2010 Olympics: Highs And Lows Of Week Two
NEAL CONAN, Host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
The 2010 winter games don't wrap up till Sunday and there are still plenty of big events to look forward to. The U.S. women's hockey team faces off with Canada for the gold medal today. The men's team has advanced into the semi- finals, hoping to pocket a medal of their own this weekend, and the decisive long program for the women figure skaters comes tonight.
And there's plenty in this past week of note. Amid snow and fog at Whistler, Julia Mancuso effectively lost a great chance in the giant slalom yesterday when she was forced to restart after her teammate Lindsey Vonn crashed.
A Dutch speedskater celebrated a gold medal, only to learn he'd been disqualified as the result of his own coach's blunder. Another disqualification awarded a short-track relay gold to China, not South Korea, and after 86 years the U.S. won its first medals in the Nordic combined.
In a few minutes, Elana Meyers joins us, part of the U.S. bobsled team that won bronze last night. And there's the dog that didn't bark. So far, not one positive test result for performance-enhancing drugs.
Later in the program, the crossword that challenged the champions. You can take a look at that if you go to npr.org/blogofthenation. But first, as the games wind up, what's been the biggest highlight for you? What's the big moment we might have missed? What's your biggest complaint? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at that Web site, npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And joining us for the final check-in on the winter games this year are NPR's Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes, with on the line from Vancouver. Gentlemen, good to have you back.
TOM GOLDMAN: Good to be back with you.
HOWARD BERKES: Hi, Neal, how are you? I'm well, thank you. Howard, a lot of buzz about hockey. The women's gold medal game later today, and what a lot of people thought was going to wind up as the men's gold medal game actually got played last night in the quarters.
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BERKES: I'll let Tom talk about men's hockey.
CONAN: Oh, okay.
BERKES: ...women's game coming up. Yeah, the women's game coming is for me going to be probably the highlight of these Olympics. There's a lot at stake for these two teams. You have Canada and the United States again. They both - they each have dominated their opponents in the Olympic tournament so far. Each has only given up two golds in the entire tournament, that's four games each. They have outscored their opponents.
Canada has outscored their opponents 46 golds to two, the United States 40-2, and you have the pressure for Canada. You know, it's the home ice. That's not necessarily a home ice advantage. That means more pressure on the Canadians, especially with all this talk about owning the podium in these Olympics, which hasn't quite occurred in the way it expected.
There's a lot of pressure on the Canadians to win, and you have the United States motivated by losing to Canada in 2002 in Salt Lake City after never having lost a hockey game in the Olympics.
So there's a lot at stake in this game, and I will say one thing in terms of advantage. The Canadians have beat the Americans in seven out of 10 games in pre-Olympic competition. The Americans feel like underdogs, and they're very comfortable with that place to be. I think it's going to be a really exciting game.
CONAN: All right. Tom Goldman, then let's turn to you. The Canadians feeling great pressure in an elimination game last night against the mighty Russian team, and again, a rematch of the great players in the NHL: Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals; in this case Crosby for Canada, Ovechkin for Russia.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, and as you can usually predict when there's a huge buildup about two guys, two individuals in a team sport, that it never plays out, and that was the case. Ovechkin was pretty much - he pretty much disappeared. He was neutralized in this game. Crosby was a little better, but it was all the supporting cast. It was the foot soldiers.
And I cannot stress the significance of yesterday's 7-3 win by Canada over Russia. It was enormous, and I think I said, you know, a week ago on this show, Neal, how hockey is in the DNA of this country, and this game, even though it was a quarter-final matchup, everyone was saying this was going to be the gold medal game, but because Canada kind of messed around early and they didn't play very well, this became a quarter-final game.
It was - Wayne Gretzky himself, the great Canadian hockey player, said he cannot think of any team to go out onto the ice with more pressure than the Canadians yesterday, and they played magnificently. They absolutely took it to the Russians.
They just outplayed them in every facet of the game. They were physical, they blasted Ovechkin when they had a chance, and it was a very, very dramatic win, obviously gets them into the semi-finals. It puts them on a collision course, perhaps, with the United States for the gold medal game, which would be huge.
