Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess

Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess a unique U.S. Olympic hopeful

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source:
Courtesy: U.S. Ski Team

With a name like Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, you better have an interesting life story.

Blackhorse-von Jess is a U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing hopeful. His mother is of Native American descent, his dad is German and he has child acting and modeling credits.

“I’m probably the first of my kind,” he said by phone amid wind gusts on a break from skiing in the Oregon woods.

He would probably not make the U.S. Olympic Team if named today. Blackhorse-von Jess, 27, is the fifth-ranked U.S. sprinter, and the top four are expected to be picked for Sochi.

He is also not on the U.S. National Team, but he could make gains in competitions to get into the Olympic picture before the team for Sochi is named in late January.

Blackhorse-von Jess’ mother is of Nez Perce Native American descent. The Pacific Northwest tribe’s French name translates to “pierced nose.”

“It’s a complete misnomer,” he said. “They gave the name to the wrong tribe. They have no piercings. My ear is pierced, but I haven’t had an earring in it since probably the sixth grade. I was a product of the ‘90s.”

His father’s German family is quite large and supportive of his skiing. His uncle is Peter von Jess, the chairman and chief executive of USfalcon, a defense contract company and his primary sponsor.

“I have just the right mix of strength and power and cardiovascular endurance,” said the bearded, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing Blackhorse-von Jess.

He also has an IMDB page with one credit.

“I was a child actor,” he said. “A couple commercials. An independent movie.”

They included a spot for Taco Time, a Mexican fast-foot chain, when he was about 8.

And, for Cellular One, a knockoff of “Sleepless in Seattle” called “Cellularless in Seattle.”

“The male and female leads looked just like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan,” he said. “They used the houseboat from the movie.”

Blackhorse-von Jess played the role of the matchmaking boy from the 1993 romantic comedy, Jonah.

“I watched [‘Sleepless in Seattle’] before the first day of our filming,” he said. “I don’t think they were ever able to air [‘Cellularless in Seattle’] because of lawsuits.”

In another commercial, he played a boy throwing a pet frog onto a conveyor belt sorting out green beans.

“I actually enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I don’t want to make it sound like tiger moms or set moms that destroy lives. It was a busy childhood, but I wasn’t Macaulay Culkin.”

source:
Courtesy: Mariah Blackhorse

When he was 9, an agent asked his mom if she would take him to Los Angeles to advance his career.

She declined and instead went to Pocatello, Idaho, where he learned to ski. They later moved back west to Bend in 2001.

Blackhorse-von Jess attended Mountain View High School with Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton.

He went to the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and watched the tainted cross-country skiing competition at Soldier Hollow.

A high school state skiing champion, he said he scored “1,500ish” on his SAT (back when it was out of 1,600) but turned down a full ride to the University of Washington.

The offer was accompanied by an internship with NASA and direct admission into the school’s college of computer science and engineering.

He was more interested in the 2005 World Junior Championships in Rovanieme, Finland, just south of the Arctic Circle.

“I decided that I wanted to take a year, instead of going to college, take a year and try this ski racing thing,” he said. “I would certainly be a lot less broke now if I took [Washington’s offer], but I certainly wouldn’t be skiing.”

NASA was hard to resist.

“I don’t think you know what you’re turning down,” officials from the University of Washington and NASA told him.

“I didn’t do a lot of prep for the SAT,” he said. “I didn’t take school super seriously. The fact that it came so easily made the decision so easy for me. I thought I could [come back later to college and] do this again.”

He finished 29th in a junior worlds race and did go back to college.

He enrolled at Dartmouth in fall 2006, without financial aid, and graduated in spring 2010 with a computer science degree.

Any hopes of making the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team vanished when he contracted the swine flu over the 2009-10 holidays.

“It was the worst sickness I’ve ever had,” he said.

They called it the Smallwood Sickness, after the name of a family that hosted the holiday party where so many people got sick. But nobody got it as bad as Blackhorse-von Jess.

“Crawl, pass out 30 minutes, wake up, crawl some more,” he said.

He waited about a week before getting antibiotics and competed at the U.S. Championships in January 2010, one month before the Olympics, on “a boatload of Ibuprofen.”

He finished 38th and 41st in two races and watched the Vancouver Games on TV.

Blackhorse-von Jess now lives in Bend, Ore., where he’s coached by 1992 and 1994 Olympian Ben Husaby and trains with high schoolers.

“A bunch of snot-nosed kids,” he joked. “We have middle schoolers, too.”

Do they ever beat him?

