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Saturday Sports: Paralympics, Tiger Woods, March Madness

Mar 10, 2018
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DON GONYEA, HOST:

And it's time now for sports.

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GONYEA: Tiger Woods is building another comeback, and the Paralympics are intersecting with global politics. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Don.

GONYEA: OK. You spent nearly a month in Pyeongchang covering the 2018 Winter Olympics. Now the Paralympics are on the move, and we just heard about the U.S. Paralympic curling team. So given all the geopolitical news out of the region, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that politics played a role in yesterday's opening ceremony. What happened?

GOLDMAN: So you remember in the Olympics, South and North Koreans marched in as one team with the unification flag - the flag had the image of the Korean peninsula plus a few offshore islands.

Turns out the islands are a center of dispute between Korea and Japan over who owns them. South Korea wanted to avoid politicizing the flag. They agreed to remove the image of the little island chain. North Korea wanted the islands left on. They haggled. They couldn't agree, so North Korea marched in separately in its first-ever appearance at the Winter Olympics.

But, Don, just to ensure the spat wouldn't ruin relations in one evening, a North Korean and South Korean athlete held the Paralympic flame together during the opening ceremony.

GONYEA: So all is well - sort of.

GOLDMAN: Sort of.

GONYEA: OK. So for the rest of the weekend, we have ice hockey, and we have wheelchair curling. Every athlete competing in South Korea has a story about overcoming adversity, but are any of these Paralympic events likely to break through and really kind of grab ahold of an American audience?

GOLDMAN: You know, I think the key to captivating an audience is not comparing to the Olympics and saying, well, you know, these athletes aren't Mikaela Shiffrin or Marit Bjorgen or Chloe Kim, so I'm not going to watch. If you judge these events on their own, they can be really exciting.

I mean, I watched some alpine skiing last night. They're moving fast. They're carving turns. I'm fascinated by the vision-impaired downhillers. Now, imagine going 70 miles an hour essentially blindfolded.

GONYEA: Astounding.

GOLDMAN: And you have to - yeah. And you have to trust your guide, who's skiing that fast right in front of you. It is terrifying, but these athletes love the speed. They love the adrenaline. It's impressive stuff.

GONYEA: OK. I hope people will watch.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

GONYEA: Here is something that is sure to excite kind of the casual sports fan. Tiger Woods is in a PGA Tour event, and he's tied for second place. Golf fans - they want to believe - right? - that Tiger can get back to his dominant ways. But how real is this comeback?

GOLDMAN: You know, it's more real than anything we've seen in recent years, where he'd play a little, and then his back would betray him. This time, less than a year after back fusion surgery, it appears it's working. And as a result, his golf's coming around. In events he's played this year, his finishes include a 23rd place, 12th place and now this. So he's moving in the right direction.

GONYEA: People want, want, want so much to see the old Tiger. They have to be going crazy over this - golf fans, at least.

GOLDMAN: You know, when he moved into first place yesterday for a bit by himself, here's an example of the tweet storm that followed. Tiger Woods on top of the leaderboard. You may officially start freaking out now.

A lot of people want him to bring back the magic of the decade when he dominated golf and sports, really. Now remember, there are still two days to go with this tournament. A lot can happen, good and bad.

Don, his physical game is coming around, but you wonder about the all-important mental game. It's been nearly five years since his last win. How dormant are those skills that allowed him to perform so well at the end of tournaments when the pressure is really on? If he's in that position this weekend, can he, you know, kind of reanimate those skills? I think it's going to be fascinating to watch.

GONYEA: I'll watch it. I'll stay calm. NPR's Tom Goldman, thank you very much.

GOLDMAN: You always do. You're welcome.

GONYEA: (Laughter) All right. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.