Esther Williams, Godmother of Synchro-Swimming, passes away

Leave a comment

Champion swimmer and Hollywood star Esther Williams, best known for her “aqua-musicals” of the 1940s, passed away Thursday in LA. She was 91.

Williams was never able to compete in the Helsinki Olympics, due to the outbreak of World War II that led to the cancelation of the 1940 and ’44 Games, but she’s often credited with the IOC adopting synchronized swimming into its program in 1984, and served as a TV analyst for its inauguration.

“The life she had goes without saying,” her spokesperson and close friend for more than 15 years, Harlan Boll, told NBC News. “She stood out among other people. She’s the godmother of synchronized swimming and is the reason it became an Olympic sport.”

Williams was invited to join the Los Angeles Athletic Club when she was just a teen, and at one point held the national record for the women’s 100m freestyle race. When the Games were canceled for the war, Williams shed her amateur status and worked with five-time Olympic champ and Tarzan star, Johnny Weissmuller, in a water show for the 1940 Worlds Fair.

She was subsequently hired by MGM in 1941 at 19 years old, and went on to star in acquatic-themed films like Bathing Beauty, Million Dollar Mermaid, and more than twenty others with stars like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Ricardo Montalbán, and Mickey Rooney. Williams is one of only ten American women to have their careers inducted into the Smithsonian Institution.

In February, the International Swimming Hall of Fame announced the “Esther Award,” which recognizes “outstanding achievements in the film and entertainment industries that promote a positive image of swimming as a key to fun, fitness, good health, a better quality of life and an essential water safety and lifesaving skill.”

Wagner, Asada, Hanyu headline NHK Trophy in Japan; Grand Prix Final berths on the line

Ashley Wagner
Leave a comment

Three-time U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner looks to qualify for her fourth consecutive Grand Prix Final at this weekend’s NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan. A medal of any color should be good enough to get her to Barcelona, but she faces a tough field.

Japan’s Mao Asada returned to competition this season and is poised to qualify for the most elite competition since the Sochi Olympics (where she finished sixth) and 2014 World Championships (which she won). Finishing on the podium would earn a berth to the final for Asada. Also in the field are Americans Mirai Nagasu and Courtney Hicks, Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, and one of Russia’s darlings from last season, Anna Pogorilaya.

Olympic champion and last year’s Grand Prix Final winner Yuzuru Hanyu, surely to be the overwhelming crowd favorite in the men’s field, will look to improve his short program results from his other Grand Prix appearance. At Skate Canada, two of his three jumping passes recceived zero points. He rallied in the free skate, finishing second behind Canada’s Patrick Chan. Chan is essentially a lock for the final, while a top three finish would seal the deal for Hanyu.

MORE: Javier Fernandez qualifies for second straight home Grand Prix Final

Other men in the hunt for Grand Prix Final berths competing in Nagano include China’s Jin Boyang and Russia’s Maxim Kovtun, who also need podium finishes to lock up spots in Barcelona. Jin’s and Kovtun’s finishes will likely dictate whether or not American Max Aaron qualifies to the final. More on that process here. No U.S. man has qualified since Jeremy Abbott did it in 2011.

MORE: Jason Brown withdraws from NHK Trophy

Reigining U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim can make the Grand Prix Final with a medal in Japan.

The U.S. is sending three ice dance couples to Japan, of which two have a shot at qualifying for Barcelona. Siblings and Sochi Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani can finish in any 1-2 combination with Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue allowing for both duos to qualify for the final. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, U.S. ice dance champions, already qualified.

Icenetwork.com will stream for subscribers live coverage of men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance short programs and free skates. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Men’s short program — Friday, 2:10 a.m. ET (start order here)
Women’s short program — Friday, 5:05 a.m. ET (start order here)
Men’s free skate — Saturday, 2:30 a.m. ET
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 5:35 a.m. ET

Inside the #RoadtoRio photo shoots

CUYKnDxU8AcscSS.jpg large
NBC Olympics
Leave a comment

Bringing together over 100 Summer Olympians and Olympic hopefuls with puppies, samba dancers and supermodels, NBC Olympics and the United States Olympic Committee partnered for an extensive five-day media summit in West Hollywood, Ca. The athletes took part in photo shoots, interviews and video segments all in preparation for next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Over the course of the summit, participants shared behind-the-scenes moments on social media using the #RoadtoRio hashtag. NBC Olympics also launched its official Snapchat account, with the username NBCOlympics. Here are some of the highlights:

Olympians fell in puppy love:


Then got a crash course in Brazil’s signature dance, the samba:


A photobooth with props let the athletes–and even Bob Costas–show off their silly sides:


Olympic fans like Alessandra Ambrosio and Flula dropped by:


In between shoots, athletes from different sports mingled:


The faux-Rio beach was the perfect set:


But these Olympic stars needed only a simple white backdrop to shine:

Wait who is the Olympian here! Linnéa stealing the show at the @nbcolympics #roadtorio

A photo posted by Alysia Montaño (@alysiamontano) on


Follow NBC Olympics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat (username NBCOlympics).


MORE: ‘Race’ film poster unveiled