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In A First, The Paralympics Get Political


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


SIMON: The Paralympics Games have begun in Sochi. Over the next week, nearly 700 athletes with disabilities will compete at events that range from ice sledge hockey to wheelchair curling to downhill racing. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Morning Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello. Thank you.

SIMON: Normally, the Paralympics don't get anything like the attention the Olympics do, but because of the international situation, these Paralympics in Sochi, so near to the Russian action in Crimea, they seem to be getting more attention. And I thought there was a very moving and pointed display by the Ukrainian Winter Paralympic team last night.

GOLDMAN: There certainly was. You're referring to the parade of nations, that rousing moment when the athletes entered the stadium. A single athlete from Ukraine came in in a wheelchair carrying his nation's flag while the rest of the team did not march in in protest. And this came after a number of government delegations from different countries, including the U.S. and Great Britain, announced they wouldn't come to Sochi because of the situation in Ukraine.

So this is, you know, uncharted territory for the Paralympics. Usually political fallout is left to the Olympic Games, but here it is with the Paralympics, giving the Paralympics publicity they wouldn't normally get. Not necessarily the kind they want either. But it is publicity.

SIMON: I had the impression at the beginning, a couple years ago in London with the summer Paralympics, these games do seem to be getting more attention.

GOLDMAN: You know, they do and it's an interesting thing about the Paralympics and we've seen this growing over, you know, recent years. As we said, less fan and media interest in the event, but the impact on the host country after the games potentially is greater than the Olympics, particularly in countries that have lagged behind on issues of disability. Beijing in 2008, the summer games there, is often mentioned in this light.

You know, now sections of the Great Wall are accessible to wheelchairs; services for the disabled and sensitivity to disability issues reportedly have increased there. Now, definitely a lot more to be done especially in the country's vast rural areas. But there was an impact and Paralympic officials hope the same happens in Russia, which is one of those countries that's also lagged behind.

SIMON: Let's move over to soccer. The U.S. men's national team played the Ukrainian team, as a matter of fact, and the U.S. team might have wished the Ukrainian team had boycotted it.


GOLDMAN: Yeah. Absolutely.

SIMON: We're within 100 days of the World Cup. Is this a telling defeat for the U.S. team?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, doesn't help because obviously pre-World Cup you want to build momentum and cohesiveness and the U.S.A. showed neither versus Ukraine in a 2-nothing loss. But there's still a little time. Head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, used European-based U.S. players for the game. It was a World Cup audition for them. Many hadn't played together and it showed.

SIMON: They're supposed to be better because they're playing for some of the best teams in Europe, right?

GOLDMAN: Well yes, they are individually. Maybe with those teams they play with, but when you bring them all together, they weren't so hot. Next month in an exhibition game versus Mexico, Klinsmann plans to take a look at many of the U.S.-based players from major league soccer, so we'll get more answers then.

SIMON: Dr. Frank Jobe, orthopedic surgeon died Thursday. A lot of us who never made it to the majors begged him to operate on our arms. What's his role in sports history?

GOLDMAN: Big role. He invented ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, which of course is better known as Tommy John surgery named after the L.A. Dodger's pitcher who was the first to have the procedure, to have his torn ligament in his elbow fixed. And it worked on John, it worked on countless other players. Jobe was the kind of man who could have had a huge ego, but he didn't. Tommy John was a friend, not just a patient, and he said yesterday that Frank Jobe was a great surgeon, but a better person.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank so much.

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