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Winter Olympics Look Ahead: The Joint Korean Hockey Rosters


The opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics are Friday in Pyongyang, South Korea. Over the past few weeks, we've been getting to know a few of the athletes who will be competing at the Games, but now we want to dig into some of the storylines we'll be following. There's the fact that the Games are being held in South Korea when tensions with the North are high. And as for the sports, well, there's some drama there too. NHL players won't be taking part this year. The league would not interrupt its schedule to let them go.

And on the women's side, the Korean women's hockey team will be comprised of players from both the North and South. We wanted to hear about all of this, so we've called William Douglas of McClatchy News. He also writes "The Color Of Hockey" blog. He is heading to South Korea shortly, but he was nice enough to stop by our studios first and tell us about everything. Bill, welcome. Thanks so much for coming.

WILLIAM DOUGLAS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Well, let's start with Team USA. You were telling us that this is actually the most diverse team that the U.S. has ever sent to the Winter Olympics. Tell us more about that.

DOUGLAS: Yes. This team, out of 242 U.S. athletes, you'll have 11 Asian-Americans and you'll have 10 African-Americans competing in figure skating, bobsled, skeleton and ice hockey.

MARTIN: And how did that come about? Is that just the development of the sport, or was there some effort to reach out?

DOUGLAS: It's sort of an all-the-above thing. What you have is - like on bobsled, you have women on the bobsled team - in particular, Elana Meyers Taylor - who have gone out and recruited athletes to become bobsledders. She came over to bobsled from, of all things, softball. And so she's recruited women from track and field, say, hey, come on over. If you can't make the Summer Games, try the Winter Games.

MARTIN: So let's talk about hockey. This year, as I mentioned, the NHL will not be sending players to the Olympics, ending a run of five consecutive Winter Games. So why? What was the decision all about? And how do the players feel about that?

DOUGLAS: Part of the decision was sort of NHL in-house stuff. I mean, they had some union issues. The NHL wanted some concessions from the Olympic committees in terms of insurance, in terms of transportation and stuff like that. So they felt it wasn't in the league's interest. How the players feel - a lot of players who are from European countries, they view the Olympics as a big deal. They view this as a world championship. And a lot of them aren't happy.

MARTIN: And, well, so that's the men's side. On the women's side, some of the excitement is around the fact that Korea is fielding this combined team. And there are how many Americans? At least there are some, like, four North Americans on the Korean team.

DOUGLAS: You've got four North Americans. I believe you have two from the United States and you have two from Canada who were basically recruited. Once South Korea got the Winter Olympics, they realized they had to put a hockey team together really, really fast. You know, they're not a hockey power, they never have been.

So what they did was they actually went around, looked at college rosters, amateur rosters and looked for people with Korean-sounding last names. They would get these emails like, you know, hi, we're South Korea. Do you want to play for us in the Olympics? And one of the players, Randi Griffin, who's from Raleigh, N.C., you know, she talked about - she thought it was one of those email scams and basically ignored it for like three months to the point where the South Koreans found her father, called him and said, hey, Randi's not answering her emails.


DOUGLAS: And so her father went to her and said, this might be real.

MARTIN: What are you most looking forward to in going to these games? This is your - what? - your second Games?

DOUGLAS: This is my second.

MARTIN: Your second Games. What are you looking forward to?

DOUGLAS: I'm looking forward to the unexpected. What happens with the Olympics is it's like - it's a three-week sports festival. You have this complex which becomes sort of a city. And you just don't know what's going to happen. Of course, in the realm of competition, I love hockey. So I think with this hockey tournament, just the fact that we just don't know. I mean, any NHL fan will look at the U.S. roster and Canadian roster and say, what?


DOUGLAS: Which is not to dismiss their abilities as players. These guys just aren't known commodities.

MARTIN: That's Bill Douglas with McClatchy Newspapers. He is headed to the 2018 Winter Olympics, but he was nice enough to stop by our studios first. Bill, thank you so much for joining us. And hopefully we'll talk again and you'll tell us what's going on.

DOUGLAS: I'll be cold while I do it (laughter). Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.