Other Countries Share Olympic Drama

Every country has its Olympic story. Figure skater Shizuka Arakawa saved the games for Japan. Norway is disappointed with its medal count. Croatian skier Janica Kostellic won two medals, but the flu kept her out of the giant slalom. Melissa Block talks with foreign journalists about their top stories.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.

The Olympics coverage in this country has been obsessively focused on a few minor melodramas. The feud between U.S. speed skaters Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, or the will she stay vertical debate about Sasha Cohen. But it's a wide, wide world of sports out there. And to catch up on the big Olympic stories in other countries, we talked with several journalists who were at the press center in Turin.

First Norway. It's behind five other countries in the overall medal count with 18. But just two Golds, not even close to the 14 gold medals that had been predicted. And Metta Bughen(ph) of the newspaper Aftenposten says Norwegians are despondent.

Ms. METTA BUGHEN (Writer, Oftenposten): My newspaper had, on the front-page, game over. So that's, that says everything about how it is in Norway. We are sad and we are not happy about what has happened in Torino.

BLOCK: Well two bright spots. A gold medal in alpine skiing, a gold medal in ski jumping.

Ms. BUGHEN: That is correct. I'm the ski jumping reporter so I was there and he was Lars Bystoel is his name. And we didn't expect him to be the winner. He came home with three medals, one gold and two bronze. And he was the hero in Norway. But, so he did well, but in speed skating in the biathlon and cross country that was a bit disappointing things.

BLOCK: Your neighbors the Swedes have been doing extremely well in these Olympics. And I gather that that's a source of a bit of cross-bordered tension right now.

Ms. BUGHEN: Yes. Sometimes we have a bit quarrel with the Swedes because we try to be the best nation, but the Swedish athletes they have had so many years without success. So now we think it was great for them.

BLOCK: I read that there was a front page of one of the Norwegian papers this week that showed the Swedish flags, the Norwegian paper, but it had the Swedish flag. And it said, sorry Norway.

Ms. BUGHEN: (LAUGH) Yes that's correct. We must have some fun. I mean this is fun. We have, we must find something to write about so that is how we do it.

BLOCK: That's Metta Bughen of the newspaper Aftenposten. As for the Swedes, they're reveling in 12 medals, five of them gold. The Swedish Women's curling team which won gold yesterday, was still celebrating today. And planning to meet the Swedish king.

Christopher Gustovsen(ph) is covering the winter games for the Swedish paper Svenska Dagbladet and he says the big star is down hiller Anja Parson.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER GUFSTONSEN (Writer, Svenska Dagbladet): When she won her gold medal in her slalom the other day, everyone was happy with that.

BLOCK: She has a great way of celebrating when she's won a medal. She does a running belly flop onto the snow.

Mr. GUFSTONSEN: Yeah it's a seal. She's from the very North of Sweden so she knows a little about seals.

BLOCK: is there some some rivalry some gloating on the Swedish side of things? I mean is the message to Norway sorry Norway?

Mr. GUFSTONSEN: (LAUGH) No. I don't think so. But on the other hand, I guess there has been a kind of rivality, rivalry. I remember Salt Lake City when I wrote an article and it was a joke, just a joke, actually to and said that while Sweden didn't get any medals, we would join the European Union and then we had more medals than Norway.

BLOCK: (LAUGH)

Mr. GUFSTONSEN: And the next day I never had so many emails in my computer. It was, it was amazing. It was about 250 Norwegian people were the emailers, said that that was the most stupid thing they ever heard.

BLOCK: That's Christopher Guftonsen of Svenska Dagbladet.

Croatia owes its three medals, one gold and two silver all to one family. The siblings Janica and Ivica Kostelic. Janica added two medals to her four from her last Olympics. And that makes her the most decorated female in Olympic alpine history. And that's been the big story for Dan Feigenvald(ph) of the newspaper Utarni List (ph).

DAN FEIGENVALD (Writer, Utarnelese): I don't know she's a goddess in Croatia, I'm talking about Croatia. Almost everybody knows their story. They were poor. They were, they didn't have money. I don't know what to say and they started to win, you know, children's races and then the bigger races. That's why she's at the moment, you know, more than everything.

BLOCK: Is her popularity such that in Croatia there would be, would there be a lot of people naming their daughters after her? Would people be trying to dress like her?

Mr. FEIGENVALD: Exactly, Exactly, you know, before Janica came out, you couldn't find many girls named Janica. But now it's a different story you know. Everybody wants to have a girl like Janica and, yeah, you can find much more Janica.

BLOCK: Croatian journalist Dan Feigenvald in Sestriere, Italy.

China is suddenly much more aware of skiing after its first ever gold medal in snow sports won by free style skier Han Xiaopeng. His acrobatic aerial flips have captivated the Chinese public. According to Yao Pung Chung(ph) of China Radio International.

Mr. YAO PUNG CHUNG (China Radio International): Actually right now, in the sports skier shop a lot of people is trying desperately trying to buy the new skiing gear, and trying to go to ski track to do the skiing. I think it attract their attention to the snow sports. Because snow sports is actually not so popular in the China. But right now they become a new social fashion. People buy the sports gear so maybe it will get much more sponsor from the society and get more money for athletes. It will be good for this sport.

BLOCK: So these medals are already having that effect in China, that people are saying that looks like fun. I want to try that.

Mr. PUNG CHUNG: Yeah, yeah huge attraction on Chinese society. Yeah it's a huge, another news story in China.

BLOCK: That's Yao Pung Chung of China Radio International.

And finally to Japan. Last night the Japanese figure skater Shizuka Arakawa came from behind to topple the favorites Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya to win the gold. The first ever for Japan in the sport. Arakawa got a congratulatory call from the Japanese Prime Minister this morning. Timoyo Igaya(ph) is a sports producer covering the games for NHK Broadcasting. And she thinks this victory could affect society back home.

Ms. TIMOYO IGAYA (Sports Producer, NHK Broadcasting): It gives hope to a lot of women in Japan actually, because still I believe that it's a very male dominated society, and then when you see women doing very well in an international field, I think that sort of gives confidence to a lot of the people that are in their twenties who do really want a good, some substantial role in society. So I think that really have a very big effect.

BLOCK: Would really give them a boost?

Ms. IGAYA: Yes. And actually we've been hearing a lot of interviews saying that if I work hard, maybe I could be as confident as her and produce results in whatever field, not necessarily figure skating, but in terms of jobs, work, in school. I think she has tend to become a big role model for many women in Japanese society.

BLOCK: That's Tomoyo Igaya with the Japanese broadcasting company NHK.

The closing ceremony for the Turin games is on Sunday.

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