But as far as Canada needing this game yesterday, it was enormous, a very, very happy place. The arena was just out of its mind, maple leaf flags waving everywhere. The noise was just unbelievable, very big win.
CONAN: Very big win. and another big win we should talk about, and some disappointments as well, but a big win for Evan Lysacek of the United States to be the surprise winner of the men's figure skating competition last weekend.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, definitely so, and you know, again, the Russians were involved in that one. Lysacek skated beautifully, and what he said was, you know, he took advantage of the new scoring system, which gives points all along the way through a program.
And what Evan Lysacek did was work on his basics, and he said that he had been wanting to practice his jumps more because jumps were going to be a big thing in that because of Evgeni Plushenko, the Russian defending gold medal champion, is the master of the quad, the four-revolution jump.
And so, you know, Lysacek felt like he had to practice his jump more, but he said his coach and his choreographers kept saying no; work on these basic turns and spins, make sure your program from start to finish is outstanding. And it was, and he won, and Plushenko and the Russians were sore losers, and they're still moaning about it.
And I think that was another reason why the Canadians loved beating the Russians yesterday in that hockey game, because the Russians have just not handled themselves very well here. They've been a bit whiny. They've taken some potshots at Canada at the host nation, and so, yes.
But going back to the men's figure skating, Lysacek had a brilliant win and really took the high road when Plushenko was basically saying it's not men's skating if you don't complete the quad, and Lysacek didn't do a quad.
And Evan said, you know, I looked up to Plushenko when I was coming up as a skater, and it just, you know, it kind of bothers me that in my moment of glory he's taken a swipe at me. But he's taken the high road, and he has the gold medal.
CONAN: Plushenko, though, awarded himself a platinum medal on his Web site, though that's since been taken down.
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CONAN: Anyway, let's see if we can get some callers in on the...
GOLDMAN: Yeah, whatever it takes for him to feel good, yeah.
CONAN: Yeah, let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. Michelle(ph) is calling from Phoenix, the center of winter sports.
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MICHELLE: Hi, I just was wondering. I'd like to hear some comments from you regarding the television coverage that we get here in the United States. I understand that there's a world feed that comes out of the Olympics that we're not allowed to watch here in the U.S. or that we're not privy to.
I remember as a young kid watching the Olympics from sun-up to sundown. My mother would bring my meal in, in front of the TV, because I just didn't want to miss any of it, and now I feel like it's hard to get some of that coverage and hard to see some of those things. I was wondering if you ever envision a time when the networks will allow us to see more of it again.
CONAN: Well, last night's hockey game, for example, on CNBC, not on NBC; and Howard, let me put this to you. We've heard a lot from the NBC officials in this country saying they're very proud of what they're doing and that they're doing these shorter segments and skipping from sport to sport.
Nevertheless, an interesting item we saw today was that ESPN plans to bid for the next Olympics that are available - NBC's had a, well, I guess a millennial - so far all of the Olympics in this century. But nevertheless, ESPN wants to put out a bid and carry, wherever it is, carry it live.
BERKES: Yeah, and that would be, you know, ESPN, ABC bidding for the games using all the sports platforms that ESPN has. NBC has had a lock on bidding for the Olympics. It would - it's an uphill battle for ABC, ESPN, to wrestle the games from NBC, and NBC has something nobody else has: It actually has someone in the International Olympic Committee who's a vice president of NBC and a member of the IOC and has been involved in the radio and television contracts and situations.
So it would be tough, but I've talked to people here from ESPN about what they might do with the games, and they say that - they say that, they say the same thing, that they would run events live, perhaps as they occur, and then in the evening, if an event was taking place during the day, they'd still do the evening thing of re-running it for people who might not have seen it during the day, but they would offer both choices, which is something that NBC could do with all the platforms that it has, if it chose to.
I think what NBC is looking at is they have record viewing. Millions of people are still tuning in, in the way that they do it. They like to do it in terms of framing every event and every athlete in terms of a story. You know, it's basically like a show with a plotline and all of that. That's how they like to do it, as opposed to just presenting the pure sport.
