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Saturday Sports: North Korea At The Winter Olympics


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: The Winter Olympics open in Pyeongchang next month. That city in South Korea will host athletes from around the world, including, perhaps most unexpectedly, North Korea. And that has Olympic planners scrambling. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Always a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: My pleasure, Tom.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: So the - all of our - let me take a vote. It's very close.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: So the IOC is meeting soon to talk about ground rules about including North Korea. What are some of the details they have to hash out?

GOLDMAN: Well, they have to decide which athletes and officials from North Korea will take part. All the deadlines for registration have passed. So far, only a pairs figure skating team is qualified. Now, South Korea reportedly asked North Korea to join forces in women's hockey, so there could be other athletes added. But the IOC has to be careful because other countries who haven't had teams or athletes qualify could say, hey, what about us? And then, potentially, you've got issues. And we don't want issues.

The IOC also has to figure out the official protocol with flags and anthems. Will the two Koreas march together in the opening ceremony with a unified flag as they did several times at the Olympics in the early 2000s? And as far as an anthem, Scott, chances are we won't be hearing the North Korean national anthem played during the medal ceremony, at least. North Korea has only won two medals at the Winter Olympics in 1964 and '92. So the Winter Games are not a strong suit.

SIMON: Tom, I'm sorry - total theoretical question. Is there anything in the rules that would prevent, like, in the Winter Olympics the United States from getting together with Switzerland and saying, let's you and us be a team together (laughter)?

GOLDMAN: I'm going to have to check on that. That's interesting, though (laughter).

SIMON: All right. We have some games coming up here. Philadelphia Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons tonight in the National Football Conference playoffs. Falcons - a wonderful team. But they have to play with the memory of maybe the most ignominious collapse in Super Bowl history last year. The Eagles have had a terrific season. But...

GOLDMAN: But they're playing without their great, young quarterback Carson Wentz. He injured his knee late in the regular season. And largely because of that, the Eagles are the first team to start the playoffs as a No. 1 seed and as an underdog in their home stadium. Talk about ignominious.

SIMON: Oh, my.

GOLDMAN: Obviously, that's not playing well with the Eagles or their infamous fans, who are firstly...

SIMON: They're going to take it out on Santa Claus again, aren't they?

GOLDMAN: They're going to - yeah. Yeah. They are fiercely loyal. They are mean. They pelted Santa Claus in a 1960s game. And they pelted opposing players with worse things. And they are incredibly pessimistic. When Wentz went down, the reaction was a combination of oh, no and, of course we lost our quarterback at a critical part of the season. So they should be happy today because Philly's got a great defense, a strong running attack on offense. And if Wentz's backup quarterback Nick Foles, who's been inconsistent, can be the good Nick Foles, the No. 1 seed should march on.

SIMON: In the AFC, we have the Tennessee Titans versus the New England Patriots, the reigning world champions.

GOLDMAN: Yes. Much different fan base, of course, in New England. There's an expectation of all things great, even though the Patriots have been going through a controversy of late with tales of a rift between head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. New England should be fine against the Titans, who have nothing to lose and probably will. Tom Brady is out to prove that 40-year-old quarterbacks can win Super Bowls.

SIMON: But, you know, I read something this week. He and Gisele Bundchen - am I pronouncing that correctly?

GOLDMAN: Very well.

SIMON: Some kind of film coming out in which Gisele says that, I know I am Tom's second love. Football is his first love. Nothing has persuaded me more that Tom Brady has taken too many hits in the head if Gisele Bundchen is his second love.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter). Dear me.

SIMON: All right. LaMarcus Aldridge from the San Antonio Spurs - speaking of love - a nice story with his coach. Do we have time for that? Yes. I think we do.

GOLDMAN: Interesting story. The Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich, revealed Aldridge wasn't happy and asked to be traded before the season. In his 20-plus years coaching, Popovich said he'd never had a player say that. So Popovich said he and Aldridge had some dinners and meetings, and they laughed. And after all that, Popovich understood he was partly at fault. He was, in his words, totally overcoaching his player. Popovich said he took care of it. We're assuming that means he backed off. And Aldridge is playing really well. Here's the best coach in the NBA, one of the best in all of...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Major pro sports, Scott, willing to be honest, self-aware and humble. A sports story that reminds us what good leadership can be.

SIMON: Yeah. Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

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

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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