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Saturday Sports: Copa America and the U.S. men's soccer team, criminal probe into doping

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The U.S. men's soccer team goes splat. Criminal investigation into doping and swimming. And love at first bite of a red hot. Michele Steele of ESPN joins us. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: Sure. You bet, Scott.

SIMON: The U.S. is hosting Copa America. The very prestigious South American soccer tournament expanded this year to include North and Central America. Many people said the current crop of U.S. players - they called them the Golden Generation, but they lost in the first round. Eliminated. Is it fair to call this not just a disappointment, but a disaster?

STEELE: Yeah. Plenty of people around U.S. Soccer are calling it a disaster, and it's also practically a failure to launch just in performance terms when you crash out of the group stage...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...At Copa America, right? Yeah. These games, Scott, also are in the United States. So not only were the Americans playing with a very talented team, that Golden Generation, like you mentioned. But they were in front of friendly crowds, and they were gifted a really manageable grouping - Uruguay, Bolivia and Panama.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: They lost to two out of those three, and now the U.S. team is watching from the sidelines. Now, of course, players deserve some of the blame here, but the head coach, Gregg Berhalter, could very well lose his job in the wake of this. I would watch for headlines around that this week. And it's not just the Copa result that's the issue for the U.S. It's that they haven't made much progress since the last World Cup in 2022. And the next World Cup is right around the corner here coming in 2026 in North America, so I wouldn't be shocked if the U.S. decides to go with a new leader.

SIMON: We're three weeks away from the Summer Olympics in Paris. And this week, it was revealed - U.S. government's investigating a sports doping scandal involving nearly two dozen Chinese swimmers. What's going on?

STEELE: Yeah, the FBI investigating Chinese swimmers who failed doping tests, but were allowed to continue competing in the 2021 Tokyo Games. Now, at the time, China blamed food contamination at their hotel, and the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is also called WADA, accepted that explanation and allowed the athletes to compete. Now, that revelation wasn't made public until this year. China would ultimately win three gold medals at those games. And 11 of those swimmers who tested positive for banned substances, Scott, they're going to Paris to compete this year. So a lot of swimmers are criticizing WADA for enforcing their rules inconsistently. So watch swimming. Obviously, it's a marquee sport at the Olympics, and you have the scandal kind of casting a darker cloud over that sport now.

SIMON: Finally, Michele, a little bit of romance. A Fourth of July tradition, of course, is the Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Won this way - this week - by the way, by a Chicagoan...

STEELE: Yes.

SIMON: ...Patrick Bertoletti, who won the men's contest, proving if you put celery salt on the hot dogs, they go down easier. But in any event, you reported a very touching story this week for ESPN that might bring a tear to our eyes. And I don't mean from the relish.

STEELE: Yeah. Well, Scott, when you think about the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, you think about romance, right?

SIMON: Oh, yeah. (Vocalizing). Yeah.

STEELE: So this is a uniquely American love story. It's a girl-meats-boy (ph) tale, emphasis on the meats. You know, Miki Sudo, her full-time job is competitive eating. She met her now fiance, Nick Wehry, whose full-time job is also competitive eating, while they were both competing at the 2018 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. This year, you know, with Joey Chestnut out of it, they were really hoping for two mustard belts in the same household. Sadly, they only got one, but Miki reached a new record with 51 hot dogs eaten in 10 minutes, Scott. How you like those apples?

SIMON: Oh. Oh, my God. They call it the mustard belt. That's right.

STEELE: They call it the mustard belt. I think I could manage five hot dogs in 10 minutes.

SIMON: Oh, God bless you, Michele. God bless you.

STEELE: Yeah.

SIMON: Well...

STEELE: Which I think qualifies me to actually compete.

SIMON: Yes. I'd be there cheering you on. Michele Steele of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us.

STEELE: Sure.

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

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.