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What To Watch For At The Olympics


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

This morning in London, Big Ben rang out.


WERTHEIMER: Along with Big Ben, people all over the country rang church bells, hand bells simultaneously, ringing in the start of the 30th Olympiad. The Summer Olympics always produce fascinating moments. Sometimes we know what to watch for. Sometimes a newcomer, a miracle or a mistake surprises us. NPR correspondent Howard Berkes is covering his eighth Olympics. NPR's Mike Pesca is our rookie of the game, so to speak. And they join us now from London to talk about what's in store over the next couple of weeks.

Howard, Mike, welcome.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Good to be with you.


WERTHEIMER: Now, first let me ask a question for each of you. The marquis events for you? Howard first.

BERKES: Swimming, you've got Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte from the United States going head to head right off the bat tomorrow in the 400 individual medley. And Michael Phelps could come out of this Olympics with more medals than anybody in Olympic history. On the women's side, Missy Franklin, the young high schooler from Colorado, the next big star for the American women.

And over in gymnastics, which starts soon after swimming gets started, this vivacious 16-year-old Gabby Douglas for the United States and Jordyn Wieber competing against each other. They're destined to be the next big stars for the U.S. as gymnastics transitions into a new group of women.

PESCA: Yeah, Howard was talking about a couple of sports where Americans are going head to head. I'd like to talk about one where two Jamaicans are going head to head. And that's the 100 meters, the men's 100 meter dash. You know, I like all the sports, from the world's most popular - soccer - to the world's least popular - which I'm going to say is modern pentathlon.


PESCA: But to me, the dash, although it takes place in 9.7 seconds, is as dramatic as can be. And everyone knows that Usain Bolt with his lightning bolt pose is the favorite. But I've got to tell you, he didn't even win in Jamaica. Yohan Blake, his teammate and best friend, bested him. And his start is getting slower and slower. So he is the odds-on favorite here. I don't know if he should be.

WERTHEIMER: Mike, you have covered a lot of high-profile sports events, even if you've never been to the Olympics - the World Cup, the Super Bowl - what are you especially noticing about this event, first impression?

PESCA: Yeah, you know what I like? Athletes who get it. I mean, maybe it's an overused trope of the angry sports guy saying this or that pampered star doesn't get it. But here in the Olympics it's just heartening that so many of the athletes you speak to embody the spirit of the Olympics, live for the Olympics, are so down to earth and really are kind of like the guy on the Wheaties box they're selling you. They've really been wonderful and forthcoming people. In a lot of cases, they just sacrifice for very little glory.

WERTHEIMER: Howard, what about you? Lesser known sports, athletes we haven't thought about yet?

BERKES: I'm really interested in seeing Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who is a double amputee. He's got carbon fiber legs that he runs on. And for the first time ever, a double amputee will be running in the Olympics. He has the fastest time this year for a South African. This is a groundbreaking event for the Olympics and some people are saying maybe he has an advantage because of these artificial legs.

He probably won't be in the final. He's not fast enough in this elite field for that. But it'll be a very interesting event, one of the most watched events of the games, the 400 meters men's track and field event.

WERTHEIMER: So, Mike, do you have a favorite lesser known event you're looking forward to seeing?

PESCA: You know, I'm just so excited to see a 34-week pregnant woman shoot a gun. There's a Malaysian shooter who falls in that camp. There's so many weird, interesting stories. You know, the Chechen wrestlers. They wrestle for Russia. They don't like Russia, but they do it for their own glory. There are hundreds and hundreds of these. And between the air and our blog, The Torch, you know, maybe we'll get to a small fraction.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks to you both.

BERKES: Thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Howard Berkes and Mike Pesca, who are both in London for the Olympics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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