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Interview With Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker

Aired August 24, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, direct from the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, "The Today's Show's" Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker, on LARRY KING LIVE.
We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE on this special edition of our program tonight, the dynamic trio. Katie, Matt and Al. There they are in Athens, Greece, which is nine hours ahead of us here in Los Angeles. So it's -- well, we taped it in the morning, but when we're playing it it's late at night, now for them, they're sleeping.

Katie, how has Greece done? How has this small country, the smallest country I think since Finland, how are they doing with this?

KATIE COURIC, NBC'S "TODAY SHOW": I think they're doing a great job, Larry. And I think we're having a wonderful time. I think I speak for Al and Matt when I say that.

And you know, there was a lot of negative publicity in the weeks and months leading up to the Summer Games. But it's almost as if by magic, overnight, these gremlins got the venues together. And where there were dirt roads, there was concrete. And it's really been quite remarkable.

And so far, things have gone without a hitch. You know, knock on wood. But I think they're really doing a magnificent job thus far.

KING: What, Matt, have the people been like as hosts?

MATT LAUER, NBC'S "TODAY SHOW": I didn't expect anything other than being gracious. And they've been amazing.

I will say one thing, and in the beginning when we were first here, Larry, I noticed that Athens was a bit empty. And you know, you'd run into a lot of Athenians and a lot of Greeks who were hosting us here. But for the most part, I think in that first week, a lot of people who live here got out of town. And so we didn't see the traffic jams that we expected, the congestion wasn't here. Even some of the crowds at some of the venues weren't here.

But now in the second week, we're starting to see some of those people come back, I think in part because they've heard that things are going so well, and they've also heard that there were some tickets available to the venues and the events they wanted to see. So now we're mingling with them a little bit more, and I am just completely in awe of how wonderfully they're treating us.

KING: Al, from the standpoint of temperature, how has that affected not only the host, but the combatants?

AL ROKER, NBC'S "TODAY SHOW": Well, I think a lot of these athletes have performed unbelievably well, given that, you know, temperatures have been averaging near 100 degrees every day. I mean, on Sunday, at our "Today Show" studio, it got up to 120 degrees. And that's when they were running the women's marathon. So I think they've really done pretty well.

We tend to whine a little bit about the temperature. But we whine about everything. So...

COURIC: Actually, and when we talked to some of the marathoners, Larry, I was amazed that they have actually been practicing and preparing for this incredible heat. Because it was really steamy, as Al mentioned, for the women's marathon. They were actually running with sweatpants, and trying to basically simulate the conditions that would exist in Athens.

I think halfway through the marathon, it was something like 86 degrees. So, it has really been -- I have -- my heart has gone out to some of these athletes, who have had to be out in the blazing sun. But none of them, unlike us, none of them ever complain about it. And they say it really doesn't bother them that much. And many of them are used to it. Many of them are from Texas and California, and they're used to the warm weather.

LAUER: And speaking, I mean, of how we like to whine, as luck would have it, Larry, it's been hot every single day we've been here. And now we come to do your show, and they put us up on this rooftop with this beautiful view -- it's the first night we've been in Athens where it's almost chilly. So we're now whining about that.

KING: The Aquatic Center, they didn't get the roof finished, right, Al, so the people were out in the sun. The visitors.

ROKER: The people were out in the sun. The swimmers were out in the sun, and they were worried about the water temperature. But it didn't seem to bother Michael Phelps or Ian Thorpe or any of the swimmers.

COURIC: And frankly, you know, it's probably worth noting that in Barcelona, there was no roof over the pool, either.

LAUER: Los Angeles.

COURIC: In Los Angeles. And in a way, I think it's a much more beautiful experience for -- you know, an enjoyable experience, certainly for the spectators and for the swimmers.

Most of the swimming was at night. I think they had some heats -- heats during the day. But I think it was great to -- you would go there, Larry, and it would be this open venue. And you'd see the sun setting and the sky turning this beautiful kind of rosy shade of red. And it was really a -- I thought the swimming venue was gorgeous.

LAUER: The only thing you lost, Larry, was in Sydney it was a closed structure. And there was an intensity in terms of screaming and yelling.

COURIC: And it would reverberate.

KING: Yeah.

LAUER: Yeah, you could hardly hear yourself think. And here in Athens, because there's no roof, you do get a little bit of a kind of vacuum feeling. You didn't get that kind of rivalry with the Australians screaming at the Americans. So you lost a little of that. But I agree with Katie, in terms of looking around -- and it's just a -- all the venues, by the way.

ROKER: Beautiful.

LAUER: So much talk about them not being done. To a venue, they're all beautiful structures. And you know, it's been a joy to go to some of the events.

KING: Al, how about security, which was a major concern that something was going to happen. Do you live with that every day or after a while do you not think about it?