“No. God no,” he said. “That’s funny though. It’s more of a mentor relationship. Usually I’m encouraging them to at least try to do a pull-up.”

Blackhorse-von Jess is not concerned about the lack of competition. He’s trained alone for most of his life and gotten pretty good at it. He won his first national sprint title in January.

He supports his training as the associate director of the Bend Endurance Academy, an independent computer software professional and a handyman.

This year, Blackhorse-von Jess flew to Europe before the World Cup season starts Nov. 29 to enter lower-level FIS races.

He said he felt confident, having beaten likely U.S. Olympians Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton in a tune-up race in late October. At 5-foot-9, he looks up to them.

“They are the two best [U.S.] racers,” he said. “To ski away from those guys, that was a big deal.”

Before flying to Finland, he said he needed to race “at a top-20 level” to boost his chances of making the World Cup team. Blackhorse-von Jess finished 34th in his first FIS race Friday.

He’s making news in Scandinavia, where cross-country skiing is a way of life.

“In America, it’s less exotic I guess,” he said. “But I just made the Norwegian Nordic ski website. They wrote an article, and I was included in it simply because of my name, which is absolutely absurd and kind of funny, too.”

U.S. skier tore ACL, competed at Olympics 2 weeks later

Iris Cummings, last living 1936 U.S. Olympian, has flown ever since Berlin

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Iris Cummings is one of the last living members of a historically significant, global group: athletes who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She is the only U.S. Olympian from those Games believed to still be alive.

Cummings, a 99-year-old who still swims regularly, was one of 46 U.S. women (along with 313 U.S. men) who competed at the Berlin Olympics, best known for Jesse Owens triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Since swimmer Adolph Kiefer‘s death in May 2017, the breaststroker Cummings and canoeist John Lysak were the last living 1936 U.S. Olympians. Olympic historians recently learned that Lysak died in January at 105 years old (which Lysak’s family confirmed this week). Canadian Paul Tchir of the OlyMADMen keeps a list of the oldest living Olympians here.

Lysak, born in New Jersey, turned 4 years old when his mom died in 1918 due to the flu pandemic. He was orphaned by his father, overwhelmed with taking care of a farm and four children.

Lysak got a bike to handle a paper route as a boy. That allowed him to sneak down to the Hudson River and row with homemade boats with his younger brother, Steven, who became a 1948 Olympic gold and silver medalist.

“I couldn’t swim, but I floated with a log,” Lysak told NBC Sports for the 2016 film “More than Gold,” about Owens and the 1936 Olympics. “I grew up paddling.”

He specialized at the Yonkers Canoe Club, made the Olympic team and finished seventh in a 10km doubles event with James O’Rourke in Berlin. Lysak later became a Marine and served during World War II.

Lysak spent his last years in California, where Cummings learned to swim off the Pacific beaches as a girl around the time of the Great Depression.

Cummings credited an ability to become an Olympian and one of the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft to her parents, who met while serving in France during World War I. Her father was a medic and sports doctor. Her mother a member of the American Red Cross canteen service.

She said her father, an all-around athlete, gave up a chance to try out for the first modern Olympics in 1896 to attend Tufts University School of Medicine.

“My mother provided the intellectual and academic inspiration from her rare perspective as a woman college graduate and a high school language teacher when very few women ever went to college,” Cummings told NBC Sports in an interview for “More than Gold.”

In 1928, Cummings’ dad took her to her the National Air Races at what is now Los Angeles International Airport.

“I watched Charles Lindbergh at the peak of his fame fly in the air show,” she said.

In 1932, at age 11, Cummings was introduced to the Olympics in person. Her dad was a track and field official at those Los Angeles Games.

Iris Cummings
Iris Cummings (center) competed in the 200m breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Courtesy Iris Cummings)

All of Cummings’ swimming up to age 13 came in the ocean due to a lack of pools. But from 1934 to ’36, she developed into an Olympian in the breaststroke. In 1936, a 15-year-old Cummings was offered a paid-for, round-trip, cross-country train ticket to swim at a national championships in Long Island, N.Y.

“My mother had to borrow money to buy her railroad ticket to accompany me,” she said.

In a telegraph after nationals, Cummings was told by a California club coach to stay back East for five weeks before Olympic Trials (also on Long Island) because they had no money to send her back and forth again.

“So my mother figured out how we could stay with my grandmother in Philadelphia with almost no place to swim,” Cummings said. They found a country club pool, where she swam after hours while a janitor cleaned.

