Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
5:35 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

Speedskater Nick Pearson Plays Not My Job

It's been 10 years since Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, and the city remains a mecca for winter sports, especially for speedskating. Two-time Olympian speedskater Nick Pearson came to Salt Lake to train and compete in the 2002 Olympics and never left.

We've invited Nick to play a game called "Whoaaa ... slow down there, friend." Three questions about things that go very, very slowly for a person who likes to go dangerously fast.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we hand out prizes for doing something not particularly prize worthy. It's been ten years since the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, and this place remains a winter sports mecca, especially for speedskating. That's the one with skates, without stuffed animals.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Two time Olympian speedskater Nick Pearson came to Salt Lake to train and compete in the 2002 Olympics. He never left. We're excited he's here and that he's wearing his skintight suit. Nick Pearson, welcome to WAIT WAIT.

NICK PEARSON: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Great to have you. So, basically most people only get interested in speed skating Olympics time, right? It's like...

PEARSON: That's the problem with our sport. Yeah, once ever four years, people realize oh there's speedskating out there and they watch it.

SAGAL: Really.

PEARSON: And it seems to be some people's favorite sport during the Olympics. So hopefully we can somehow gain their interest.

SAGAL: Well, you could be like NASCAR and crash into each other.

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SAGAL: We have to ask you about the suit.

PEARSON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PEARSON: Lucky me.

SAGAL: When you first saw like the skintight aerodynamic suits that you guys wear, were you like, "oh god, no" or "finally" that's why I got into this?

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PEARSON: It's part of the sport. It's nothing.

SAGAL: And they're very thin, right, because they're low weight, high - what's the word - less resistance to the wind as you go.

PEARSON: Correct. Use the word "torque," Peter.

SAGAL: Torque.

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SAGAL: And when you wear them, everybody can see your torque, right.

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PEARSON: I think that's right, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

PEARSON: Perfect.

MO ROCCA: I remember reading in 1980 that Eric Heiden had thighs bigger than my waist. How do you get your pants on?

PEARSON: Well, Eric Heiden, by the way, he's still one of our team doctors and his thighs are still bigger than most of the speedskaters out there, so, he's a specimen.

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ROCCA: That must hurt though. After a while when you're walking through the day, I mean it's hard to walk.

PEARSON: When you're training, it actually is hard to buy a normal pair of jeans. You got to go with the looser fit.

ROCCA: Do you just put on a different pair of jeans on each leg?

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PETER GROSZ: They wear the pants that like heavy people used to - like I lost all this weight and they hold that giant pair of jeans. That's what the speedskaters are like, it just fit.

SAGAL: Is there a hierarchy of Olympic athletes? I mean are you guys aware of like who's cool and who's not? Like I don't know who'd be the coolest or be the least cool.

ROCCA: What about the luge people?

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SAGAL: I would think that the...

GROSZ: Those lugers.

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SAGAL: What's the lowest status? Because I would think it'd be ski jumpers. All they do is fall.

PEARSON: I don't know if I can answer this one.

SAGAL: You can.

ROCCA: It's luge. It's luge. It's like just driving a car, right?

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SAGAL: Just hanging on.

GROSZ: Don't say it by athletes because they have guns.

PEARSON: Well there's always curling.

ROCCA: Curling.

GROSZ: Yeah, curling.

KYRIE O'CONNOR: Curling.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So the members of the curling team don't have a lot of use for the ten thousand condoms they give away.

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PEARSON: I will say they probably drink more beer than anyone else there though.

SAGAL: Well yeah.

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ROCCA: What about the ice dancers? It's like why not just be a figure skater?

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SAGAL: They don't have to jump. I mean we hear these stories about the Olympic Village, that like they hand out - they have 10,000 condoms they give away and they need more and that you guys just have this bacchanal in there when the TV - is this true?

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GROSZ: Your wife just left, so go ahead.

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PEARSON: I mean, they do hand out condoms. I remember in Vancouver there was places where you can get them, just sit around.

SAGAL: In here, in Salt Lake, of course, I believe there were single serving packets of Postum.

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SAGAL: You know what they say, when in Rome, you're nowhere near Salt Lake City.

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SAGAL: Don't behave that way.

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ROCCA: Your wife is an athlete?

PEARSON: My wife was an Olympian in 2002 also.

ROCCA: Are you guys going to make super powered babies?

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PEARSON: Our daughter is actually is here today. She's only 11 months though, so...

ROCCA: And she can already sprint.

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GROSZ: I saw this. There was a baby in the lobby. He was lifting up a couple of the interns.

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SAGAL: You said your wife was an Olympian.

PEARSON: Yes.

SAGAL: What sport?

PEARSON: Speedskating also.

SAGAL: Really?

PEARSON: Yeah.

SAGAL: So was it like one of those collisions of fate.

ROCCA: I love that.

PEARSON: We actually met when I think right around 10 years old. She's from Minnesota, I'm from Wisconsin, different regional meets and we knew each other for a long time.

GROSZ: That's cool.

SAGAL: Really?

O'CONNOR: Wow.

SAGAL: That's so romantic.

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SAGAL: At any point in your, I guess many years together, did you ever race each other?

PEARSON: No.

SAGAL: No?

PEARSON: She's female, I'm male.

SAGAL: Well, I understand that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I wasn't born yesterday, my friend. I know how this works.

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SAGAL: But really? I mean you are married to an Olympian speedskater. You're an Olympian speedskater. I know some Olympic athletes. They're extremely competitive people. They have to be. And you never once said let's go out on the ice, honey, you and me and see how it goes?

