Sports
4:40 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Roundup At The Rink And On The Bobsled Track

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 8:02 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, a roundup of some of the big stories out of Winter Olympics in Sochi today. A Norwegian athlete became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. And there was a bruising loss for host country Russia. Its men's hockey team lost to Finland and is out of the Olympic tournament. Russian fans like Alexander Ustinov(ph) were devastated.

ALEXANDER USTINOV: You know, it's so bad because we lose. We lose. I can't believe it. It's so bad.

SIEGEL: NPR's Robert Smith has been following the tournament and joins us now from Sochi. And, Robert, the Russian hockey team was supposed to be fierce. They had a bunch of big stars at their disposal. They had the home ice advantage. What happened?

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Well, that's probably what Vladimir Putin's going to ask the coach of the team because there was a lot of pressure on this team. And, you know, I think they did the sort of classic Olympic mistake, which is they went and they found the very best high-scoring Russians possible. Their - the big star Alexander Ovechkin, he normally plays with you out there, the Washington Capitals. He was going to be the star. He was going to score. But it turns out putting a lot of stars on a team doesn't make them a team.

And they just struggled through this whole tournament with every little country, like Slovenia, that they faced. And it began, you know, Ovechkin, you know, barely scored. And, you know, the - probably the best explanation came from one of the defense men after this game with Finland. And they said, listen, we played as individuals. The Finns, they showed us how to make passes. They showed us how to play as a team.

SIEGEL: You think this ruins the Olympics for the Russians, to see their men's hockey team exit?

SMITH: Well, you know, it's funny, beforehand, a lot of people told me that this was the Olympics for the Russians, that whether the Olympics were successful or not depended on the Russian hockey team. But, you know, the Russians have done really, really well in all the other sports. And they've medaled across, you know, Alpine sports and snowboard and ice skating. And so they're a really strong county as the home country and they have nothing to be ashamed of.

SIEGEL: Now, the American men also played hockey tonight against the Czech Republic, and they won 5-2. It's also a team of NHL stars but they seem to be playing together.

SMITH: Well, you know, when they picked the team, they didn't necessarily pick the highest American scores. They picked people who had previously worked together. They looked at roles on the team. And it seems to be working. I mean, they're really clicking. And, you know, frankly, they're looking stronger than Canada, who was supposed to be the real big power in this tournament, but we're going to know soon enough, the USA faces Canada in the semifinals on Friday.

SIEGEL: Well, so much for hockey. You're joining us not from the hockey stadium but the bobsled track today. And there was talk of the U.S.A. women sweeping the two-person bobsled. They won second and third place. And I understand the lead U.S. team made a crucial mistake today.

SMITH: Yeah. It was pretty heartbreaking. We all came out to see sort of this historic moment for bobsled. And Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams, they're the best on this track. They've been the best all season long. And, you know, Elana Meyers told us afterwards, she's the driver, that she just lost control in the second curve. And when she looked up at the end of the run, she knew she had done terribly and she was just excited just to get the silver. Here she is after the run.

ELANA MEYERS: You know, I think the biggest thing is knowing that we gave everything we had. And, you know, hopefully, America will forgive me, but, you know, I fought.

SIEGEL: And finally, Robert, you were reporting on the program last week about a competitor - I hope all Norwegians will forgive me as I attempt to recall his name - Ole Einar Bjorndalen. He's a biathlete, a sport that combines target shooting and cross-country skiing. I gather, today, he won his 13th Olympic medal. This is a record, no?

SMITH: Yes. It's a record. And it's an amazing feat. And Norwegians idolize this man. And I watched the end of the race and it was a mixed relay, meaning it combined men and women biathlon. And when the last skier made it over in this relay, the team just jumped all over Bjorndalen. I mean, this guy is arguably the greatest winter athlete ever - 13 medals, eight of them gold, and he's 40 years old. He's announced his retirement from the sport.

It's funny, you know, he is famously stoic, all the reporters from Norway tell me. And when he talked to reporters afterwards, the only thing he said about his 13 medals was, it's cool.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Robert Smith in Sochi. Robert, thank you. And good night.

SMITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.