Memorable U.S.-Germany clashes in Olympics

Jesse Owens, Luz Long
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The U.S. and Germany will face off with advancement on the line at the World Cup on Thursday, adding to decades of sports clashes between the two nations.

Of course, there is the World Cup — Germany beat the U.S. in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals (with Torsten Frings‘ handball) and the 1998 World Cup group stage (where Jurgen Klinsmann scored).

But even more memorable moments have occurred at the Olympics, where the nations have long been among the top medal winners and thus battled for gold often. In particular, the U.S. and Germany were one-two, in some order, in overall medals at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.

Here are five U.S.-Germany Olympic duels:

Jesse Owens vs. Luz Long, Berlin 1936

The most fabled of Owens’ incredible four gold medals in Nazi Germany came in the long jump. Owens, the favorite, was surprisingly in danger of missing the final, down to his final qualifying jump.

The long-told story, though specifics have been questioned, is that the German jumper Long tapped Owens on the shoulder before that do-or-die final qualifying jump and offered advice. Owens used the pointer, to jump from a few inches behind the takeoff board, and made it into the final.

Owens went on to win with an Olympic record jump of 8.06m, Long took silver at 7.87m and the two became friends. Long would be killed in action in World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for his sportsmanship.

Debi Thomas vs. Katarina Witt, Calgary 1988

The figure skaters engaged in the “Battle of the Carmens,” dubbed so because they both performed long programs to music from the same Georges Bizet opera “Carmen.”

They had also finished one-two at the 1986 and 1987 World Championships; Thomas winning in 1986 and Witt in 1987.

In Calgary, the Stanford pre-med Thomas led after the compulsory figures and short program, with the East German Witt in second place. But Witt performed her “Carmen” better in the free skate than Thomas, who erred on a few jumps. Canadian Elizabeth Manley surpassed Thomas for silver.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee vs. Heike Drechsler, Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992

Joyner-Kersee and Drechsler combined to win every Olympic and World Championship long jump gold from 1983 through 1993, except the 1984 Olympics. Their friendship shined at the 1991 Worlds in Tokyo, where Joyner-Kersee injured herself on a jump, and Drechsler came over and wiped tears and sand off her rival’s face, according to Sports Illustrated.

“They are the Ali and Frazier of the women’s long jump,” Bobby Kersee, coach and husband of the American, told SI in 1992.

Drechsler won the 1983 World Championship for East Germany at 18. Their head-to-head showdowns began after that:

1987 Worlds — Gold: Joyner-Kersee; Bronze: Drechsler
1988 Olympics — Gold: Joyner-Kersee; Silver: Drechsler
1991 Worlds — Gold: Joyner-Kersee; Silver: Drechsler
1992 Olympics — Gold: Drechsler; Bronze: Joyner-Kersee

Drechsler won the 1993 World Championships with Joyner-Kersee absent, and Joyner-Kersee’s memorable final Olympic medal, long jump bronze in 1996, came without the injured Drechsler in the field. Drechsler won the 2000 Olympic title after Joyner-Kersee’s retirement.

After Soviet world-record holder Galina Chistyakova, Joyner-Kersee and Drechsler own the seven longest jumps in history.

Picabo Street vs. Katja Seizinger, Lillehammer 1994 and Nagano 1998

The U.S. and Germany had a few Alpine skiing battles — Lindsey Vonn and Maria Hoefl-Riesch split World Cup overall titles at their peaks and Tommy Moe was denied 1994 super-G gold on his 24th birthday by Markus Wasmeier.

Let’s focus on Street and Seizinger, the two best speed racers of the 1990s. Idaho’s Street won downhill silver in 1994 and super-G gold in 1998. Germany’s Seizinger won back-to-back downhill golds in 1994 and 1998. From 1992 through 1998, they won every World Cup season title in the downhill, save 1997.

Seizinger was nicknamed Die Millionärs-tochter by the German press as the daughter of a wealthy German industrialist. Her Type B reputation and preference to race far away from home (and the European media and stress) was a stark contrast from Street.

Seizinger’s first Olympic gold, in Lillehammer, was greeted by the silver medalist Street, who reportedly kissed her rival on the cheek and exclaimed, “You’re the queen!”

source: Getty Images
(Getty Images)

Dara Torres vs. Britta Steffen, Beijing 2008

This must be the closest U.S.-Germany duel in Olympic history, coming in swimming’s splash-and-dash 50m freestyle.

Torres, at 41, had come out of retirement, for a second time, to become the oldest female Olympic swimmer ever. Steffen, then 24, was coming off a fourth-place finish at the 2007 World Championships and was the second fastest qualifier into the final, .16 behind Torres.

But Steffen prevailed at the Water Cube by one hundredth of a second — 24.06 to 24.07.

Torres swam an American record, which still stands, but Steffen claimed the Olympic record. Torres, denied her first career individual Olympic gold, joked, “I shouldn’t have filed my nails last night.”

The next year, both lined up for the 50m free final at the World Championships. Steffen finished first and Torres last, but they embraced on the deck afterward with Steffen having snatched the world record.

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Perhaps the most notable U.S.-German head-to-heads came outside the Olympics in boxing, where Joe Louis and Max Schmeling fought in 1936 and 1938 and split knockouts.

Another interesting Olympic fact between the two nations is the longtime relationship between top U.S. biathlete Tim Burke and German Olympic champion biathlete Andrea Henkel.

1936 Olympic swim champion still in pool daily at 95

Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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