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For Some, Competing At The Olympics Runs In The Family


There are Olympic athletes, and then there are Olympic families. NPR's Melissa Block caught up with a famous former Olympian as she watched her daughter compete in South Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We will, we will rock you.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: She's Beth Heiden, now Beth Heiden Reid. She won a bronze medal in speedskating at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Her brother, Eric Heiden, won five gold medals at those games.

BETH HEIDEN REID: This used to be, like, our song when we were speedskating. Yeah, our team.

BLOCK: I meet up with her to watch her daughter, Joanne Reid, compete in her first Olympics in biathlon. And before the race begins, Beth thinks back to her first Olympics. She was 16, got confused and couldn't remember where her start line was.

B. REID: I was like, oh, dear (laughter). I hope my daughter doesn't get nervous like I did 'cause what she's doing is very complicated.

BLOCK: Biathlon combines two disciplines - cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Waiting for the race to start, Beth is getting antsy.

B. REID: I'm a race horse. I feel like that girl in that starting line. You put a starting bib on me and put me on a starting line, and I'm ready. All right. They're off.

BLOCK: We're watching the women's 7 and a half kilometer sprint. The skiers take off 30 seconds apart. Joanne will start 64th out of 87. Finally...

B. REID: Here she comes.

BLOCK: ...Joanne glides out of the starting gate.

B. REID: Looking smooth, if not overexcited. Phew (ph). (Laughter). All right, Joanne.

BLOCK: Beth watches her daughter with expert eyes. She's not just a former world champion and Olympic speedskater. She was also NCAA champion in cross-country skiing and national and world champion in bike racing. Mom and daughter have trained together for years. Pretty soon, Beth spots Joanne zooming toward us down a hill in a very familiar tuck position.

B. REID: It's distinctive. It probably looks a little bit like my skiing because she skied lot of years behind me. People say I ski like a speedskater and that she skis like a speedskater also.

BLOCK: Beth is intently watching the flags snapping in the wind, which is fierce and unpredictable.

B. REID: Yeah, it's gusting all over the place. Holy smokes.

BLOCK: And that means trouble for the shooting stages.

B. REID: Oh, boy. Oh, boy.

BLOCK: Joanne will be aiming at five targets.

B. REID: She's swinging her hand around - frozen fingers. Yep. Shoot soon, honey, before the wind comes up.

BLOCK: If she hits, the target's black circle will turn white. But we're seeing a lot of black.

B. REID: What the heck? I think she only hit one target.

BLOCK: That means she has to ski four penalty loops, adding a bunch of time.

B. REID: Oh, dang.

BLOCK: Beth is here with Joanne's father, Russell, and their two sons, who wave big American flags as Joanne skis by.

B. REID: Hop Joanne.

RUSSELL REID: Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya. Hiya.

BLOCK: But Joanne has another unlucky bout of shooting...

B. REID: Oh, another miss. Oh, all right.

BLOCK: ...And a bunch more penalty loops. Finally, she pulls into the finish line and looks up at her family with a huge grin.

B. REID: She gave us a curtsy (laughter). Yeah, she's not going to let it get her down. She's a good egg (laughter).

BLOCK: Joanne Reid ends up finishing next to last, 86th of 87 competitors. It's the worst she's ever done. When mother and daughter finally see each other after the race...

B. REID: Hey, way to go (laughter). You're an Olympian (laughter).

BLOCK: ...Beth Heiden Reid is laughing. Joanne is, too.

JOANNE REID: I took out my magazine, I'm like, oh, good, I shot all five of them. This is going better already.


BLOCK: Honestly, they're both just happy to be here together. Melissa Block, NPR News, Pyeongchang.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUEEN SONG, "WE WILL ROCK YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.