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Saturday Sports: Tokyo Olympics Heads Towards Its Close

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Well, there might be some cheer in this. It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Allyson Felix becomes the winningest U.S. athlete in Olympic track and field history, gold for the U.S. men's basketball and gold for women's water polo. Catch us all up. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us from Tokyo. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine. An 11th medal for Allyson Felix - this last one in the women's 4x400 relay. She becomes the most decorated American Olympian in track and field history.

GOLDMAN: Really something, Scott - more Olympic track and field medals than anyone in the U.S., man or woman. The U.S. women's 4x400 meter relay team with Felix running second just destroyed the field tonight, finishing almost four seconds faster than silver medalist Poland. But I would like to mention quickly beyond the medal, you know, Felix has become an outspoken athlete late in her career. She was sponsored a long time by Nike. And after giving birth to a daughter, she exposed the fact that Nike's policies toward athletes who are mothers didn't do enough to support those mothers. So she left Nike, which did change its policies after she spoke out. They're more generous now. And she's continued to speak out on these issues. So she's decorated in many ways.

SIMON: Yeah. Men's track, by contrast, has been a different story. Although they won the gold today, it's - there, it's been a case of, hey, wait, did you see the - where's the baton? I thought you had the baton.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) I thought you had it. The U.S. men were this close to not winning a gold in track at these games for the first time in modern Olympic history. That's back to 1896. Personally, Scott, I'm not a fan of this primacy of gold thing, but, you know, that would have been a big deal. Now not so much - men were dominant in winning the 4x400 meter relay to salvage something out of what had been a pretty woeful track performance in Tokyo.

SIMON: Japan won the gold in baseball, a sport, even if anything, more beloved in Japan than it is here - 2-zip. zip. And it was a great game.

GOLDMAN: A fantastic game. Yeah, and I should note that it's the second time this tournament that Japan has, in fact, beaten the Americans. So yeah, very big deal here.

SIMON: Yesterday basketball - U.S. defeated France 87-82. But by the way, as you know, in our family, we follow the French press. The game is under protest because they maintain that their uniforms are much more chic and...

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...They should have gotten style points. USA - let's see - USA defeated Spain 14-5 in women's water polo.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, you know about basketball, aside from the uniforms, France was a game opponent. They even beat the U.S. in their first meeting in Tokyo. But, you know, what can you say? The world is catching up to men's basketball but still tough to beat a U.S. team with a roster of 12 elite NBA athletes. And I think we're going to see the same kind of dominance tomorrow by the U.S. women in their gold medal game.

SIMON: I was lucky to speak with you earlier this week. You've really become a big fan of karate.

GOLDMAN: Oh, man, watch out for me, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: So I went today to the famous Nippon Budokan Hall, which is really as famous for its concerts as its martial arts. But it was a fascinating competition. I found Kata, one of the two karate disciplines, particularly riveting. Athletes are fighting an imaginary foe. They go through a series of highly stylized movements with a lot of screaming. I loved it. And I am so sorry that among all the new sports, it's the one that won't be back in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, which is a little strange since the sport is big in France, as you should know.

SIMON: Oh, I was about to say, well, we'll do it together sometime. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

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