ROKER: I -- I don't -- I think we all, you know, are cognizant of it. But I think, you know, I think the officials here have done a really good job of balancing security and -- and people's ability to come and go.

I mean, we go through metal detectors. I'm always getting stopped, because I have an artificial knee. So my knee keeps going off. But -- and they keep making me roll up my leg and people are going by, going what the heck is he doing?

COURIC: You're bionic.

ROKER: I know. So -- but I think they've done a pretty good job.

COURIC: They have an incredible show of force and a security presence here. With -- which I think in and of itself is a deterrent. They've spent like $1.5 billion on security. NATO's been involved. I mean, the United States has given guidance. They've gotten advice from the Czechs and the Israelis, and I think that the security has really been quite good here.

LAUER: We've all gone -- most of us have gone on ferries and taken little trips to islands, you know, on occasion. You really notice it when you get out in the water just off Athens. You know, the Queen Mary 2 is here and some other ships, and you see a lot of navy ships patrolling the area, smaller Coast Guard-type vessels. They've got barricades around the ships.

And then the only other place I really notice is on the intersections. You know, as you drive from where we're staying to the Olympic complex, you basically see a police officer on almost every intersection.

But I get the feeling it's more for traffic. Kind of keeping people moving.

ROKER: Yeah, they seem to be directing traffic.

LAUER: I don't get the feeling that OK, they've got guns, and I'm worried that -- reminding me of the possibility of a problem.

KING: Al, was it weird when there were no crowds?

ROKER: Well, you know, we kept -- we -- the first couple of days we were doing the show, Katie got here before Matt and I did. And then we got here, and the first couple of days we're thinking, well, we hope -- what if they give a party and nobody shows.

But once everything opened up and they had the opening ceremonies, the crowds started building. And today we had our biggest crowd ever. And it just gets -- it's just getting bigger and bigger. And I think as Matt said, as more and more people are seeing what's on -- on television, they're coming back, and they're coming here, and they really are filling up the venues.

COURIC: They're coming home to Athens.

ROKER: That's right.

LAUER: Welcome home.

ROKER: That's what it says, welcome home. That's the slogan.

KING: One of the complaints that baseball fans have, when the World Series comes around, everyone's a baseball fan. When the Super Bowl comes around, everyone's a football fan.

So we're going to take a break, and when we come back I'm going to ask you, when the Olympics come around, do you then get interested in swimming and volleyball?

We'll be back with the cast of "The Today Show." And by the way, Matt Lauer will have President Bush as his guest Monday morning on the opening day of the Republican Convention. The president was with us here last week. He'll be with Matt on Monday. And we'll all be back right after this.


COURIC: So, see, but you kind of do a little spin action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I do a rotation, yes, correct.

COURIC: Yeah, but I'm not going to do that.


COURIC: No, no, I have heels on. I'm at a bit of a disadvantage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. COURIC: So tell me what I do?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So just make sure you use your legs, and just get a good push on it. That's basically it.

COURIC: Oh, gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll keep it simple.


COURIC: OK, ready? I'm going to be so bad at this. Can I walk a little?



COURIC: OK. It's only a three-hour show, I better get going. OK, ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, Katie! Go, Katie!

COURIC: Whoa! That was so, so lame-o.




LAUER: The sea air must have made me light-headed because before I realized it...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On your mark, get set, go!

LAUER: I was racing the man who won six Olympic gold medals just last week. I got out to an early lead, probably because Phelps insisted on staying in his raft. Once he abandoned it, I knew I was in trouble. As we headed for the boat the race was neck and neck. And at the finish Phelps outtouched me for the win, but just barely.

On the boat, all the Speedo folks were so relieved their star won that they started celebrating by jumping off the top of the yacht. Then they got Phelps to do it. And he got me to join in the action.


KING: All right. We're back. Matt Lauer, what about the question? The occasion -- the occasional fan?

LAUER: You know, it's a good question, Larry. And if I'm going to be completely honest with you, if I used myself as an example, am I going to go to a swim meet between now and Beijing? KING: Right.

LAUER: Probably not. Am I going to go to a women's softball game? Probably not.

ROKER: How about beach volleyball?

LAUER: Beach volleyball I may go because there's a lot to watch there. I think the real question is, what's it going to do, not for spectators, what's it going to do for participants? And I'm hoping that a Michael Phelps and some of the other successful swimmers kind of spur on a whole new generation of people just as Mark Spitz did in 1972. And that the gymnastics performances that we've seen from the Americans, in particular, you know, cause a lot of young ladies to do it.

What I really hope happens is that some other sports that don't get a lot of attention at all, like water polo, women's and men's, and synchronized swimming that Al and I got a chance to meet that team, that I hope that they do get some air time and that there are people living in towns across America who say, you know what? I never thought about it. They're great athletes, why not give it a shot? And that those sports will be given a shot in the arm. Because some of them really need it.