And the feed that Michelle referred to is a feed that we see in the press centers at the Olympics, which is just the raw events, no commentary, just the video. You see it live. We like it that way, and we like to see it in real time, and I think a lot of Americans would.
There are a lot of Olympic junkies out there like Michelle, who want to see it in real time, and maybe even just the pressure of the bid from ESPN/ABC will force NBC to rethink the way it does it.
CONAN: So Michelle, are you still tuning in though?
MICHELLE: I am still watching when I can, but I find it unfortunate. I miss things I'd like to see, and I know they've occurred because I see the little recap.
CONAN: Just the little - the crawl down at the bottom of the screen.
MICHELLE: Right, exactly.
CONAN: All right, Michelle, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.
MICHELLE: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking about the best of the 2010 winter games and what's still to come. What's been the biggest highlight for you? What's a big moment we might have missed, or what's your biggest complaint? Give us a call, 800-989- 8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up next, we hope to talk with U.S. bronze medalist in the bobsled. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's not over until the fire's out at the cauldron, but before the closing ceremony, the last event at the 2010 winter games will be men's ice hockey, the U.S. and host Canada still in the mix for the gold medal.
The last two weeks have been full of spectacular performances and some heartbreaking crashes. As the games wind up, what's been the biggest highlight for you? What's a big moment we might have missed? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our correspondents in Vancouver are with us, Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes, and we're going to go now, though, to - well, to the road. The U.S. took home a bronze medal in the women's two-man bobsled last night. Brakeman Elana Meyers and her partner, driver Erin Pac, surprised man bobsled fans by beating out both top-ranked Germany and the sled driven by their U.S. teammates.
Elana Meyers is on the line, with us by phone, on her way to the medal ceremony. Congratulations.
ELANA MEYERS: Thank you, thank you. It's been a great ride so far. I know we're looking forward to getting our medal tonight.
CONAN: And that should be a wonderful moment for you. I wonder, I think people may have heard this already. You had always dreamed of playing at the Olympic Games but dreamed of playing shortstop.
MEYERS: Yeah, you know, definitely. I always dreamed of being in the Olympics, since I started playing sports. I wanted to go to the Olympics and never thought it would be in bobsled.
I played softball growing up, and that was where my heart was, and I thought that's where I was supposed to be, but obviously I was supposed to be right here, right now.
CONAN: And you took up bobsled after softball was eliminated as an Olympic sport. Hello? Ah. I think we've lost Elana Meyers. She's on her way from - we'll try to get her back on the line, and maybe she'll find another tower there.
Howard, you've been driving back and forth from Whistler. Are there a lot of cell phone dropouts on that road?
BERKES: Oh yeah. It's a mountain highway, and I'm surprised we were able to get her at all on that road.
CONAN: Here's an email we have...
BERKES: But it's...
CONAN: Go ahead.
BERKES: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
CONAN: I was just going to say...
BERKES: I was going to say, but it's...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: We're being bollixed up by this slight delay, yes.
BERKES: We have a little delay. Go ahead, Neal.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Jen(ph) in New Hampshire on another subject. I feel so badly for the Netherlands speedskater whose coach told him to get into the inside lanes - speedskaters swap the inside and outside lanes every time they go around the track - when he shouldn't have. I missed seeing the actual race. Can you tell us: What made the coach think his athlete needed to be in a different lane? Did either of you have something on that?
GOLDMAN: Well, I'll tell you, Jen doesn't feel any worse than the coach, who admitted his mistake and said that what he did, he was writing down numbers. He admitted he was kind of over-coaching, and he was writing down numbers to flash on a white board to flash to Sven Kramer, his outstanding skater, and looked down, looked away from the ice for a few seconds, and when he looked up, he, you know, made the mistake. He thought that Kramer hadn't changed lanes when he should have or the other way around.
Anyway, he looked up, and he gave him the wrong information, and Kramer changed lanes and was disqualified, a horrible, horrible mistake, and you know, he took full responsibility for it.
