The Sound Of Cowbells Haunts Olympics Reporter

On the slopes, athletes are cheered on by fans, family and friends ringing cowbells. Does it help? Is it too much?

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're going to keep this next story very short - and you're going to hear why. NPR's Robert Smith is at the Olympics, and something is driving him crazy.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: When I go back to the hotel after a day of covering skiing, this is what I dream about.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS CLANGING AND CHEERING)

SMITH: The yelling, the cowbell, more cowbell.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL CLANGING)

SMITH: Oh, the cowbell. It is a European tradition to clang these things to cheer on a skier and after 14 days of the Olympics, I am begging you: Less cowbell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FEAR THE REAPER")

SMITH: Now, don't get me wrong - I appreciate a cowbell in a classic rock song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FEAR THE REAPER")

SMITH: To quote the great Bruce Dickinson from the "Saturday Night Live" sketch...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: (As Bruce Dickinson) I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

(AUDIENCE LAUGHTER)

SMITH: But the album version of "Don't Fear the Reaper" was five minutes and eight seconds long. The men's giant slalom competition lasted three and a half hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS CLANGING)

SMITH: OK. Maybe it is just me, because everyone else seems to like it. And it does make sense; you can't clap with mittens on. But for some reason, when you have a cowbell in your hand, it is like you can't hear it anymore.

After two hours, does the cowbell ever get old to you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No, but it probably gets really old to the people sitting in front of me.

SMITH: You've seen them turn around and give you a look like, is she going to ring the cowbell for all the...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, I have got - a lot of those looks, yes.

SMITH: And it'd be OK if people just cowbelled for their own country. But no matter what flag you are skiing for, the cowbell tolls for thee.

YURIV FLESHNIGARD: I cheer for everyone.

SMITH: Yuriv Fleshnigard(ph) is from Norway. Her cowbell is international.

If somebody's skiing from Sweden, what does it sound like?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL CLANGING)

SMITH: All right. If someone is skiing for Norway, what does it sound like?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL CLANGING)

SMITH: Maybe it's because I'm trying to radio interviews here that I'm more sensitive. Maybe I'm a cowbell curmudgeon. The skiers don't mind. When the slalom racer from Zimbabwe, Luke Steyn, came down, most of the crowd had left. He finished 61st. And yet a few cowbells made him feel like a star.

LUKE STEYN: Even though like, my legs felt like concrete, I could still hear the crowd cheering for me, which is great.

SMITH: See, for some, just the right amount of cowbell. Robert Smith, NPR News, Sochi.

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