KING: Al Roker, you're getting great ratings. Why are people watching these sports that they don't go to in the interim four years?

ROKER: Well, I think it's people. I think people like watching people. And I think they want -- they live vicariously through these athletes. I think we all have that fantasy of being Michael Phelps or being on the balance beam, or doing the rings. And -- and that even though you can't do it, you can watch people doing it, even though you're not going to go probably out and do the balance beam. You can -- you can root on for these people, these athletes who are really performing above and beyond.

KING: But, Katie, you don't go on a Thursday night two years from now in Toledo, Ohio, when there's a gymnastic meet. But you watch it when it's the Olympics. Is that because it's the Olympics?

COURIC: I think so. And I think it's such an incredible gathering of hugely talented athletes. I'm in awe, Larry, when I see these individuals and think about the -- the years of commitment, and dedication, and in some cases the courage it took for them to be here, to get to this point. I mean, I think there's nothing like Olympics. It is a singularly unique sporting event that happens every four years.

And as Al mentioned, there are great stories behind so many of these athletes in terms of, you know, their back stories, and how they got here. I'm amazed that some of them are so, you know, they're really scholar athletes. Many of them are highly educated Ivy Leaguers who are not only beautifully coordinated, and incredibly gifted in sport, but they're also highly intelligent, and -- and interesting to talk to. And you know, you've got women's wrestling for the very first time here at these Olympic games. You've got many firsts. You've got women from Pakistan participating in swimming, because now they can wear those Speedo bathing suits and before they couldn't wear regular bathing suits and compete.

You have the women from Afghanistan. Two women from that country and of course participating in the Olympic games would have been unheard of just a few years ago when the Taliban...

LAUER: The Iraqi soccer team.

COURIC: The Iraqi soccer team. I mean, these are great stories, I think, that really define the human spirit that everybody gets excited about. And I also think it's a great respite from the news of the world, I hate to say that sometimes it's so troubling about Iraq and the situation there, and I think people get O.D.'d on the presidential campaign, and the whole controversy about the Bush campaign versus the Kerry campaign on the war records, and I think it's really nice to get away from that stuff for a period of time.

LAUER: But also, from an interviewer's point of view, Larry, and I'm sure you can identify with this, how many times do you get a chance to interview someone who has just achieved their lifelong dream? And sometimes, you know, we get these people, I remember in Sydney, and a little bit different dynamic here, but in Sydney we would interview swimmers, they were still wet. They had just gotten out of the pool, they had the gold medal around their neck. So you're interviewing them at the best moment in their lives. That's a thrill. Not only thrilling for them, but it's thrilling to be the person asking them the questions.

ROKER: And there's a certain amount of, I think, patriotism. To be able to see these people, these young people, and some older people, who are representing their country, and doing this for not only their own self but for their country.

KING: Al, do you bring patriotism to the broadcast? Do you try -- are you balanced or do you want U.S. medals?

ROKER: No, I think -- I think we're -- I think we try to be balanced. I mean we've been reporting about the Iraqi soccer team. I mean, look, we -- we are seen in America. It's a U.S. -- it's a morning show that's in America so we will focus more on American athletes. But I think wherever there's a good story, I think we -- we cover that.

KING: Are you rooting, Katie?

COURIC: Pardon?

KING: Are you rooting?

COURIC: Oh, I thought you were asking me if I was reading. I was, like occasionally. Sometimes at night I open a book. Yes, you know, am I rooting? Sure, of course. Yes, I mean, I'm first of all it's great for us and it's great for NBC when lots of U.S. athletes do well. Not to sound too mercenary about it. But, of course, you know, we -- you know, you can't help but be slightly nationalistic when it comes to these games.

And as Al said, you know, we are from the United States. And we're supporting U.S. athletes for the most part. But that doesn't mean we can't appreciate really fine performances from other countries. Like Svetlana Khorkina from Russia, who's just that amazing, willowy gymnast who's got a really -- really has an attitude. I mean, she's always sort of fun to watch.

And I think there are probably athletes in every sport. I mean it's great to watch Ian Thorpe. And even though the Australians and the Americans are huge rivals in swimming, and in Australia swimming is like the great Australian pastime, you know, you -- you really appreciate watching someone like Ian Thorpe tear ahead of the competition, even if the competition might be from the United States. You know, you appreciate greatness no matter what country they're from.

KING: No Olympics would be complete without controversy. We'll get into that. The question of should the gold medal go back when we come back. And when we come back we'll also have Katie on the beam. Don't go away.


LAUER: We've got Jackie and Nicole, you're the two goalies for the U.S. team. What does it take to be a good goalie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good (UNINTELLIGIBLE) strength, I think, and quickness.