He said - he admitted he was trying to do too much at one time. He was also dealing with some new technology that he was working with. Apparently, coaches often will use hand signals, whereas this coach wanted to write things down on the white board for his skater.
GOLDMAN: So, but you know...
CONAN: I hate to interrupt, but Elana Meyers is back on the line. So while we've got her on a tower there, we're going to get her back on the air. Can you hear me now?
MEYERS: Yes, I can hear you. Sorry about that. (Unintelligible).
CONAN: Certainly not your fault. So you decided to take up bobsled after softball was eliminated as an Olympic sport, and you are the pusher. Tell us what the pusher does. The pusher apparently drives into another dead spot on the road.
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CONAN: So we'll try to get her back on the line one more time.
GOLDMAN: Should I get back to speedskating, Neal?
CONAN: We'll go back to speedskating.
GOLDMAN: So, yeah, they had some problems too. I hope their cell phones aren't dropping out, the Dutch coach. But anyway, so yeah, it was a tough situation, and Kramer, the skater, to his credit, you know, after a day of cooling off, came out and said, you know, my coach and I talked it out. I'm not going to hold it against him. I'm not going to fire him. We've been through too much and had so much success together. It was a mistake. It's gone. I've lost the medal. So he sounded like he had kind of come to terms with this.
But yeah, that was a tough one, especially after 10,000 - not kilometers, 10,000 meters, a very tough, long race.
CONAN: Let's get Christina(ph) on the line from Milwaukee.
CHRISTINA: Hello, gentlemen. I'd like to share with you a fun Wisconsin fact about the U.S. women's hockey team.
CONAN: And that is?
CHRISTINA: And that is, nine of the players of the Badgers, the entire Badger team, seven of them are on the U.S. team, and two of them are on the Canadian team. It is nearly an all-Badger Olympic team.
CONAN: So an all-Badger final, Badgers versus Badgers.
CHRISTINA: Yes, so seven U.S. Badgers and two Canadian Badgers.
CONAN: And Howard, I'm sure that's going to be a major thrust of your coverage this evening.
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BERKES: Well, I'm glad to know it. I'm really happy to know it. I think what's interesting about the American team in particular is that we have two veterans of basically every single hockey game that the United States has played in the Olympics, and then there are four who were there in Salt Lake City when the team - or rather Torino, when the U.S. hockey didn't do so well, eliminated in an earlier round, didn't get to the gold medal game, a heartbreaking loss. It was a shoot-out for the victory at the end of the game and a loss for the United States.
So there are a lot of women on that team with - perhaps they've got friends on the Canadian team, but - and actually, they are friends, not just the Badgers, but they do talk about how they're friends with each other. They play each other a lot. But this is going to be a match with a lot at stake for both teams. It'll be very intense, and the American women, what they say about this game is that this is the game that they've been preparing for for the last four years, and this is the game that they came to the Olympics to play.
CONAN: Christina, thanks very much for the call. We're going to risk it one more time and go back out onto the road between - near Whistler Mountain. And Elana Meyers, are you there?
MEYERS: Yes, I'm here now.
CONAN: Okay, let's try it one more time. Tell us a little bit about - we see you pushing furiously for the first five seconds. What do you do the rest of the race?
MEYERS: The rest of the race, I'm just trying to hold on, have a good run, trying to stay relaxed in the sled, because if we're too stiff in the back of the sled, it'll cause the sled to skid. Definitely trying to feel how the curves feel and see if I can give any feedback to my driver about how my ride felt in the back. And then at the very end, I pull the brakes.
CONAN: And that's the brakeman part of the job.
MEYERS: Yes, yes.
CONAN: And can you tell, from your ducked-down position there, crouched in the back of the bobsled, can you tell when you're having a good run?
MEYERS: I can definitely tell when I feel like we're having a smooth run, when I feel like things are going right. When we're getting on curves correctly, and we're getting off curves correctly, I can tell. And I can tell when we're in late or when we're in early or even when we might be risking a crash. But it's hard sometimes in the back of the sled because you can tell whether it's a good run, but sometimes your best runs aren't always your fastest runs.
