Bernard Williams

Catching up with Bernard ‘Hollywood’ Williams

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Two-time Olympic sprint medalist Bernard “Hollywood” Williams is still going at age 36.

He clocked 10.51 seconds in the 100m at the Florida Relays on Friday. That’s well off his personal best, 9.94, set in 2001, but Williams has much more on his mind than fast times these days.

He’s best known for being part of the Olympic champion U.S. 4x100m relay team at Sydney 2000, and its scrutinized celebration, and as the silver medalist in the U.S. sweep of the 2004 Olympic 200m, a race known for what happened before the gun went off.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Williams to reflect on his career and discuss his new ventures.

OlympicTalk: Why are you still running at age 36?

Williams: The thing about track and field is this — once you win medals and you get toward the end of your career, you have to make a certain transition. For me, I wasn’t finished running. I had a certain talent, but I had to find the means to support my family. That’s what got me into coaching.

I now use running to send a positive message. I put my races on YouTube to let my kids know you can do it as long as you want if you do it clean. It feels good to run now and not worry if your contract is going to get cut or if you don’t medal.

OlympicTalk: Who were your favorite competitors?

Williams: [2003 world 100m champion] Kim Collins and [2004 Olympian] John Capel. Kim Collins and I, we used to race against each other in junior college, and then we raced each other at the university level and then for 10 years on the pro circuit. He was a true champion. After our races, we would hang out in different countries, learn the language and the culture.

Capel [a 2004 Olympic teammate and University of Florida wide receiver] was tough. He came off that football field with that football strength.

OlympicTalk: Where do you keep your Olympic medals?

Williams: The 2000 gold is in a safe deposit box in Florida [where Williams went to college and formerly trained], and the 2004 silver is in a safe deposit box in Maryland [where Williams grew up and currently lives].

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OlympicTalk: What are you doing now, in addition to sprinting?

Williams: I started working as a sports performance coach at API Athletic Performance Inc., four years ago. I started my own business, Bernard Williams Pro Techniques. I teach kids how to run correctly, and I call colleges for them [his pupils have advanced to Clemson and Boston College, among other schools].

I also write songs and post them on YouTube.

OlympicTalk: You were a noted stand-up comic even during your Olympic years with the stage name “Hollywood.” Do you still do comedy?

Williams: Maybe seven times a month. I’ve been doing it since 2001. In the past, I would go to the track to work out, and then at night I would go to the comedy clubs. Sometimes I wasn’t funny. They booed. But from 2001-13 I’ve been a paid feature in New York, Florida and Hollywood, and I’ve been on television, a reality show with Chilli from TLC.

The comedy is something I like to do for the passion, not for the money necessarily. I like to make rooms of people laugh. It’s an adrenaline rush.

OlympicTalkUsain Bolt was just beginning his rise during your prime. What do you remember about a young Bolt?

Williams: I first saw him in 2003-2004. It’s weird because when I see him on TV now, he’s posing and doing things. I’m looking at him like that’s not what he used to do. He never did those things before the race. He would be nervous like anyone else, no posing, no facial expressions, no nothing for at least four years from 2004 to 2007.

He was humble. If I didn’t have a physio, he would allow me to use his physio even though we were competitors. His favorite words were “no worries.”

OlympicTalk: The 2000 Olympic 4x100m relay team (Jon DrummondBrian Lewis, Williams and Maurice Greene) was criticized for its victory celebration. How do you look at that incident now?

Williams: Fourteen years later, I can respond in a more articulate way with what was going on and how it happened. In 2000, when we took the victory lap, we didn’t know that we were out of line. I was a big fan of wrestling, WWF and The Rock, so when the crowd in Australia wanted more from us, I said OK. I posed here, took pictures, posed there, took more pictures. I didn’t realize it had been 10 minutes, and we’re still posing, giving the crowd what they want.

Once we got to the back, one of the journalists asked, “Do you feel you were out of line?” We replied, not really because we just won a gold medal for our country, and they [the journalists] didn’t like that.

During this time you have veterans, people who have sweat blood and tears for this country, who had opinions. Once you’ve got people like that making comments, you have to have an apology, telling them you were there showing emotion. We weren’t out there to disrespect anybody. We were proud.

source: Getty Images
Bernard Williams (center) and the U.S. 4x100m relay team continued their eye-catching celebration on the medal stand in Sydney in 2000. (Getty Images)

The very next year, 9/11 happened. Everybody was wearing American flags on their heads, just like I did the previous year. No problems. No interviews. No hate mail. I said, you know what, I’m going to continue to keep being me. I continued to pose and make people laugh my whole career.

If I could do it all over again, the celebration would have been done in a different way. It definitely wouldn’t be as long. I’m older now, more mature. I’m aware of who’s watching and people’s feelings and people who have died for this country.

OlympicTalk: In 2004, the headlines were about what happened before your Olympic race. You won silver in the 200m, but it was delayed by the Greek crowd protesting the suspension of 2000 Olympic 200m champion Kostas Kenteris for infamously missing a pre-Olympics drug test.

Williams: As soon as they started booing, the only thing I could think of was, OK, here we go again [memories of the backlash over the 2000 Olympic celebration].

It was weird. The whole crowd, we’re talking over 100,000 people. I knew it wasn’t directed toward me. It was directed toward other people, like, hey, you won’t let our guy run.

I had a smile on my face when they were booing. When we crossed the line 1-2-3 [a U.S. sweep with Shawn Crawford, Williams and Justin Gatlin], we shook hands, and it was cool. That victory lap, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t have fun, but I did it respectfully. I wanted to show people I could conduct myself in a more self-sufficient manner [than in 2000]. It was another form of trial and tribulation.

OlympicTalk: How do you look back on your era, seen as one of the dirtiest in the history of sport?

Williams: Even I had a mistake. I had a party drug, marijuana [and failed a drug test]. They said, OK, you’ve never tested positive for any banned substance before, and they gave me a warning [in August 2004, which allowed him to run in Athens]. That was a blessing. What I took from that was I cleaned up, made myself pure. I was always clean [from a PED standpoint], but I wasn’t pointing the finger at people who did steroids. I’m not a hater. I’m not clean as the board of health, either. Everybody makes mistakes.

I look back on that era as another era that was similar to the one before. I did my homework. I knew about Linford Christie [1992 Olympic 100m champion banned for drugs in late 1990s], Ben Johnson [stripped of gold at 1988 Olympics].

My era is considered bad because of the amount of stars it involved. Personally, I think the Ben Johnson steroid case was bigger than my era. It brought a lot of knowledge to the world about steroids. It kind of opened the world’s eyes. I don’t think any era was more dirty than any other era.

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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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