Cummings placed third in the 200m breast at trials to make the team as its youngest member in an individual event. (Today, only the top two at trials per individual event make the Olympics.)

“They stated, ‘You have made the team, but we don’t have enough money to send all of you,'” Cummings said. “‘The S.S. Manhattan sails in five days. Get out and raise as much money as you can from your hometown.’ My mother and I telegraphed our local newspaper, and a small amount was sent in from Redondo Beach.”

Olympic team members took a 10-day trip on the ship to Germany. Swimmers had one 20-foot-by-20-foot pool in which to train while at sea.

“They pumped the saltwater into it, and it sloshed around as the ship rolled,” Cummings said in an LA84 Foundation interview.

After arriving in Hamburg, U.S. athletes took a boat train that had swastikas on it out of the port.

“Most of us were quite aware of the evolving difficulties or however you want to classify the rise of Nazism in Germany,” said Cummings, adding that U.S. swim coach Charlotte Epstein previously boycotted attending the Olympics. “We’d heard the same rumors [about a U.S. boycott]. We were all wondering if the Olympic committee was going to take action before the boat sailed. That had come up in most everyone’s minds.”

At the Opening Ceremony, Cummings was bored by speeches and instead said she took pictures of the Hindenburg flying above. She had no fear about being there.

“The concerns were from nations that had proximity to the situation like a Belgium, or Holland or Austria,” she said. “We’ve got this passport, I know Margie [Marjorie Gestring, a gold-medal diver at age 13] and I looked at this and said, we’ve got this special passport. They can’t touch us.”

Most of Owens’ events took place before Cummings was eliminated in the first round of the 200m breast. She nonetheless took advantage of passes for athletes to watch track and field at the Olympic Stadium. She saw all of Owens’ races, sitting in an athlete section about 15 or 20 rows above Hitler’s box.

“Whenever [Hitler] came in, we could see him down there,” she said. “He wasn’t very far away.”

Iris Cummings
(Courtesy Iris Cummings)

Eight decades later, Cummings still remembered the crowd cheering for Owens after his victories.

“The whole stadium was rooting for Jesse,” she said.

Soon after the team returned to the U.S., Cummings began attending the University of Southern California. She enrolled in a pilot training program in 1939, earned her license the next year and worked as a flight instructor during the war. Then she became a pilot for the AAF Ferry Command in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, later included in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

“None of us thought there were going to be Olympics in ’40,” she predicted, correctly. Not in 1944, either.

She estimated that she’s flown more than 50 types of airplanes.

“There were only 21 of us [women] who ever flew the P-38,” she said, “and there were only four of us who ever flew the P-61 Black Widow.”

After the war, marriage to Howard Critchell and childbirths, Cummings continued to race planes. She developed curricula for the Federal Aviation Administration, founded an aeronautics program at Harvey Mudd College and was inducted into the National Flight Instructors Hall of Fame, among many honors.

“I’ve been flying 76 years, and it’s a privilege to just be around,” she said shortly before she stopped piloting in 2016.

Cummings still flies as a passenger with a former student.

“It’s a treat to be up there with the elements and appreciate it all,” she said. “It’s you and the air movement and the wind and what you can do with your airplane.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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NBA participation in Tokyo Olympics could be limited, Adam Silver says

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the Tokyo Olympics’ effect on the league’s schedule planning for 2021 is unclear, but that it’s possible that Olympic participation may be limited.

“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing,” Silver told Bob Costas on CNN on Tuesday. “Obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics from other countries. That’s something we’re going to have to work through. I just say, lastly, these are highly unique and unusual circumstances. I think, just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. We’re just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations.”

Silver said his best guess is that the next NBA season starts in January with a goal of a standard 82-game schedule and playoffs. A schedule has not been released.

In normal NBA seasons that start in late October, the regular season runs to mid-April and the NBA Finals into mid-June.

The Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. If an NBA season is pushed back two or three months to a January start, and the schedule is not condensed, the Olympics would start while the NBA playoffs are happening.

The current NBA season is in the conference finals phase in an Orlando-area bubble after a four-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a factor in our planning,” Silver said of the Olympics. “It would be tough for us to make a decision in January based on the Olympics happening on schedule when that’s so unclear.”

The NBA has participated in every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Monday was the 29th anniversary of the announcement of the first 10 members of the original Dream Team on an NBC selection show (hosted by Costas).

Before the NBA era, U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams consisted of college players.

MORE: When Michael Jordan lost in wheelchair basketball to Paralympian

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