CONAN: Yeah, the smooth runs aren't necessarily the fast ones. Tell us a little bit about - this track itself has been quite controversial, as I'm sure you know better than I.
MEYERS: Right. The track, it's a difficult track. It's very, very fast, and it's a lot - technical. So there's a lot the drivers have to do in a very short amount of time. So if you're not on top of your game, you can miss a drive, and you're over that quickly.
So it's a difficult track, but I feel like it's a great track to have the Olympics on because anything can happen, and obviously we were underdogs going in, and Erin proved how great a driver she is by pulling it out when no one expected us to.
CONAN: Indeed, her problem was always said to be consistency. She certainly put a number of runs together this time around.
MEYERS: Right, definitely, and I couldn't be prouder of her.
CONAN: Well, congratulations to you both, and we'll look for you on the medal stand this evening. And I just wanted to point out, spring training is underway here back South. Are you getting a little hungry for softball?
MEYERS: Oh, definitely. I wanted to try and play some this year, but after the whirlwind this season's been, my body needs a little break. So I don't know if it wants me to play softball, but I'll definitely, you know, go throw a couple balls around and hit the batting cages a little bit and see what I can do still.
CONAN: Elana Meyers, thanks very much again for your time, and again, congratulations.
MEYERS: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Elana Meyers, a member of the U.S. women's bobsled team. She and her partner, Erin Pac, won the bronze medal last night in the two-man bobsled, and she gets her medal in a ceremony later today.
Let's go back to Vancouver, to our correspondents. They are, of course, Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes, and let's go next to - this is Tony, Tony with us from St. Louis.
TONY: Good afternoon.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
TONY: Okay. I've been told to go to one of my points specifically, so I will. One of my complaints is that so many of the athletes either don't train in the country they represent, or they're just recently becoming citizens of a country, and they've been U.S. citizens for most of the time.
CONAN: There are a number of people, Tom Goldman, who, well, apparently nation- shop. They - if there's a lot of competition in one sport for - they may move to another nation to see if they can qualify and go to the Olympic Games for somebody else.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. And they always, kind of, ski or skate a fine line of - if you'll excuse the pun here - between the inclusiveness of the Olympics and also making sure that this is the best of the best in these events. As a matter of fact, in skiing, I believe, the people like Tony is speaking of, and there are a couple of very colorful guys, one of whom was a 51-year-old in the super - no, maybe giant slalom, men's giant slalom, 51 years old. He - it was actually his fourth Olympics, very kind of colorful dynamic guy, but a guy who, you know, probably shouldn't have been out there, but he was out there for the fun of it.
And, you know - so it's nice to include characters like that, but also, these are all very, very, very dangerous sports. And you have to be careful that you're not letting in - letting someone into these things who's going to hurt themselves.
BERKES: Well, and we all may remember Eddie the Eagle who was the British ski jumper with the Coke bottle glasses who jumped in the 1988 games in Calgary. I covered those games, and he created quite a storm because he was a colorful character, but he - it wasn't clear that he would make it down the hill safely. And the International Olympic Committee responded to that after the 1988 games and actually made the requirements more stringent. It used to be - basically, you just had to be the best in your country. Of course, if you were the only in your country and you just started three weeks ago, that could have been enough. But now, you have to meet other minimum requirements.
And also, there are some athletes who may have dual citizenship, say, they're from the United States but they have citizenship in another country and they couldn't possibly compete against the athletes in the United States because sports is so much more developed here, but maybe their citizenship in Costa Rica or Jamaica or wherever it is means that they could compete for that nation.
And they're not necessarily terrible athletes, but that would be their chance to get into the games. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing as long as they do meet some minimum standard and they're not putting their life in jeopardy.
GOLDMAN: And, Neal, I should add that, you know - and they are fueled by examples of, say, Jon Montgomery from home - host country, Canada, who won the men's skeleton. And forgive me, I didn't do my research on Jon, but he had begun in another sport, and you hear that with some of the athletes in these sports that they begin in something, they don't make it and they say, oh, I'm going to try this.
