Sochi’s slalom signals shift of stars in women’s Alpine

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Mikaela Shiffrin’s first Olympic title also may have signaled the last Olympic races for the world’s two best all-around skiers.

Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze, who have four Olympic medals each, said the slalom Friday night was their Olympic farewell.

Shiffrin wants to add speed racing in the next year or two, certainly before 2018, which could make the Sochi slalom a changing-of-the-guard event. (Lindsey Vonn may also have a say during this transition period.)

Hoefl-Riesch finished fourth and Maze was eighth in the slalom, the first time at these Winter Games that a women’s Alpine podium did not include either of the skiers. Hoefl-Riesch couldn’t stay on the podium, nor successfully defend her 2010 slalom title, after being second to Shiffrin in the first slalom run.

In the second run, Hoefl-Riesch skied into third and was bumped to fourth by the American, .38 seconds from her fifth career Olympic medal. Still, she finished her second Olympics with two medals, gold in the super combined and silver in the super-G.

“I can go home really happily,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who skipped Tuesday’s giant slalom Tuesday. “Today, fourth place is a little bit sad. That’s sports. The others were better today. You have to accept that. It was not a bad race for me.”

Maze was looking to become the first skier to place in the top five of all five events at one Olympics. Eighth place did not sit well with the bold woman who has a hit single with more than 700,000 views across YouTube videos.

VIDEO: Compare Shiffrin’s runs to the others’

“That’s my last one [career Olympic race],” said Maze, who won the giant slalom and tied for gold in the downhill in her fourth Olympics. “It feels terrible, finishing eighth. I was fighting. It didn’t work out. Two golds is more than I expected. Right now I feel a little down.”

She’ll have to settle for being the third skier to finish in the top 10 of all five events at one Olympics.

The others?

The most decorated Olympic Alpine skier of all time – Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt – and Hoefl-Riesch, who did it in 2010.

Hoefl-Riesch and Maze may never ski in an Olympics again, but they will be rivals the rest of the World Cup season. Maze is returning to the form that saw her post the greatest World Cup season by a man or woman in 2012-13.

VIDEO: Shiffrin talks about her golden feeling

She is in fifth place overall this season, 325 points behind the leader Hoefl-Riesch with nine races to go. It’s a healthy deficit but not insurmountable.

“Maria had a really good start of the season,” Maze said. “I had a pretty bad start. I hope I can catch her, for sure.”

Hoefl-Riesch, the 2012 World Cup overall champion, wasn’t taking Maze lightly.

“It will be a tough fight in the overall World Cup because Tina is back in shape now,” she said. “She is a little bit behind, but she can make that up for sure.”

Hoefl-Riesch, 29, said this could be her last World Cup season. She hopes to decide for sure before the final races in mid-March.

“Maybe even one more year is too much,” she said. “I’m doing this since I’m 16. I’m doing every single race since I’m 18 or 19. This is so intense. Over the years, I feel that my body is not making it so well anymore. I’m still having fun, still lots of fun for me to do every discipline. Sometimes I feel tired, and that’s so hard to motivate for another year. It’s not only the skiing in the winter, but it’s all the work in the summer. It’s so tough and so complicated when you’re doing all events.”

Vonn, 29, wants to return next season. It’s unclear if she’ll pick up the technical events, giant slalom and slalom.

Three months before she ruled herself out of the Olympics, Vonn said that she wouldn’t ski slalom in Sochi. She also said she might not ski any giant slalom this season, before she announced she needed another knee surgery and abandoned her year after four speed races.

Shiffrin, 18, is on the way in for the overall picture in the next Olympic cycle.

She has never raced a World Cup speed event, but she has trained super-G and thought a lot about when she’ll add it to her repertoire.

The Vail native is taking a calculated approach.

“I’m still not quite where I want to be with [giant slalom], at this point in the season,” said Shiffrin, who was fifth in the Olympic giant slalom. “I mean, I’ve definitely improved a lot, but my goal is really to get my slalom and GS dialed in before I move to speed, so when I do I’m able to spread myself that thin and be OK with it. Hopefully, maybe, some super-Gs next year. Maybe even the end of this year, but it all depends on how I’m feeling.”

Maze has been impressed with Shiffrin’s giant slalom skills, even reportedly calling her a “young Tina Maze.” Maze was also cautious, though.

“Speed, you need a lot of experience,” Maze said. “She will need a lot of training.”

Hoefl-Riesch said Shiffrin could “become the greatest ever.”

“For her age, unbelievable how technical perfect her skiing is and also how she is handling all the pressure and expectations,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “I never saw her on long skis, but I’m sure she will have good technique for that and be really fast, too.”

Skiing fans will appreciate Hoefl-Riesch and Maze, though. They have a combined 20 Olympic and World Championship medals between them, plus 50 World Cup victories.

Their accolades may have been far from their minds Friday, as they spoke to reporters while the medalists were presented with flowers behind them.

“Finishing like this,” Maze said, “is not satisfying.”

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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