LAUER: What about guts? You said to me you get hit in the face basically every game?


LAUER: You ever broken your nose?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think so. I think it's crooked.

LAUER: I'd be a bad goalie, wouldn't I, with this nose?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you'd be good.

LAUER: Four years ago in Sydney you guys took home the silver. What are the chances you don't take home the gold here in Athens?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Katie Couric is up next on the beam. She's among the favorites for gold here in Athens. Her coach, Bela Karolyi is right there by her side. Sources tell me she's also been getting tips from Shannon Miller. Arms look great. Beautiful positioning. Look at that balance. She really knows how to work those turns. Oops, a little wobble there. But no deduction because Bela caught her. Perfect ballet-like arms and fingers. Look at those pointed toes, that's what the judges are looking for. It's amazing that she can perform so well on this event wearing linen pants. Here comes the dismount. She sticks it. Looks like Bela's got another Olympic champion.

COURIC: Thank you.


KING: Katie, do you intend to give back the bronze?


COURIC: You know, Larry, I think I won it fair and square. I think my performance was outstanding. It was the best I've done. And I bet it was a gold medal performance for a morning show anchor or whatever.

KING: First ever.

COURIC: We had a lot of fun. We've all been -- we've all been doing these sports, Larry. I don't know if you've been watching.

KING: I've seen it.

COURIC: I think that's been one of the things that has been really fun about these games. For example Matt and Al did synchronized swimming to the. Just seeing them both in bathing suits was pretty overwhelming for me personally. And what else you guys, you went swimming with Michael Phelps.

LAUER: Did water polo.

COURIC: Yes, you did water polo. Al, did archery.

ROKER: Oh, yes. I forgot.

COURIC: Yes, you did archery. And Marion Jones taught me how to long jump and I'm completely ghastly at that. But I think it's been a fun way to see the athletes in a different setting. To get to know them. And of course to embarrass ourselves, as well.

KING: All right, Matt, let's move to the controversy and start with you. And we'll get opinions from all of us. What do you make of it, the gold medal, should he give it up? Should they share it? Should the International Committee award two? And as an extra question, if the United States had had this medal incorrectly given, would the complaints have been louder?

LAUER: Right. Would they have been louder, I'm not sure, Larry. I understand the subjective nature of judging of gymnastics. And Paul Hamm came on the show this morning and made a good point that, if you go back on the videotape and you look at it with a fine tooth comb you're going to find certain things that perhaps should have been deducted from the South Korean athlete that weren't, and now you start to take the whole system and it's topsy-turvy. In my heart of hearts, I think that Paul Hamm should probably offer to give the medal to the South Korean.

And the reason I say it is that five years from now, when Paul Hamm revisits us on our show, isn't it always going to be the case that we introduce him as Paul Hamm, who won the gold medal in Athens in that controversial judging error. And might it not be better, and again I know how hard this would be for him, but might it not be better for us to introduce him as Paul Hamm who won the silver medal and you remember that incredibly gracious gesture where he gave the gold medal to the South Korean? I just think for his life, it might work out better.

KING: He'd be remembered a lot longer.

Al, what about the theme, though, would there be an uproar in the United States if this were reversed and the South Korean had the gold medal?

ROKER: I mean, I think -- I think yes there might have been more of an uproar. But I think that in the end, you know, people are going to make their own decisions. They're going to make their own judgments. And I kind of agree with, Matt.

That I think that in the end it probably speaks to the spirit of the Olympics, and of sportsmanship, that hey, you know what, I don't think the sharing issue is really one that really works. But, you know, it's a really difficult, difficult decision to make. And obviously we don't have to make that decision, it's Paul Hamm, and his conscience. And you know, hopefully it all -- it all dies down, and people will move on from it.

KING: Katie, where do you stand?

COURIC: Well, I think it's asking an awful lot to ask Paul Hamm, who's worked so long and hard for this, to give up his gold medal. So I guess I come down somewhere in the middle, where I think it would be appropriate to give a second gold medal to the South Korean gymnast. And there was a mistake made by the judges. He should have started with a 10 in terms of the degree of difficulty of his high bar routine, and it was a 9.9.

You know, but I do think that Matt, made the point that Paul made this morning, if you go back and look at the videotape, and there are mistakes for which points were not deducted. It certainly opens up a whole can of worms. And I think the easiest, cleanest way of handling it is to perhaps figure out the score if it had been higher for degree of difficulty, how that would have impacted, and then given a second gold medal. That seems to be the fairest thing.

LAUER: The tragedy of it, Larry, is that it's tainted.

KING: Because, Matt, Paul could have -- Paul could have changed his routine had he known he was behind, right?

