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Olympics Day 1: U.S. Takes First Gold


We're going to Brazil now to get an update on the first full day of competition at the Summer Olympic Games. NPR's Russell Lewis is on the NPR team, covering the events in Rio de Janeiro and joins us now. Hi, Russell.


SUAREZ: A full plate today - shooting, rugby, cycling, beach volleyball, swimming. What's the big storyline today?

LEWIS: Well, as you say, I mean, there really have been so many storylines. It's really hard to keep up with them all. I mean, I guess we should start first with the fact that the games are underway, and there really haven't been any major problems. I mean, sure, you know, traffic is bad. It's difficult to get around Rio. I mean, there are four main parts of the city that are hosting games. And did I mention the traffic is bad?

You know, I spent part of the day just walking around the main Olympic Park, and, you know, for the first time, there are fans here. And they look, you know - they look happy. I mean, sure there's still frustration about the high cost of the games, and there's, of course, grumblings that the money, you know, would have been better spent on things like the country's ailing education and health care systems. But, you know, as often happens in these situations, you know, once the games actually begin, people start to cheer and pay attention to the competition.

SUAREZ: So we are underway. How has the United States done so far?

LEWIS: Well, you know, I mean, the U.S. has not wasted any time. They won a gold medal right off the bat. In fact, it was the first gold medal awarded of the Olympics. Ginny Thrasher took gold in the 10-meter air rifle competition. She set an Olympics finals record, and, you know, she's really been on a hot streak here recently. Earlier this year, she won the NCAA Championship for West Virginia University, and the U.S. has won the first gold several times in past Olympics in 2000 and 1984.

SUAREZ: One of the feel-good stories in the lead up to the games was the inclusion of a so-called refugee team made up of 10 athletes who fled war-torn countries. One of the swimmers competed for the first time today.

LEWIS: Yes, indeed, and there probably have never been so many reporters in place to cover a qualifying heat of an event on the first day of the games. But, you know, there we were at the Aquatic Center to watch Yusra Mardini compete in the 100-meter butterfly. Now, Ray, she's from Syria, and it's really a compelling story. When she fled Syria, ended up in a dinghy and at some point during that voyage, it began to take on water. She and her sister actually jumped in, and they began swimming for hours to pull the boat to safety - saved, you know, all those lives. Mardini ended up moving to Germany where she's kept up her swimming career. She swam well today, but not well enough to advance in the butterfly. Still, this is what she had to say afterwards.


YUSRA MARDINI: Well, of course, it is an incredible feeling, and I'm really happy to be here and to see all of the champions here - the swimmers and everything. I'm really happy for that.

LEWIS: You know, she's not done yet. She's also competing in the freestyle later these games. And, Ray, just briefly, I should mention that we expect to learn about whether the Russian Paralympic team will be able to participate in next month's Paralympics. We're hearing an announcement may come as soon as tomorrow, of course, the Russian Olympians have been under a cloud after state-sponsored doping has come to light. Scores of their athletes have been banned from these games, so the whole issue of drugs and doping just isn't going away.

SUAREZ: That's NPR's Russell Lewis in Rio de Janeiro. Russell, thanks very much.

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

Russell Lewis
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
Ray Suarez