Feb 18, 2022 - Podcasts

Olympics' doping scandal

Russian skater Kamila Valieva was still allowed to compete despite testing positive for a banned substance before the Olympic games. She was a heavy favorite for the gold - but ended up coming in fourth place yesterday. What does this say about the integrity of the Olympic games -- and what does it mean for the future of figure skating?

  • Plus, smart headlights coming to U.S. cars could make American roads safer.
  • And, how the pandemic is giving us economic lessons in real time.

Guests: The Washington Post's figure skating analyst Robert Samuels and Axios' Joann Muller and Emily Peck.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, February 18th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: smart headlights come to American cars. Plus, how the pandemic is giving us economic lessons in real time.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the Olympic doping scandal, and where skating goes from here.

On Fridays, we like to wrap up the week's biggest political news. But today we wanted to turn to the Olympics. They're coming to a close this weekend and all week there's been a controversy unfolding around Russian skater, Kamila Valieva. The 15-year- old was still allowed to compete, despite testing positive for a banned substance before the games. She was a heavy favorite to win a gold medal, but ended up coming in fourth place yesterday. Valieva's brought up a lot of questions about the integrity of the Olympic games. Joining us to dig into this is the Washington Post figure skating analyst, Robert Samuels. Hi, Robert.

ROBERT SAMUELS: Hey, how’s it going Niala?

NIALA: Robert, first of all, how big of a deal is this for figure skating and for the overall Olympics?

ROBERT: I'm not sure I've seen anything that has marred a competition more than what we've seen this week. And that casts a pall on everybody who wonders whether or not they're in the place they are, because the competition was not fair. Now we don't know who the best person truly is, because everyone was consumed by something that was happening off the ice and not on the ice.

NIALA: Of course, the Russian Olympic team was already competing under the Russian Olympic committee because the country of Russia is facing a two year ban from a previous doping scandal. Is there any conversation about whether Russia would be banned from the Olympics in the future because of this?

ROBERT: I mean, that's a conversation everybody's having, but also remember that Russians are really good at the Olympics. They put money into it. They support these programs and there is a block of countries who want them there. So what happens with the Russian Olympic Committee, with Russia as a country when it comes to the Olympics is a lingering question, but it's a very real one.

NIALA: So where do you think things go from here when you think about figure skating?

ROBERT: I think what this doping scandal has brought about are larger questions about how women's figure skating has evolved. The Russian figure skating dominance, they're untouchable because of incredible amounts of feats they can do technically. And it's driven by young girls who skate for a couple of years and then end up with serious injuries: back, hips, knees, feet. So I think there needs to be a reevaluation of who gets to compete. What is the right age for a competitor to have to withstand all this scrutiny?

NIALA: Robert Samuels is a figure skating analyst for the Washington post. Thanks, Robert.

ROBERT: No problem, Niala.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, how smart technology could make American roads safer.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Any driver knows the feeling of being blinded by the bright headlights of an oncoming car at night. Well, a new rule in the U.S. will allow for smart headlight technology, which is safer and easier on the eyes. And it's welcome news, given that pedestrian deaths are rising sharply.

Axios’ Joann Muller has the latest. Joann, what exactly is this new tech?

JOANN MULLER: It's called adaptive driving beams, and basically it uses computers and sensors to kind of decide where the lights should go and when. If you can imagine a light beam, sort of a light carpet ahead of your car that can constantly shapeshift depending on where the darkest part of the road is and also whether there's other cars around.

NIALA: So, Joann, I said this is new technology. It's new to the U.S., but it's not new.

JOANN: Right, yeah, Europe has had this technology for a while but it was finally Congress in the infrastructure bill that said, “This is the kind of technology we want to see.” And so you're going to see a number of other technologies coming along soon that were all part of the infrastructure bill that will make cars safer and, and save lives.

NIALA: Joann, this rule comes this week as we got new data about traffic deaths surging in the first nine months of 2021, a record pace of dangerous driving, also really high numbers of pedestrian fatalities. Could this make a difference?

JOANN: It absolutely can. AAA thinks that smart headlights could prevent at least 6% of those crashes involving fatalities or pedestrians and cyclists, and it would even reduce the number of crashes involving wildlife. So, I think we will see a lot safer roads.

NIALA: Joann Muller covers the future of transportation for Axios. Thanks, Joann.

JOANN: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: The first thing you learned in Econ 101 is about supply and demand. Well, we've all had a masterclass in that already during this pandemic, which also makes it the perfect time for economic teachers reports, Axios’ market correspondent, Emily Peck. Hey, Emily.


NIALA: Emily, I really appreciate behavioral economists like Richard Thaler, who say there are two types of people in the world: economists and Homer Simpsons. How has the pandemic made [Emily laughs] Econ101 obvious to us Homers?

EMILY: Yeah. I mean, from the very early days of the pandemic, we were getting real life economics lessons starting maybe most famously with toilet paper, right? Morgan Taylor, who's an economics professor at University of Georgia, explained it as a lesson in future expectations. Which makes it sound so fancy, but it's basically like: how you think about the future changes the way you act in the present. So if you expect less toilet paper on the shelves, you'll buy more toilet paper. And that's something that was harder for students to understand previously. Another professor told me about teaching classes on the concept of substitutes, which is easier to understand, you know, if there's no Coke available, you'll drink Pepsi. But there's a computer chip shortage. If all your chips come from one supplier, what do you do for a substitute? And he said. He was absolutely delighted that a student kind of yelled out: “That's a problem in Michigan right now.” Because a lot of people know that there is a chip shortage. That means car prices have gone up.

NIALA: Emily, we're not just talking about people who are in university or high school learning about economics.

EMILY: No, everyone is getting this lesson. In fact, ten-year-old girls are learning about supply chain and inflation when they're selling Girl Scout Cookies. The Wall Street Journal had a great story about Girl Scouts, and the troop leader in New York was explaining that she gives inflation lessons. One fifth grader told the newspaper: “You know, it's boring.” So not everyone is delighted by this real life lesson.

NIALA: Why does all of this matter to the average person?

EMILY: I think it matters because you walk through life, especially right now. And it's a bit of a jumble. Economics is a way to understand the world. It's a lens to really comprehend what's going on around you. Justin Wolfers, who's sort of a well-known economics professor at Michigan said, you know, it's been a rough couple of years. And one of the things that helps us cope is “sense-making.” If you can understand what's happening, you can cope with it.

NIALA: Emily Peck is a markets correspondent at Axios.

EMILY: Thank you.

NIALA: Tomorrow marks 80 years to the day since President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 – allowing for 120,000 Japanese Americans to be incarcerated in internment camps during World War II.

That’s why Saturday is an annual Day of Remembrance. Honoring those people comes into even sharper focus when we think about the continued violence against Asian Americans now, including the recent brutal killings of two New York City women – Michelle Go [gOH] and just this week - Christina Yuna Lee.

And that’s it for this week. Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. Special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening - and have the best weekend.

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