Iouri Podladtchikov

Iouri Podladtchikov sets the record straight on Russian meeting

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Iouri Podladtchikov answered a reporter’s phone call in Frankfurt, Germany, and began talking before any questions were asked.

“I want to make a statement right now before this [expletive] storm goes anywhere,” the Olympic snowboard halfpipe champion said.

What followed was a thought-out, 45-minute conversation. The man they call I-Pod balanced feelings toward his birth nation Russia, home nation Switzerland, keeping his phone charged and preparing for a flight from Frankfurt to Milan.

On Wednesday, a Russian outlet quoted Podladtchikov saying he would discuss a Russian proposal to switch from representing Switzerland back to Russia in international competition.

Podladtchikov’s nationality was a topic of conversation leading into the Olympics in February and after the Swiss won halfpipe gold over Shaun White and others. In particular because he triumphed in Russia, where he is celebrated.

Podladtchikov was born in Moscow but moved across Europe before settling in Zurich at age 8. He finished 37th at the 2006 Olympics at age 17 competing for Russia, but switched to represent Switzerland after he gained citizenship there in 2007.

He has said he switched countries not for nationalistic reasons but to better his snowboarding environment. He remains a dual citizen.

Podladtchikov sent the following series of tweets Friday and, in the phone interview less than an hour later, said “I’ve never done anything like I just did on Twitter.”

Here’s what Podladtchikov said in the interview about Russia and snowboarding:

* He met and talked with three Russian snowboard officials at the hotel where he was staying in Moscow on Thursday afternoon, his first sitdown discussions with such people in two years. He said he did it out of respect to the Russians.

* Yes, the officials mentioned that in a perfect world they wish Podladtchikov would be representing Russia.

* The overriding purpose of the meeting wasn’t to persuade Podladtchikov to represent Russia again. It was to discuss ways Podladtchikov could boost snowboarding in Russia because it is gaining popularity with the nation’s youth. They wanted his advice on specific ways to grow the sport, such as developing facilities.

“It’s not about me being a sellout here and trying to get myself the best deal possible,” Podladtchikov said Friday, before any questions were asked. “It’s the total opposite. It’s trying to give back the best things possible.”

* Podladtchikov entered the meeting Thursday skeptical, given Russian officials had been trying to get him to represent Russia ever since his switch to Switzerland, even a month before the Sochi Olympics. But he left pleased that the focus was on the future of snowboarding in Russia rather than his future of snowboarding in Russia.

* Podladtchikov remains open to hearing out Russian snowboarding about his representation, as he always has been. But he doesn’t think they could bring enough to the table for him to leave his comfortable situation as a Swiss.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s still somewhere in the back of [Russian officials’] heads, would it still be possible [for me to represent Russia],” Podladtchikov said. “But I think that we all now that it’s pretty impossible.

“It would be really unloyal to the people who helped me out to get me to where I am to go back and forth. Nobody likes those types of people who go after the better [situation]. And it can’t be better [in Russia]. That’s what it is.

“They can’t make it better because to do so they would have to believe in somebody in the first place and never stop believing. In that case, they lost [Podladtchikov mentioned going to the 2006 Olympics “by myself”]. You can’t buy that with money. I’ve really made it clear that they [Russian officials] failed. They have no rights here.”

As for snowboarding, Podladtchikov expressed a desire to compete “as soon as there’s snow” next season. He has ideas for new tricks, or variations of his famous YOLO Flip (“You Only Live Once”), and hopes to compete against his friendly rival White at the 2015 Winter X Games. He has said he might call his next new trick, “Maybe I Live Forever.”

White missed this year’s X Games for the first time this millennium in order to prepare for Sochi, where he had hoped to enter halfpipe and slopestyle but pulled out of slopestyle the day before qualifying. He then finished fourth in the halfpipe final.

White was asked on “TODAY” less than 24 hours after the halfpipe disappointment if he would go for a fourth Olympics in 2018.

“I think so,” White said.

Podladtchikov and White met at a party in New York about three weeks later. White arrived holding two gold balloons to cheekily celebrate the Swiss’ Olympic triumph. The letter “F” was written on one gold balloon. The letter “U” was on the other one.

Podladtchikov did not ask White if they would be facing off at another Olympics.

“We don’t bother each other with those kinds of questions,” Podladtchikov said, “although I would love to know.”

White is focusing on his band, Bad Things, which is set to play the large Firefly Music Festival in Delaware in June. Podladtchikov delved into his off-the-snow passion, too — photography.

Russia’s Vogue surprised him by publishing his work Friday, “sensual” images of his model friends who then called him in tears of joy when they found the link.

It was a big score. Remember, Podladtchikov was asked what’s next in a press conference after winning gold in Russia.

“I’m going to shoot the cover of Vogue,” he said three months ago.

“I almost lost my consciousness when I read that tweet,” Podladtchikov said Friday from Frankurt, where he was at the 100th anniversary of Leica, the brand of camera he fancies.

He’s excited for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles, where he’ll definitely be bringing his camera.

“I’d really love to shoot the LA beaches and desert and typical LA locations,” Podladtchikov said, “but I don’t know if I’m going to have the time for all of that.”

Yevgeny Plushenko returns to training, but will he compete again?

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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