SCOTT SIMON, host:

At the Winter Olympic Games, the host country is beginning to own the premium part of the podium after all. A flurry of winning performances puts Canada's gold medal count at 10 - more than any other country. Americans have won eight gold medals, but they top the overall medal count with 34. That's ties the American record for a single Olympics.

NPR's Howard Berkes looks at why American athletes are winning big.

HOWARD BERKES: Friday morning, NBC's Today Show" didn't just feature a famous speed skater, an emotional figure skater and an alpine skiing medalist. No, the fireside hosts went to an American on skinny cross-country skis.

Ms. MEREDITH VIEIRA (Host, "Today Show"): ...day for Billy DeMong, the U.S. Nordic combined athlete won not one, but two medals, including the first ever gold for an American in his sport. Billy, good morning.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: And later Friday, DeMong juggled interview requests, news conferences and public appearances. He competes in a sport that has to be explained - it combines ski jumping and Nordic skiing, by the way - but he and his teammates have won more medals here than American figure skaters. They've matched the medal take for long track speed skaters, and they have just one less than the snowboarders. Billy DeMong.

Mr. BILLY DEMONG (U.S. Nordic Skier): It's amazing. And there's a lot of new sports, but, you know, the U.S. has just gotten so much stronger in every sport. Across the board, it's really exciting.

BERKES: Americans are strong and getting stronger in some of those sports relatively new to the Olympics. But there's nothing new about Nordic skiing, except success in Nordic combined. Meri-Jo Borzilleri is an Olympics reporter who follows the sport.

Ms. MERI-JO BORZILLERI (Olympics Reporter): I think a lot of it is the fact that three of the athletes are older - Johnny Spillane's 29, Bill DeMong's 29. And the other part is I think there's been more funding. And it's hard for American kids to pick up a sport and stick with it until they're 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, or even their early 30s when athletes reach their peak in those sports.

BERKES: Medalist DeMong, Spillane and Todd Lodwick, who is 34, have 13 Olympic Games between them, so they had experience and maturity along with persistent training. That could help explain their medals. The U.S. Olympic Committee has boosted funding for other promising sports, and there's more attention to the psychology of winning.

Sports psychologists work with American athletes, including short track speed skater Katherine Reutter, who won a silver medal last night, but not after suffering a crisis of confidence.

Ms. KATHERINE REUTTER (U.S. Speed Skater): I had a breakdown today where the pressure was on. I could handle the pressure; it was just so important to me that I couldn't keep it inside any more. But after, you know, letting it out and coming in here and racing and knowing that all you can do is your best, and I did that today.

BERKES: Reutter didn't address the crisis alone. The team psychologist talked her through it, went with her to the track and had an American flag and Team USA sweats ready for the medal ceremony.

Unidentified Man: Silver medal, representing the United States of America, Katherine Reutter.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: Whatever the reasons for the medal onslaught, at least two more medals are guaranteed - the U.S. men's hockey team is in the gold medal match tomorrow against Canada, and American men are in the medal race in long track speed skating team pursuit. That will tie the record for most medals by a single nation in a winter games. At least one more is possible today - an American four-man bobsled is in first place going into final runs.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Vancouver.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.