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Olympics Serve Up A Surfeit Of Strife On Ice


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: The 2014 Winter Olympic Games come to a close tomorrow, but there's still gold to be had. Not by the U.S. Men and Women's hockey teams. They both fell to Canada. Close great games, though. And there are controversies aplenty elsewhere on the ice. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: No shame in the U.S. team's losing to the folks who invented the game, the Canadians. But did the U.S. hockey teams underperform?

GOLDMAN: I don't think so. You know, it's true the U.S. men came into the game versus Canada favored. They were so strong offensively. They'd scored 20 goals in the previous game and Canada had only managed 13. But the U.S. played well against a Canadian team that had steadily improved and which really ratcheted up its defense.

So, it was a tough close game, the U.S. just could avenge its loss to Canada in the gold medal game four years ago in Vancouver. The U.S. women, they played very well against their archrivals. They controlled the game for all but the final three and a half minutes, you know, and if you say they underperformed, it was then. They allowed - excuse me. I get so excited.

SIMON: I understand, yes. Blathering, yeah.

GOLDMAN: They allowed two Canadian goals in those final minutes then losing in sudden death overtime. But it was a great game, possibly the best by these two giants of women's hockey.

SIMON: Figure skating. Yuna Kim of South Korea. Should she have won the gold medal?

GOLDMAN: Boy, I don't know. You know, a lot of people say Russia's 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova should not have vaulted over Kim. People say there were some Russian home cooking going on. Skeptics point to the makeup of...

SIMON: I smell a blini here. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And a lot of herring really. You know, the skeptics point to the makeup of the long program judging panel which included the wife of the general director of the Russian Skating Federation and a Ukrainian judge who was suspended for trying to fix the competition at the 1998 Winter Games. But skaters in the know, while surprised at the size of the scores Sotnikova got, say they can see why she won, based on the rules that were changed in the aftermath of the 2002 Salt Lake City judging scandal.

SIMON: Another quick skating question.


SIMON: The Dutch men's speed skating team has been spectacular. The U.S. team seems like they've been the ones wearing wooden shoes.


SIMON: So what's been going on?

GOLDMAN: Oh, man. I know, yeah. They almost got completely skunked in the medals. I think there was one short-track medal that went to the U.S. but, you know, the U.S. speed skating has been one of the most popular and successful Olympic sports. You know, it could be a bunch of problems. Some say the new racing suits they wore and then ditched.

My longtime Olympic colleague, Howard Berkes, has reported that since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, there has been lots of troubles with the sport's governing body in the U.S.; Lack of funding, dysfunctional leadership, allegations of abuse by coaches. You know, all of that perhaps contributed. And then, Scott, there's the Dutch speed skating coach with perhaps the most interesting diagnosis.

He questions our country's athletic priorities. He said you have a lot of attention for foolish sport like American football. You waste a lot of athletic talent on a sport where it's meant to kill and injure each other. So whatever the reasons, the U.S.O.C., but not the NFL, says it'll leave no stone unturned in figuring out what went wrong.

SIMON: Finally, National Labor Relations Board opened a hearing for Northwestern University football players to form a union for college athletes. There are lots of implications for this, aren't there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, yeah. The hearing went all week. It's still not over. It's continuing next week. Essentially, the NLRB is deciding whether or not football players at Northwestern are employees of the university. And if it's determined they are, you know, they have the right to unionize, and if that happens, obviously the implications would be enormous. Athletes would be able to collectively bargain on issues from medical care to scholarships to some say ultimately getting paid.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Check is in the mail. Thanks very much, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.