RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. It's almost over. The Winter Olympics are winding down today in Sochi, Russia. For the last three weeks, our reporters have been on the ground there, taking in all the glory, all the thrills, and sending those stories back to us here at home. But before they leave Sochi, we have gathered Team NPR together once more to recap some of the highlights of their experience. Robert Smith, Tamara Keith, Sonari Glinton - welcome to the show, you guys.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Thank you.
ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: It's good to be here.
MARTIN: Sonari, I want to start with you because got to cover the total collapse of the once-dominant U.S. speedskating team - not a single medal for the Americans. What happened?
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Well, you know, as a Dutch skater said to me: What happened was the Dutch won 23 medals. They were the better team. That is something you have to look at. Then you look at what happened to the American team. They got a new suit that they didn't race in. They also sort of switched up their training right before the Games. And so when you talk to the American athletes, Shani Davis, Heather Richardson - they have world records - and they weren't able to get on the platform. And they say this got into our head and it slowed us down. And when the difference between first place and tenth place is three-fourths of a second, any little thing can cause a disadvantage.
MARTIN: OK. We're going to move on to Robert Smith. Robert, you got to spend a lot of time up in the mountains. This is old hat for you, my friend. You've been at the Olympics for a while. This is your third Winter Olympics. How does it compare to others you've covered?
SMITH: Well, you know, it was pretty good in terms of, you know, efficiency and venues and transportation, all that sort of stuff. The thing that made me a little bit sad is I think back to my first Olympics, which was in Lillehammer, Norway, and it was this sweet little winter town and farm houses and, you know, Norwegians, obviously, cheering them on. Yeah, 'cause that's...
MARTIN: They were Norwegians. There you are.
SMITH: ...Norway, right? And, you know, the Winter Olympics used to be in these tiny little towns and there was a real sense of sort of mountain culture. And now in Sochi, you know, it's basically based in this sort of large city-like area. And they built a fake little mountain town up in the hills but it's not the same. It is a really expensive, industrial-kind of Olympics. And a lot of people are worried now did they set the bar too high, you know, that basically the IOC expects a country to come in with all this money and build a super train and giant roads. And a lot of countries, you know, especially democracies where people have control over their taxpayer money, you know, they don't want to do that kind of thing.
MARTIN: So, Tam, as you went to the events, what were the crowds like? There was a lot of talk about how the security concerns were going to keep Americans away. Did you see many Americans at these Games?
KEITH: I didn't see a ton of Americans. I think that most Americans who came had some relationship with the athletes. However, I saw a ton of Canadians. So, whatever the message was that Americans were getting, our neighbors to the north did not get the same message. And there were so many Canadians here that in some of the games, it was like Canadian athletes had a home-field advantage. And you just Can-a-da, Can-a-da, until the Russians in the audience started chanting Rus-si-a, Rus-si-a. And the amazing thing is that I was at a curling event earlier this week, the gold medal curling match between Canada and Great Britain - and in the middle of that match: Rus-sia, Rus-sia, Rus-sia. So, the hometown pride is extremely strong. But also Canadians came out in force in a way that one has to wonder if it helped them in some of these hockey games, some of these other matches. I mean, it was really amazing.
MARTIN: OK. So, now I want the stories that didn't make it to air. This is our speed round. To each of you, what is the highlight of your Sochi experience?
GLINTON: Jason Brown is so unbelievably loud that you have to turn down your microphone when you talk to him.
MARTIN: Jason Brown, we should say, American figure skater.
GLINTON: Yes, American figure skater Jason Brown. He embodies the Olympic spirit. Because he came in ninth and I saw him all over the park and all over the events. And he was just like I'm so happy to be here. Now if he had said it he would have broken the microphone.
MARTIN: Robert Smith: highlight.
SMITH: I think the highlight for me at Olympics is always when you stop being a reporter for a moment and you just see something and with the crowd you just scream. For me, it was the half-pipe event when this kid from Switzerland, Iouri Podladtchikov, known as iPod, he threw his YOLO flip. And it's technically a switch front-side double cork 1440 but...
MARTIN: Wow. I love how you just said that so quickly, like you knew what you're talking about.
SMITH: I just threw that out. But, you know, but the thing is, it's like I couldn't have known it. But when he did this, he was in the air for so long the crowd was like this: Ooohhhhh-ahhhh. You could just feel it. And at that moment, we knew he had won the gold. Like you just had that certainty. That's an exciting moment anytime you can get that.
MARTIN: Tamara Keith.
KEITH: My highlight was the women's ski jump, which is a new event. These women have been fighting to get themselves into the Olympics for years. And so finally women were able to jump in the ski jump competition. But for me the highlight was there were at least 20 female reporters who came to cover this story. Some of these reporters have been covering Olympics since I was a tiny child. They were talking about how they covered the first women's marathon in 1984. There was so much girl power it was amazing. And all of the jumpers, all of the athletes wanted to come talk to our big mob of female reporters. It was so cool.
MARTIN: Well, we have enjoyed your coverage, you three. That was our Olympics team: Sonari Glinton, who normally covers the auto industry, White House correspondent Tamara Keith and Robert Smith from our Planet Money team. We look forward to hearing your back on your regular beats, but I'm going to miss you in Sochi. Thanks, you guys.
GLINTON: Thank you.
SMITH: You're welcome.
KEITH: Glad to be with you.
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