LAUER: No, no question. And again there's a subjective side to the judging in terms of how did you do? Oh, I thought it was a great routine, he did great. And then there's a technical side. And these judges made an error on the technical side. Yes, he could have had an opportunity to change his routine. I just think that neither one of these athletes, the South Korean or Paul Hamm is going to be able to walk away without a medal that's tainted. And that's the tragedy in this.

Because as Katie, said they've worked so hard for it. And what are we talking about? We're not talking about anymore what a great routine Paul, did on the high bar to come back from that near catastrophe on the vault. We're talking about the fact, does he deserve it and that's the tragedy.

COURIC: Judging though, I think at the Olympics, there's always or often a controversy attendant to judging. You remember the figure skating in Salt Lake City with the Canadian pairs, with the French judge, and all that that went on. So I think that you get this many events, at one sort of huge sporting event, and you're going to have some controversy. You're going to have people disagreeing. You're going to -- and especially as Matt mentioned, in the events that require subjectivity on the part of the judges.

KING: We'll be right back with more moments with our crew from the "Today" show, all in Athens, Greece. And don't forget Matt Lauer interviews the president Monday morning when they're back in New York. And we'll be doing two shows nightly at the Republican Convention, 9:00 and midnight, with a special Sunday night show at 9:00.

We'll be right back. Don't go away.


COURIC: Do you feel as if your gold medal has been tarnished, Paul, in any way as a result of all this?

PAUL HAMM, OLYMPIC ATHLETE: I hope people don't feel as if my medal has been tarnished. I've done nothing wrong. I followed the rules. And all I did when I came here was tried to compete for my country and make everybody proud of what I have done as far as my gymnastics, and how hard I've worked in this sport. And I'm just, you know, so thrilled to, you know, finally be done with the Olympics and have three medals, that it's much more than I ever could have hoped for.




LAUER: I hit the bottom a few times. I think I actually left skin on the bottom of the pool. It's not as easy as it looks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get used to doing it over and over and over again.

LAUER: How many flip turns have you done in your life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't even want to know. Too many.


KING: Matt Lauer, what was that like?

LAUER: You know what? I got a kick out of meeting Michael Phelps, Larry, I have to admit. There was so much hoopla and so much hype. I went to Baltimore a couple months ago and did that and sat down with him for an interview. I will say one thing, I think that in the media we maybe owe Michael Phelps an apology.

And that is because, boy, we put so much pressure on this young man's shoulders and we built this up with, will he tie, or will he break Mark Spitz's record. And I'm not sure that anybody could have lived up to that especially given the increased competition that he faced.

And Mark Spitz will tell you this. When Mark did it he was competing in the events where he held the world record. He was the dominating force in all of those events. And this kid at 19, decided to take on Ian Thorpe in Ian Thorpe's event, the 200 meter freestyle.

So he really challenged himself. And I hated the first few days of the Olympics where we were saying, it's a bust. And he's not going to break the record. And he's not going to tie it. And my big fear was he was going to walk away with five or as it turned out six gold medals and people were going to say how disappointing. So I think we owe him an apology for the build-up going into the games.

KING: Well said. Al Roker?

COURIC: But it happens, though. With Marion Jones -- I was just going to mention, Larry, with Marion Jones like the drive for five. I think it's a shame that these athletes set up such high expectations. I don't know if Michael did it so much. Although I think he...

LAUER: He was good. He kept saying, all I want is one. But you knew in his mind he had that number seven or eight in his sights.

COURIC: But it is a shame when they get here and do incredibly well, and to have a record that anyone would be proud of, and because expectations were so high somehow it's viewed as a disappointment. But I don't think that's the case with Michael Phelps.

LAUER: Not anymore. I think he did great.

ROKER: He's done a heck of a job.

KING: Al, what is the media effect on these athletes, do you think?

ROKER: Well, I mean, you know, I think it depends on the athlete. I also think it depends on what the expectations that we seem to put on them. I think there's some sporting events, or athletes who, you know, nobody's really expecting anything out of them and they come in and they surprise. And I think that's what's so exciting is that in a lot of these events or some of these events you've got people who are coming out of nowhere and really surprising people, and they're not worried about the media pressure. And that's, I think that's what the spirit of the Olympics is. Where it's just the sport, and somebody comes out and really surprises you. Like the Iraqi soccer team. Who was expecting them to do what they did?

LAUER: On the other side of the coin, Larry, it's sometime a little -- it's a little jarring sometimes when these athletes come to our set and almost without exception, there are a few exceptions, they have an agent already. There's a handler with them. And because once they achieve this great moment in their sporting career, there's a lot at stake. And there's marketing deals. And there's sponsorships. And so, you know, they know that if they've done well at these Olympic games, in some cases depending on the sport, they have a chance to parlay that into something beyond the Olympics. And so, you know, there's a lot of pressure on them in that area as well.

