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Decathlon, Beach Volleyball In Olympic Spotlight


The Olympic Games in London have already brought a lot of drama and made some history, as well. And today and tomorrow could bring more memorable moments.

NPR's Howard Berkes is covering his eighth Olympics and he joins us now to tell us about what we can look forward to. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: I see the decathlon is on your list of events to pay attention to today. Outside of the Olympics, of course, most of us don't pay a lot of attention to that particular sport. Why today?

BERKES: No, and I'm guilty of that too, Renee. But, you know, if you think about some of the Olympians that we remember most from history, Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Daley Thompson and, of course, there's Bruce Jenner who was famous for the decathlon long before he became a Kardashian step dad. All these Olympians were decathletes.

Thorpe in Mathias had tickertape parades after they won the decathlon gold medals. The gold medalist in the Olympics is generally considered the world's greatest all-around athlete. So they end up on cereal boxes. They get big endorsement deals. And they do this because, you know, they compete in 10 track and field events in two days; running, throwing, vaulting, and jumping. It's nonstop.

And there are two Americans who are favorites for the medals: Ashton Eaton who broke the world record in decathlon on his home turf at the Olympic trials in Oregon a couple of months ago, and Trey Hardee who's the world champion who Eaton beat at trials. It's two days of nonstop competition and it challenges the endurance of any athlete.

MONTAGNE: And, Howard, you've also got rather quite a different sport on your list today, beach volleyball. It's of course an all-American final for the gold medal today.

BERKES: Yeah, we've got this match up of two teams from the United States. Really what we're seeing at this Olympic tournament is some of the most competitive volleyball we've ever seen, and the final promises more of that. We've got the veterans Misty May Treanor and Carrie Walsh, two-time Olympic gold medalist returning again for the gold medal game. And they're up against Americans Jennifer Kessy and April Ross. They've racked up some of the most impressive statistics so far of the Olympic tournament.

Ross leads in scores and attacks. But Walsh, on the opposite team for the Americans, leads in blocks. And Misty May Treanor leads in digs. So this is going to be a battle worthy of a gold medal match.

MONTAGNE: Also ahead for tomorrow, we've got two big gold medal match ups: the U.S. versus Japan in women's soccer and the U.S. versus Spain in water polo.

BERKES: And these should be two of the most dramatic events of the Olympics. They already have provided great drama, the U.S. women's teams, for water polo and soccer. We had that game on Monday night with the U.S. versus Canada, won in the final 30 seconds. And the match up that's coming tomorrow night, the United States versus Japan, it was Japan who beat the United States in the World Cup last year with a goal in a shootout at the end of the game, after overtime.

And the U.S. player said that they've dreamed about that moment. They've had nightmares about that moment. They're ready for revenge.

And then in water polo, you have the U.S. women going up against Spain. The U.S. women have dominated the water polo since it was put into the Olympics in 2000, but they have never won a gold medal. There are some veterans who've been with the team that long who are desperate to win a gold medal, they're after that medal tomorrow night against Spain.

And so, you have two teams fighting for something they desperately want against other great teams. These should be great match ups.

MONTAGNE: Howard, thanks very much.

BERKES: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Howard Berkes is covering the Olympics in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.