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The Week In Sports: 2016 Olympic Summer Games Kick Off


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon, and I usually have to get through a lot of politics, economics and blah, blah, blah, before I get to say it's time for sports.


SIMON: The 2016 Olympic Games opened last night in Rio. Athletes from more than 200 nations, not including BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, have gathered to run, jump, swim, shoot and boost television ratings around the world. Tom Goldman, who's at the festivities, he joins us from Rio. Tom, thanks so much for being with us. Thanks for making time for us. I know there's lots of other stuff you can do in Rio.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's always a pleasure to squeeze you in. But actually, I just got back from the opening ceremonies, which ran a little long, about 20 hours. So, yeah, go ahead. Hit me, Scott.

SIMON: Oh, well, you know, for those of us who had to look on the teeny, tiny, little screens, which I enjoyed, what stood out for you?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, the dancing, the colors, the lights, hearing the sounds. It's dazzling, you know? The music was fantastic, not surprising since it was Brazil. The crowd singing along with the favorite songs was wonderful.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: But - here come the buts, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

GOLDMAN: You know, some of the action's head-scratching, and that's always the case in opening ceremonies. As The Guardian newspaper put it, opening ceremonies are basically a lot of things going for a long time before some sport is allowed to happen. And, yeah, it was a long time - four hours. That's too long. Even though the Parade of Nations is totally cool when the athletes come out, around the P's there was a palpable sense of OK, let's pick it up here. But it was worth sticking it out to the very end with the refugee team coming in...

SIMON: Oh, it was wonderful.

GOLDMAN: ...And then Brazil after that, the two biggest cheers of the night.

SIMON: You know, it's - one can be snarky about the Parade of Nations and various national costumes and that sort of thing, but the father in me - and you, too, my friend - I'm always so moved to see young people from around the world who have worked so hard to get there. And, you know, and most of them aren't going to make it into a medal event. But - so the opening ceremonies are their highlight. It's very moving.

GOLDMAN: I agree. I personally like the island nations. You know, they're small. They have such a great attitude. They are there for a party and they show it. The Kiribati flag bearer was a favorite of mine. He was styling out there with his flag when he was waving it, and I loved that.

SIMON: Aruba - did you see those unis?

GOLDMAN: Beautiful.

SIMON: Teal, aquamarine, I don't know what to call it.

GOLDMAN: Very pleasing.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Very pleasing to the eye.

SIMON: Oh, wait, some games. We ought to talk about that, too, right?


SIMON: Well, actually, first, I want to ask you - ahead of the games, there was another clash between police and protesters yesterday, which underscores that Rio is still a controversial site.

GOLDMAN: Yes, absolutely. You know, thousands demonstrated yesterday during - throughout the entire day and demonstrated near Copacabana Beach and then moved closer to Maracana Stadium, the site of the opening ceremony, protesting the government, the billions of dollars shelled out for these games. These protests are, you know, it's thought they will continue through the game - through the games. They were largely peaceful, although police did use some tear gas and reportedly hit some demonstrators with batons. So, as I said, this is probably going to go on.

SIMON: Katie Ledecky swims tomorrow. Michael Phelps...


SIMON: ...On Monday. What do we look forward to there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, really, I mean, Phelps may actually swim tomorrow in the relay on Sunday. And, well, we're looking to him to add to his gaudy total of 22 Olympic medals - most by anyone. And Katie Ledecky is supposed to have this breakout Olympics where she's going to be like Michael Phelps in his prime, you know, in Beijing...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...And London, so going to be exciting there.

SIMON: And I think we're all moved by the incredible story of the Syrian swimmer.

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah, Yusra Mardini, amazing story. She'll actually be swimming today in the 100-meter butterfly. She left her home in Syria a year ago because of the war, and she ends up in a dinghy in the Mediterranean. And the tiny boat with way too many people starts taking on water. And she and a few others, including her sister, jump out and guide the boat in open waters for three and a half hours. They make it to safety. She ultimately ends up in Germany where she joins a club, gets back into competitive swimming, and she'll be in the pool in Rio here today, which is pretty amazing.

SIMON: Well, I know who I'm rooting for. Tom Goldman in Rio, thanks so much. Talk to you later.

GOLDMAN: We'll talk again. Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: And tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday, an Olympic runner who grew up practicing in basketball shoes, but Brenda Martinez has made it to Rio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.