KING: How about -- have you seen much anti-American sentiment? We keep hearing about so much anti-American sentiment in western Europe. Katie, have you seen a lot of it?

COURIC: You know, I -- I sometimes wondered if -- wondered, I mean I've gone to some events and I went to beach volleyball and the United States girls were playing Switzerland. And I really felt like almost everybody there was cheering for the Swiss. And there were some U.S. spectators, as well. But you know, we're in Europe. And I think that a lot of Europeans cheer for other Europeans, as well. I don't think I've noticed any blatant anti-American sentiment. I thought that the response during the opening ceremony to the U.S. team was polite. Not overwhelmingly positive. But, you know, a lot of this could be just one's perception. I don't think there has been a clear-cut example of that, necessarily. At least at the events I've gone to. And at least what I've heard about at other events.

KING: Matt, has the big surprise to you been men's basketball?

LAUER: You know, I wish I could -- I have to be honest with you. When I saw the makeup of the team, Larry, I'm a basketball fan, as a lot of people are, I'm not surprised that it took them a long time to come together those first few games when they lost to Puerto Rico, beat Greece by six or seven points. I thought they had a bunch of individuals. And I was a little bit concerned that they weren't the type of individuals who were going to form a team very well. And they're playing better now. I'm trying to think who they beat last night, Angola I think they played last night and beat them by a lot.

But you have to keep in mind, and I think most people there realize, that we've got these players from the NBA or wherever they're coming from and they're coming together for a month or so before the games and they're playing teams that play together all year long. And they are true teams. And they have that communication on the court. So I think it's hard for the Americans to get up to speed. In particular, I think it was hard for this group, because of their backgrounds.

ROKER: And the skill level of the other teams has come up so much.

COURIC: And I think a lot of NBA players didn't want to participate because of the time commitment it would require. And you know, the time away from their families. Whatever reason. So, they didn't necessarily get every great player that they would have like to have gotten.

KING: Al, what's been -- if we had to pick one, what's been the surprise so far to you of this Olympiad?

ROKER: I think the smoothness with which it's run. I mean, I think everybody -- you know, we had heard so much that they weren't going to be ready, that security was going to be a nightmare. That all these things were going to conspire to make this kind of a not exactly the most fun Olympics ever. And I think it's been just the opposite. I think it's been -- it's been really well-run. I think the venues are gorgeous. I think that it's -- it's really been a great Olympics so far.

KING: We will take a break and be back with more -- look at that scene -- of Matt Lauer, Katie Couric and Al Roker of NBC's "The Today Show" and this, the second and final week of the Olympics in Athens where it all started. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


ROKER: Elena (ph), so tell me, is this the central fish market here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is. It's right at the heart of Athens.

ROKER: It's got a certain...


ROKER: How would you say that in Greek?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I would say it stinks in Greek.

ROKER: You would say it stinks in Greek which is English. How do you say stinks in Greek?


ROKER: Bromai?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's what they say, yes.

ROKER: Bromai.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With our training complete, it was time for our big finish.


KING: OK, Al Roker, the age-old argument. Is that a sport?

ROKER: Absolutely. Larry, I'm going to tell you something. I mean, you have no idea what athletes these women are. I mean, just the idea of being able to hang upside down, hold your breath, and do all these things with your legs. I mean, it's -- I don't know how they do it. To me it's superhuman. And there's no body fat on any of them. I mean, it's a lot of work. Matt and I were just thrilled we didn't drown.

LAUER: You know, I'm a traditionalist, Larry. I would say I understand the argument from people who say it's not a sport. But at the same time, I would say, while it may not be -- fit the technical description of a sport, they absolutely fit the technical description of athletes. Because they're in incredible shape. They tread water for eight hours a day in this pool in this training. And as Al said, upside down, 45, 50 seconds wearing these nose clips. I mean, you get in the pool with them for 10 minutes, you realize, there's no chance in the world that you have to do anything that they can do.

KING: Katie, what about the U.S. women's soccer team? We're told that whether they win or lose against Brazil, they're going to have a big victory tour, a farewell tour in the United States, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain and Briana Scurry, are all going to retire. What do you make of that story?

COURIC: I think it's a great story. I mean, talk about wonderful role models for girls, and boys, really, all over the country. I mean, they, first of all, they seem to genuinely really love and care about each other, this crew, the original women that you just mentioned. And they are tremendous athletes. They seem to be the epitome of teamwork when you watch them in action. And they're bringing up a whole new, I don't want to say generation, but those who are younger than they are, they're mentoring them, and helping them take their place.

I wish women's soccer had caught on a little bit more after Sydney, because I wish more people went to the games. But I just think it's tremendous, Larry, to see these -- these women. And I'm so -- I so admire them. I watch Mia Hamm running around that field, and I think, God, I mean, it's just -- the stamina.

