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Reindeer jerky and tailgating in Norway: Pluto's memories of Olympics past
Terry Pluto covered the '94 Lillehammer games for the Beacon Journal and says much like Sochi, some of his biggest stories had nothing to do with sports.

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
The stories from Russia take our commentator Terry Pluto back 20 years – when he was a Beacon Journal writer covering the ‘94 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
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1994 Winter Olympics:

There have been plenty of attention-grabbing stories from the Sochi winter games --- many not involving the sports themselves. Journalists have been tweeting about sewage in their hotel rooms, round-ups of stray dogs and long-term environmental threats caused by the sparkling new venues.

The stories from Russia take our commentator Terry Pluto back 20 years – when he was a Beacon Journal writer covering the ‘94 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

That was the year figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked and speed skater Bonnie Blair won a historic five gold medals. But like Sochi, most Terry Pluto's stories are about what he experienced apart from what happened on the ice and snow.

Listen: Terry Pluto shares his Olympics memories from Lillehammer

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MP3 Download (4:03)

A learning curve in Norway
When he headed to Norway, Terry Pluto acknowledges, “I knew nothing about the Winter Olympics. One of the things they tell you early on is, “Be prepared. You’ll be writing about people you never heard of playing sports you don’t understand.”

With the regular sports of basketball, baseball and football, Pluto says, “often times we forget that we don’t know everything we think we know.  [Covering the Winter Games],you realize real quick you don’t know much about anything. And sometimes that leads to better stories because it makes you to ask the obvious questions and leads to some explanations you hadn’t thought of before.”

Reindeer meat and rides
And then there's the cultural saturation. “If you go to Norway, you’re going to eat a lot of reindeer. Reindeer jerky, or salmon jerky for breakfast sometimes.”

And what you don’t eat, you may end up racing. Reindeer racing is a favorite of the native people known as the Sami, who brought their reindeer down from the Arctic circle and offered Pluto a shot.

“They said, ‘Your reindeer’s name is Mooda.’ They put me in this little sled thing and they just whacked Mooda. And Mooda takes off … and I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m holding on for dear life because I’m thinking I’m going over the snowbank. He goes right across the finish line and stops. I fishtail off, go head-first right over the snowbank.”

Cross-country tailgating
Another constant is cross-country ski races. “They tailgate all along this long course through the woods, everywhere. I suddenly realized, you don’t actually care who wins cross country skiing. You just go out in your igloos and you eat salmon jerky and you drink your homemade brew and you yell at the guys going by.”

New events at Sochi
As for the more formal sports, this year’s winter games have seen a dozen new events introduced. Pluto is less than wowed. “They always want the TV ratings. The Olympics gets more and more commercial. But I’m really glad they did add years ago women’s ice hockey.”

He acknowledges some of that is because of the Northeast Ohio angle: Brianne McLaughlin and Kelli Stack are competing. But overall, “But just in general, it’s a neat sport to watch because they don’t fight so much.”

Winter Games over Summer
Pluto also covered the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1994. Given a choice, he’ll take winter. Summer “is just too much. The track guys are all making big money. The basketball is just another form of the NBA. I’d rather do the Olympics in the winter because even with the skiing, they’re still not the big superstars, other than the figure skaters.”

Besides, there’s far fewer journalists, not as much hype … and just a lot more fun because of the people you run into.”

LISTEN: Terry Pluto on Ubaldo Jimenez signing with Baltimore
Other options:  MP3 Download (3:35)

LISTEN: Terry Pluto on Kyrie Irving named All-Star MVP
Other options:  MP3 Download (4:06)

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