Colombian Speedskater Gets A Last-Minute Chance To Compete In Olympics
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Winter Olympics start this week in South Korea. NPR's Melissa Block brings us the story of one athlete who is astonished just to be there. Here's her story.
MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: She's an accidental Olympian.
LAURA GOMEZ: My name is Laura Gomez. I'm from Colombia.
BLOCK: Colombia - not exactly a hotbed - make that a cold-bed - of ice sports. I bump into Gomez outside at the Athletes Village where flags of the Olympic countries are snapping in a bitter wind. She finds the Colombian flag and smiles.
GOMEZ: So I'm super happy, every day. I can't believe it.
BLOCK: And if she looks dazed and bewildered...
GOMEZ: (Laughter) I'm so confused.
BLOCK: ...Well, that makes perfect sense because Gomez only found out she'd be coming to the Olympics a little over one week ago. She says her spot opened up after Russian women speedskaters were banned for doping. So they were out; she was in.
GOMEZ: Yeah. That was very exciting. It's amazing. That is bad about these people. But for me, it's great.
BLOCK: Bad for them - really good for you.
GOMEZ: Yeah, it's amazing.
BLOCK: So amazing it took a while to sink in.
GOMEZ: I was crying. But later, I just was jumping and screaming. I can't believe it. I called my mom, my family. Everyone was telling me, are you serious? No. That's a joke. Really? But now I'm here.
BLOCK: And just being here is historic. Colombia has never sent speedskaters to the Olympics. What's even crazier - the first time Laura Gomez laced up a pair of speed skates, that was six months ago.
GOMEZ: Yeah, last July.
BLOCK: She was an inline skater, but she's only been on ice since this past July, training in Salt Lake City. Right now, she's shivering in a thin jacket. It's 12 degrees out here with the windchill. This Olympic journey all happened so fast, she doesn't have a heavy team coat yet. She doesn't even have gloves.
GOMEZ: I have to wait for my gloves.
BLOCK: You have no gloves.
GOMEZ: No. But I have the pocket (laughter).
BLOCK: Pockets are not as good as gloves.
GOMEZ: That is better than nothing.
BLOCK: It's better than nothing.
BLOCK: Not much.
GOMEZ: Yeah, I know.
BLOCK: On February 24, in the long-track mass start event, Laura Gomez will take her six months of ice training and put it up against the world's best women speedskaters. Melissa Block, NPR News, at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY'S "COLORS IN SPACE")
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