Boston Strong

Emotions flow for runners, spectators at Boston Marathon

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BOSTON — The first spectator arrived at the Boston Marathon finish line at 4:15 a.m. with a full package of Fig Newtons and an empty bladder.

“My frame of reference was the Rose Bowl parade,” said John, a Salt Lake City native, as workers cleaned dirt off the finish line with spray bottles and mini towels in 35 degrees before sunrise. “People sleep out the night before.”

It wasn’t quite at that level, but John wouldn’t regret sacrificing shuteye for the scene at Boylston Street over the next 12 hours on Monday.

At least 32,000 runners crossed the finish line, one year after two bombs robbed many of that satisfaction at the world’s oldest annual marathon. There were two marriage proposals (at least). One man was carried over the final feet by his arms and legs by four other runners.

If last year’s bombings won’t soon be forgotten, killing three and injuring more than 260, this year’s remembrance and triumph at the same site will long be remembered.

Rows of screaming supporters reportedly up to 10 deep lined along an east-west stretch on Boylston, some 300 to 400 yards of road leading to the ultimate sight in distance running — that finish line.

Runners made left turns off Hereford Street, passing Engine 33, Ladder 15, which lost two firefighters in a 9-alarm blaze on March 26. It was hard to describe what came into view when they straightened out.

Video: Meb Keflezighi makes tearful history with victory

“It was so inspiring compared to last year,” said Dr. Scott Weisberg, a family physician from Birmingham, Ala. “I needed it for healing.”

Weisberg said last year he crossed the finish line three seconds before the first of two pressure cooker bombs exploded behind him. He suffered bilateral hearing loss, including substantial, permanent hearing loss in his left ear.

He soaked up that final straightaway, stopping to shake the hands of the standing spectators under clear, sunny skies.

“Unbelievable support, camaraderie,” Weisberg said. “The Boston Strong signs, people patting me on the back. I’m so glad to be part of this.”

That first spectator, John, who runs 100-mile ultramarathons, was not at last year’s race. But he wanted the best possible view to take pictures of his wife and friends completing it this year.

He planned it all out, even abstaining from drinking liquids the night before so he wouldn’t lose his spot going on a bathroom break.

As the sun rose, so did Boston. John was joined by hundreds within view and hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the entire 26.2-mile course that went through eight cities and towns. Organizers prepared for one million, twice the usual amount.

Security, also expected to be doubled, slowly ramped up. At 4:15 a.m., there was very little. John actually walked into and sat in a VIP area for a few hours before being kicked out. About 10 police officers and five dogs swept Boylston Street for 20 minutes after 6:30. Security workers in all black were seen on rooftops by the time crowds picked up.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a longtime viewer from Beacon Street, trekked to watch from Boylston for the first time.

“Many, many decades I’ve been watching it,” Kraft said behind sunglasses. “I wanted to be at the finish line this year.”

Kraft conversed with father-and-son racers Dick and Rick Hoyt after they finished late in the afternoon. Dick pushes Rick, who has cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair every year.

“I wish there were more people on the Earth like you,” Kraft told Dick.

The beloved Hoyts competed in their 32nd and final Boston Marathon together in over seven hours, stopping to kiss people along the route.

“It looked like they all waited around for Rick and I to come across,” Dick said. “We were longer than we wanted to be, but we wanted to say hi and goodbye to all our fans.”

One of Kraft’s former Patriots stood a few hundred feet way, on the other side of the finish.

Retired offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, a cancer survivor and first responder last year, waved outside the site of the second bombing, near where he had famously carried an injured woman to an ambulance in 2013.

He craned over others to snap pictures on a purple-cased iPhone of one of some 50 runners entered on behalf of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation that supports cancer patients. Their runners raised nearly a half million dollars, Andruzzi said.

One man stood out even more across the street, in the grandstand, wearing a white cowboy hat and blue Boston Strong sweatshirt and waving several small American flags.

“Seeing everybody cheering and clapping for the runners, that’s been the best time for me here,” said Carlos Arredondo, who famously became known as the man in the cowboy hat when he helped rush Jeff Bauman to an ambulance in the aftermath of the bombings last year. Bauman was the only survivor to lose both legs above his knee.

Moments of silence were held before the start in Hopkinton, before 9 a.m., and at the finish at 2:49 p.m., the time the bombs exploded in a 12-second span last year. On the latter, a public address announcer broke the quiet air with a phrase that generated a raucous response.

“And now take it forward with a yell that they will hear around the world,” he said.

Thomas Menino, Boston’s mayor from 1993 through 2013, got to the finish at 11 a.m., before the elite runners, and stayed at least into the late afternoon. He was there for most of the unofficial 31,779 finishers before timing stopped (second most in the race’s 118-year history).

“It was all about the runners today,” Menino said. “A new day in Boston.”

Course record for women’s winner; Emotional Flanagan seventh

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to an attack survivor as Joe Bauman rather than Jeff.

Diamond League slate ends in Doha with record holders; TV, stream info

Mondo Duplantis
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The Diamond League season ends on Friday in the place where it was supposed to start — Doha.

Like many sports, track and field’s calendar was put in disarray by the coronavirus pandemic. The Doha meet, originally scheduled for April 17 to open an Olympic season, was postponed five months while other stops were canceled altogether.

Now, Doha caps an unlikely season that still produced stirring performances. NBCSN coverage starts at 12 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold also streams live for subscribers.

The headliner is Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis, a leading contender for Male Athlete of the Year. Duplantis, who twice bettered the world record in February at indoor meets, last week produced the highest outdoor clearance in history, too, breaking a 26-year-old Sergey Bubka record.

Duplantis can mimic Bubka on Friday by attempting to raise his world record another centimeter — to 6.19 meters, or more than 20 feet, 3 inches.

The deepest track event in Doha is the finale, the women’s 3000m, featuring 3000m steeplechase world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, 5000m world champion Hellen Obiri and rising 1500m runner Gudaf Tsegay.

Here are the Doha entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

11:18 a.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
11:33 — Men’s 200m
12:03 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:08 — Women’s Long Jump
12:12 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
12:21 — Men’s 1500m
12:34 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
12:43 — Women’s 800m
12:56 — Women’s 100m
1:07 — Men’s 800m
1:18 — Women’s 3000m

Here are three events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 11:18 a.m.
Duplantis looks to complete a perfect 2020 against his two primary rivals — reigning world champion and American Sam Kendricks (who went undefeated in 2017) and 2012 Olympic champion and former world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France. Kendricks was the last man to beat Duplantis, at those 2019 World Championships, and is the only man to clear a height within nine inches of Duplantis’ best this outdoor season.

Women’s 100m — 12:56 p.m.
Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah looks poised to finish the year as the world’s fastest woman after clocking 10.85 seconds in Rome last week, her fastest time outside of Jamaica in more than three years. That’s one hundredth faster than countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce‘s best time of 2020. Thompson-Herah was fifth and fourth at the last two world championships after sweeping the Rio Olympic sprints. Like in Rome, her primary challengers in Doha are Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou and 2018 U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs.

Women’s 3000m — 1:18 p.m.
A meeting of titans in a non-Olympic event. Chepkoech is the fastest steeplechaser in history by eight seconds. Obiri is the fastest Kenyan in history in the 3000m and the 5000m. Tsegay, just 23, chopped 3.26 seconds off her 1500m personal best in 2019, taking bronze at the world championships to become the second-fastest Ethiopian in history in that event. In all, the field includes five medalists from the 2019 Worlds across four different events.

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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). 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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