PEARSON: Not on the ice. Competitive, yes, though. I mean there's a bunch of other things that we've been competitive at.

SAGAL: Really?

PEARSON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Like what? I mean do you ever like pick events and she's like I'll pick bearing children, beat me in that.

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(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

PEARSON: No, I mean just random little things, board games, going on a bike ride, little things happen all the time. I mean we're competitive by nature I guess, so.

SAGAL: Right. Okay. It'd be funny if like you're sitting on a street somewhere in Park City and these two racing bikes go whipping by them and one of them has a little baby cart in the back.

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SAGAL: What are you two doing?

PEARSON: That's how we make it even. I have to take the baby.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Ohhh.

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SAGAL: She's sharpening her blades now. I got to ask. All your years around athletes, did you ever secretly try figure skating?

PEARSON: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: Why? why?

PEARSON: I will say when you're younger and you're just goofing around, you do little things and jump around.

SAGAL: You do a little like a solchow?

ROCCA: A solchow, a solchow.

PEARSON: I don't know if you're actually like wanting to be a figure skater, just kind of playing around.

SAGAL: Really?

PEARSON: Yeah.

SAGAL: And how'd it go?

PEARSON: Not so good.

SAGAL: Not so good.

PEARSON: Kind of hard when you've got an 18-inch blade on your skate to do anything a little crazy.

SAGAL: Oh, I bet. Well it's great to have you here. Nick, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL: Whoooaa, slow down there, friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you go fast, dangerously fast. We're going to ask you about things that go very slow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Answer two out of three questions about three very slow things and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners. Carl, who is Nick Pearson playing for?

KASELL: Nick is playing for Elizabeth Sharp of Park City, Utah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Here is your first question. The arts can be slow, including which of these examples? A: a song by John Cage which is currently playing and will last for 639 years?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: an experimental reworking of Romeo and Juliet in which they die at the end of old age?

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SAGAL: Or C: a painting by the artist Cafo which uses slow-drying paint, so that viewers will be literally watching paint dry for centuries?

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ROCCA: God, this is hard.

SAGAL: It is.

ROCCA: That's a hard one.

GROSZ: Well, you don't have to answer it, Mo.

PEARSON: I'm going to go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C that people are going to watch paint dry for centuries?

PEARSON: Yeah.

SAGAL: It sounds like fun. It's actually A, it's the John Cage. John Cage, of course, the famous experimental composer. This piece is called "As Slow As Possible," and the first three notes last for a year and a half.

ROCCA: Oh, that is just silly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Okay, your next question is a story about a daring but slow escape by whom? Was it A: Lottie the tortoise, who escaped from her English home and was found a mile and a half away, two years later?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

O'CONNOR: Aww.

SAGAL: B: a man named Paul Gordon, who dug a hole out of Rahway Correctional Facility in New Jersey by scratching on a brick with a needle every day for 38 years?

ROCCA: That's interesting.

SAGAL: Or C: Fed the banana slug, who escaped from his cage at UC Santa Cruz, by crawling the four feet to a window over three weeks?

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ROCCA: Oh my gosh.

PEARSON: Does this lady know where I live, in case I get all these wrong?

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SAGAL: She's from Park City. You're from Park City. Park City is not very big.

O'CONNOR: You're going to run into her in Whole Foods.

ROCCA: She's going to skate right down here.

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PEARSON: I'll go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A, Lottie the tortoise?

PEARSON: Yes.

SAGAL: You're right, that's what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PEARSON: Yes.

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SAGAL: Two years after Lottie escaped from her new owner's home in England, she was found in a field a mile and a half away, still pointed towards freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, this is exciting. I love it when this works out. This is the finals, final heat.

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SAGAL: It's about, appropriately enough, a very slow athlete, perhaps the slowest ever. Was it Jonathan Weiss, who in 1916 broke his leg while hitting a homerun and had to hop around the bases, which took him 45 minutes?

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SAGAL: B: a man names Shizo Kanakuri, who took 54 years to finish a marathon?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: Theodore Scholnick, a bowler so deliberate and careful, he took eight hours to bowl a single game?

PEARSON: I'm going to go with A again.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A again.

ROCCA: Oh no, I don't - no.

SAGAL: They're mad. Nothing makes them mad.

PEARSON: They want C.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you're going to - some people here think it's this guy, Theodore Scholnick. Do you know Theodore Scholnick?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: What's it going to be?

PEARSON: I got to go with the crowd, otherwise - yeah, I'm going with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: It was B.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Not only was it B, Theodore Scholnick is my uncle. He's a retired grocer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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SAGAL: Shizo Kanakuri was an Olympic marathoner in the 1912 Olympics. And he dropped out halfway through from exhaustion, but he didn't tell anyone. So he was never recorded as not finishing. So in 1966, he went back to Sweden and finished it, giving him a final time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20 seconds.

ROCCA: That's crazy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROCCA: Rodney Dangerfield.

PEARSON: Exactly.

SAGAL: So Carl, how did Nick Pearson do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Nick needed at least two correct answers to win for Elizabeth Sharp, but Nick had just one correct answer.

SAGAL: Awww.

GROSZ: Says the crowd who forced him into the wrong answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: You people.

SAGAL: This is what I want to hear. I want to hear all of you right now say I'm sorry to Nick. One, two, three.

(SOUNDBITE OF APOLOGY)

SAGAL: Nick Pearson is a two-time Olympic speedskater and a program coordinator at US Speedskating here in Salt Lake City, Utah. Nick, thank you so much or joining us.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

PEARSON: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.