So he basically had that moment with skeleton. I'll try skeleton. He won a gold medal. And so, for people out there kind of looking to get into this Olympic experience, they look at a guy like that - hey, I could do that. You know, I'm nuts enough to go down a little sled headfirst at 90 miles an hour. Maybe I could win a medal, you know?
CONAN: Or the...
GOLDMAN: I mean, I'm not saying that Jon Montgomery isn't skilled at what he did, but the way he got in, you know, he wasn't born a skeleton racer to be.
CONAN: Or the example of the Jamaican bobsled team who didn't win a medal, but they got a movie made out about them. That's - we're talking about the 2010 Winter Olympic Games with Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes in Vancouver. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go next to Don(ph), Don with us from Greenville, North Carolina.
DON: Good afternoon. Just a general comment, I've quit looking at Olympic Games and it goes back quite a long time to when the Soviet bloc and Cuba and China I guess, had state-sponsored athletes who were too professional to compete against our amateurs, so we started putting professional basketball players on our Olympic team. And I think it's removed the incentive of amateurs to compete in the Olympics and move on to a professional career. But didn't we just have professional hockey players playing up there?
CONAN: Oh, indeed. And that was the situation back in 1980 in Lake Placid, when I was lucky enough to cover that game, the Miracle on Ice, that was the Red Army team playing for the Soviet Union and a bunch of college kids playing for the United States, which is why it's the greatest upset in, perhaps, the history of all U.S. sports, but...
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DON: Because they won.
CONAN: Because the Americans upset the pros. But, Tom Goldman, we seem to be long past that.
GOLDMAN: We certainly do. It's interesting how you hear the U.S. team, the U.S. men's hockey team characterized here. It's like they are stretching for that Miracle on Ice moment when they were all these, you know, college kids as you say. You know, they're a young team, they're the youngest team in the tournament, but most, if not all of them, are NHL players, they're just not star NHL players. But - so, yeah, there is a lot of professionalism.
It's really hard to find true amateurism anymore in any of these sports, although you do have a hierarchy here where you have the people who are, you know, definitely rich and definitely considered professional athletes who are getting the big endorsements. I would say still 90 percent of the athletes here are what we would consider your classic Olympians - people who, you know, have to work a job as well as learn their sport and so on.
But, you know, you mention hockey. There is talk that this could be the last year for professionals, not so much in Olympic situation, but I think the National Hockey League may be rethinking its decision to essentially shut down its season for the three weeks when they do have the Olympics and all these NHL players go to play.
CONAN: Don, thanks very much for the call. And, Tom, I just wanted to follow up on a point we mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast, and that is the lack of positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs as professional football in this country and, indeed, Major League Baseball now consider the prospects of blood tests for HGH after a - I think a cricket player, a rugby player tested positive in Britain. Anyway, not one positive test in Vancouver, that's remarkable.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you didn't get the memo that doping is over.
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CONAN: Glad we - glad we settled all that. Yes.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, that's one of the conclusions you can make, and actually I should amend that a little bit. We did have an unnamed female athlete who tested positive for, I'm quoting here, a light stimulant at the Winter Olympics, and she was given a reprimand. She basically took a drug that wasn't banned, took something that contained a substance that wasn't banned in out-of-competition testing, but it was banned in the Olympics. It stayed in her system by the time she got to the Olympics. So they considered it a special case and gave her a reprimand, as I mentioned. No one banned.
But yes, they're well on their way to over 2,100 drug tests here, blood and urine - excuse me - during the Olympic period and not one, you know, major positive. And as I said, you can either think that that's - everyone's clean and doping is over, or you can think that athletes may still be outfoxing the testers. And I kind of will put my money on the latter.
CONAN: Tom Goldman and Howard Berkes, thanks very much. We're going to leave with this email from Liz(ph) in Shade, Ohio. I'm a private music teacher and use the Winter Olympics to teach the key of G to my student. I created exercises based on many of events. There are a lot descending scales for all those skiing events.
Well, coming up next, crafting the 2010 championship crossword puzzle. This is NPR News.
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