Hannah Kearney

What to watch on Day 1 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Sat., Feb. 8.

(For a complete list of Day 1 live streamed events, click here)

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Men’s snowboard slopestyle, 12:30 a.m. ET (semis), 3:45 a.m. ET (finals) CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The first gold-medal winner of the Olympics will be crowned at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. It will not be Shaun White, who pulled out of slopestyle Wednesday (but is still scheduled to go for his third straight halfpipe gold Tuesday).

Canada has a shot to sweep the podium, which the nation has never done before at a Winter Games. It’s led by Winter X Games champion Max Parrot, the top qualifier from Thursday. Sebastien Toutant won the 2013 European X Games and also qualified directly into the 12-man final.

Then there’s Mark McMorris, the 2012 and 2013 X Games champion who was the prohibitive favorite one  month ago. Then he broke a rib at the X Games and did not qualify for the final. He’ll go in the semifinals, where 21 men compete to lock up the remaining four spots in the final.

The three Americans — Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel — are also in the semifinals.

The top medal threats to Canada are Norway’s Stale Sandbech and Finland’s Roope Tonteri, the 2013 world champion, and Peetu Piiroinen, the 2010 Olympic halfpipe silver medalist. Piiroinen is trying to become the first snowboarder to win medals in multiple disciplines.

Women’s hockey: U.S.-Finland, 3 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN)CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The reigning world champion Americans open the women’s hockey tournament with a test. Finland handed the U.S. a 3-1 defeat on Nov. 8 at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Finland was led then as it is now by goalie Noora Raty, who stopped 58 of 59 shots in Lake Placid and backed the University of Minnesota to the 2013 NCAA Championship.

This could be the closest game the U.S. plays outside of a Feb. 12 date with Canada and a probable gold-medal game against Canada. Canada plays Switzerland on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The U.S., Canada, Finland and Switzerland make up one of two four-nation groups. They are the top four nations in the world and are guaranteed spots in the playoff round regardless of group results.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR ….

Men’s speed skating 5000m, 6:30 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Dutch superstar Sven Kramer is the clear favorite to repeat as Olympic champion here. He hasn’t lost a 5000m at a major international meet since taking silver at the 2006 Olympics at age 19.

It could be the first of three gold medals in Sochi for Kramer, the best distance skater of his generation and one of the greatest-ever across all distances.

Kramer could lead a Dutch sweep if Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen are in form. Bergsma is engaged to American skater Heather Richardson.

The best U.S. hope, Jonathan Kuck, is paired with Kramer. Russia has a medal contender in Ivan Skobrev.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Figure skating, team event, 9;30 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN, ice dance, women’s short, pairs free) CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. will need to rebound if it’s to win a medal in this new Olympic event. Jeremy Abbott and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir put it in a tie for fifth (but seventh for all intents and purposes) out of 10 nations Thursday.

That puts more pressure on world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White to win the short dance over Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Ashley Wagner then makes her Olympic debut in the women’s short program. She won’t have to deal with Yuna Kim (South Korea isn’t entered), but Mao Asada, Yulia Lipnitskaya and Carolina Kostner won’t make it easy.

If the U.S. is in the top five as expected after the short programs, it will advance to free skates. The first of four free skates, pairs, concludes Saturday night’s session. Castelli and Shnapir will look to improve upon their fifth-place showing from the short program there.

The team event ends with the men’s, ice dance and women’s long programs on Sunday.

Here are the standings after Thursday’s programs:
1. Russia — 19 points
2. Canada — 17 points
3. China — 15 points
4. Japan — 13 points
5. Germany/France/U.S. — 10 points

Men’s luge, 9:30 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

German Felix Loch is the favorite as luge begins with the first two of four total runs over two days. Loch will begin a quest to become the third man to win back-to-back Olympic luge titles, joining legends Georg Hackl and Armin Zoeggeler.

Zoeggeler, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion, is trying to become the first athlete to win a Winter Olympic medal in six straight Games.

He’s also in the medal mix along with countryman Dominik Fischnaller, German David Moller and Russian Albert Demtschenko, who is in his record seventh Winter Olympics.

Chris Mazdzer, who took second in a pair of World Cups this season, is the top U.S. hope. No American has ever won an Olympic singles luge medal.

Medals won’t be determined Saturday, but a major mistake in either run could take a slider out of the running for the podium Sunday.

Women’s moguls final, 1 p.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Hannah Kearney is a heavy favorite to bring home the first U.S. gold medal of the Olympics. That’s exactly what she did four years ago in Vancouver, where she upset Canadian Jenn Heil and made up for tearfully washing out of 2006 Olympic qualifying.

Kearney was the top qualifier into the final from Thursday and is trying to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. Freestyle skiing has been in the Olympics since 1992.

Her biggest threats are Canadian sisters Chloe, Justine and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe.

American Eliza Outtrim also made the final, while Heather McPhie must compete in another round of qualifying earlier Saturday to make the 20-woman final. The fourth American, Heidi Kloser, crashed in training and missed qualification.

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).

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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