LAUER: She's 36, right?

COURIC: ... that they have -- yeah.

LAUER: Yeah. COURIC: That they have to play these games, and the incredible spirit they have. I just think they're terrific. And it's been a joy to watch them through the years. I'm sorry to see them go.

KING: Yeah.

LAUER: I'll tell you what's a weird story that's developing, Larry, is the women's softball team. I mean, here they win the gold medal for the third time in a row. They let up one run in nine games. They score 51. And their success may be, in some ways, the end of them, because a lot of the Olympic organizers were considering doing away with that sport here in Athens. They decided to keep it. But there's fear that because the Americans are so dominant and other teams -- other countries can't field teams to compete against them, that four years down the road in Beijing it may no longer be an Olympic sport. So there your worst enemy is your own success. It's an interesting story.

KING: Matt, do we know if there are some reports that Colin Powell will attend closing ceremonies? We checked that out?

LAUER: I had heard -- I've heard rumors that perhaps he was going to be at the Iraqi soccer game. I have not heard confirmation on that, Larry. It's a little harder for us to find out those things sometimes here in the Olympic bubble. I have no confirmation of that.

COURIC: I actually read recently that he was coming to the closing ceremonies, that his office has confirmed it. But we better check that. We better second-source that, Larry.

KING: Al, what has the schedule been like for you? Give us the three of your schedule, like time up, time -- what is it?

LAUER: Try and contain yourself.

ROKER: This has been great! I mean, it is like we are on spring break. Because here we're doing the show from 2:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. So you know, we get to the set about noon or so. And we do the show from 2:00 to 5:00. Then we go back to the hotel. We shower. And then we go and we eat. And there's been a little socializing. Socializing. A little dancing.

KING: Why are you looking at me when you say that?

KING: That -- Katie, that's got to be the best schedule of all. You're working, that ain't even banker's hours. That's an afternoon breeze.

COURIC: I know, it's so great. We're going to try to convince our friends at NBC to let us do "The Today Show" from 2:00 to 5:00 in the States, because it -- well, you know, also, Larry, they eat dinner here like at 11:00 at night. Lunch usually at 4:00 in the afternoon, and breakfast around noon.

And so we've been going out later and later, it seems, since we've been here, getting home around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning after a night of frolicking and dancing.

So, I think we're going to have to have a major adjustment when we get back to New York.

ROKER: And the Republican Convention.

COURIC: Yeah, we're going to have to...

KING: Adjust?

COURIC: ... get back to our old hours quickly.

LAUER: It's been so good.

COURIC: But it's been really, really fun. Hasn't it? And Al is one mean dancer, Larry. We were dancing at the "Sports Illustrated" party...

LAUER: On his 50th birthday, also.

ROKER: That's right.

LAUER: He was here celebrating his 50th birthday. Dancing for two hours in 90 degree heat.

KING: We've got one segment left, and the tabloids are already calling in.

We'll be right back with Katie, Matt and Al, our favorite people. Don't go away.


LAUER: So why don't you show me what a great serve looks like, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want a good serve?

LAUER: Yeah, give me your normal serve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, yeah, all right.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... give you a top spin serve first.

LAUER: I just want to see what a really good one looks like.


LAUER: OK, go ahead. All right, this is a good serve, right? OK. OK. Go ahead. The thing started here and it ended up over here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do that step here, and then...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man. Did that hurt?

COURIC: You could have done that to me, Rulan (ph).


COURIC: You could have done that to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got 280 pounds (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on you, so.

Like a little rag doll.


KING: Good leap, Katie.

COURIC: Thank you. Thank you very much, Larry.

KING: Very proud of you. How did the women's gymnastics go to you, Ms. Couric, since you competed in one of the events. How did the rest of them go?

COURIC: I thought it went really, really well. I think the team was disappointed they didn't win a gold, a team gold medal. And certainly I think they were also had a lot of hype surrounding the team. The best team in many, many years. And Bela Karolyi, his enthusiasm and excitement is infectious. And he was so pumped up. And they did an incredible job. I went to the team event with my girls and some friends. And it was -- it was really wonderful to see.

But I think they were a tad disappointed. I think Courtney Kupets, had a hamstring injury and some other injuries, and she was not up to her usual high level of competition. I sound like Elfi Schlegel, don't I?

But anyway, I think they did really really well. Of course, Carly Patterson winning the gold medal in the all-around competition. The first American to do so since Mary Lou Retton. It was really exciting and a lot of fun. And I think a lot of people in the states had fun watching them. Because, you know, talk about fine athletes. I mean, they are well-tuned machines. And I just can't -- can't get over some of the things that they're able to do with their bodies. And to twist and to flip in the air, multiple times. I mean, I think it's mind boggling.

KING: Matt, what's it been logistically like for the whole NBC setup?

