfectly. And it really was a breath-taking scene, with fake snow falling from the sky and then these snowflakes form into the Olympic rings. And I'm sure it was way better to watch on Russian TV than it was in person.

SIMON: Well, thanks very much for being with us. NPR's Tamara Keith, reporting from Sochi, Russia. We're going to look forward to hearing you and your fine team there on duty in Sochi for the rest of our Winter Olympics coverage. Thanks so much, Tamara.

KEITH: You're welcome. Glad to join you.


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