You have how many people there working all this, bouncing around from place to place?

LAUER: NBC's got some -- yes, NBC has something like 850 people here. I think the "Today" show has just under 100, probably around 80. You know, we're a little bit spread out. We're kind of in different parts of the city. And we all come together at this Olympic sports complex every morning. But it's hard for me to talk about behind-the-scenes how tough it's been. But to get back to the point, Larry, for us in Olympics past it's been difficult for us to get to the set, and get to the venues and the traffic. We've had none of that. It's really been a delight.

ROKER: And we've got some of the best technical people. I mean NBC sports in general, but the folks with the "Today" show, I mean, I think one of the things that makes us be able to do what we do, is we have such great behind-the-scenes people from producers and writers and editors and camera people who are really working in rough conditions, in a lot of heat. And every day they've just been...

COURIC: With very little sleep.


COURIC: And the NBC Sports sort of complex, Larry, is just a site to behold. I mean, it's like a Pentagon practically, that's been built here in Athens. And Dick Ebersol has done a remarkable job just getting so many people there to work so hard, and to do such a incredible job.

ROKER: He's got a bed at his office.

COURIC: Yes, Dick is sleeping in his office now. Because I think he sleeps about four hours a day from 6:00 to 10:00, he said. I saw him the other day. And the only good thing about that, is he gave me his room at the hotel, and it's nice!

KING: And I guess, Matt, Costas, feels at home.

LAUER: This is an event that is tailor-made for Bob Costas. I mean, he's got this vast encyclopedia in his mind of sports history, and trivia. And to watch him take an ordinary event and add perspective and twists and turns and bring up the records of these people over the last 25 years, he's remarkable.

COURIC: He is. That's why they call him "Sponge" Bob here, Larry. And he's got a Sponge Bob poster in his office, because -- and actually I think his grandfather was a sponge diver here in Greece. You know, it's good to have a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) guy like Bob Costas being the anchor here in Greece. But he is -- he's just amazing, and so talented.

KING: All right, Roker, what's the schedule now?

You go home when?

ROKER: We're going home Saturday. And we turn right around, and Monday we're ready for the Republican National Convention in New York City.

KING: Where are you interviewing the president, Matt? LAUER: Catching him out on the road, Larry. I believe it's going to be in Ohio on Saturday, and we'll turn that right around for Monday morning, and run portions of it throughout the week. Of course, you know in anticipation of his speech on Thursday night, trying to get his frame of mind and what he wants to communicate during that speech.

KING: So you're going right from Athens to Ohio?

LAUER: Yes, sir.

ROKER: In fact he went to school in Athens, Ohio.

LAUER: Yes, exactly, it's very appropriate.

KING: Katie, you got to get all revved up again with the convention starting, with really only a day off?

COURIC: You know what, I love politics. So, I think it's going to be April lot of fun to see -- you know, I went to Boston to cover the Democrats. And it will be great fun to see the Republicans in action in New York City. And I'm looking for to it. I am. I mean, it would have been nice to have a week off and spend some time here enjoying the country, because it really is an amazing place. But, you know, duty calls, Larry.

What can I say?

KING: Al, any worries about New York and convention?

ROKER: I'm just worried the subways are going to be crowded. But I think Mayor Michael Bloomberg and our police chief, Ray Kelly, they've got this all -- they've been working on this for a long time. And with any luck it will go as smoothly as things are gone here in Athens. I think...

COURIC: You're just sucking up because they declared Al Roker day on your birthday.

ROKER: That's right, absolutely. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I got to ride the mayor's car.

KING: And fit in it this time, Al, you look great.

ROKER: Thank you, Larry. Thanks.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll see -- We'll see you in New York. See you at the convention.

LAUER: You got it.

COURIC: OK. Larry, thank you.

KING: Thank you, doll. Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker.

And Matt will have an interview with President Bush, he'll tape it on Thursday and you'll see it in segments beginning Monday morning.

And I'll be back in a couple of minutes and tell you what's coming ahead on LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


ROKER: This the USA house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Al Roker, come on in.

ROKER: Hi! How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: SO, nice to meet you.

ROKER: Nice to be met, thank you.


ROKER: What's all the excitement about?

The women won the gold?


ROKER: Where are the girls?

CROWD: They're coming.

ROKER: They're coming? They're coming!

How are you going to greet them?





KING: We've got in big shows coming up on LARRY KING LIVE, including one dealing with "Fear Factor," that I already fear sitting here with this.

But Sunday we'll be in New York with a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, Sunday night. And then two shows nightly Monday through Thursday with shows at 9:00 and midnight from Madison Square Garden.

Then a week from Friday, Jerry Lewis as we approach the telethon.

Right now we approach NEWSNIGHT with Aaron Brown, that's next.


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