Jesse Owens, Luz Long

Memorable U.S.-Germany clashes in Olympics

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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.

***

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

Bradie Tennell matures from Cinderella — keeping AC/DC — in Skate America return

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Bradie Tennell is asked to recall one memory from 2017 Skate America.

“Standing at the door for free program and looking into the arena and saying to myself, oh, it feels a bit like nationals,” she said.

Tennell returns this week to the event where she broke out last season. Before 2017 Skate America, Tennell had never competed on the top senior international level. She had finished sixth and ninth at two nationals appearances, spending a summer in a back brace in between. She was the dark horse for the three-woman Olympic team.

Then Tennell went 15 for 15 on her jumps at Skate America at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Arena on Thanksgiving weekend. She earned a bronze medal with the highest score in any international competition by a U.S. woman in more than a year and half.

“I did my job,” Tennell said that day. “I think I have [put myself in the Olympic conversation].”

Tennell’s next three competitions were nationals (which she won) and the Olympics and world championships, where she was the top-placing American in ninth and sixth, respectively, albeit with uncharacteristic jumping errors.

She goes into this week’s Skate America — at the beginning of the Grand Prix series, rather than the end — as the clear American headliner in the marquee Winter Olympic event.

MORE: Skate America TV, stream schedule

Mirai NagasuAshley Wagner and Polina Edmunds aren’t competing this fall. Gracie Gold is coming back but hasn’t competed in nearly two years. The other active Olympian, Karen Chen, just withdrew from her first Grand Prix next month with a foot injury.

“I don’t really get nervous, per se,” Tennell said last week. “I think the only time that I am anything close to like anxious is right before my music starts. But last year I was so excited to be at my first Grand Prix, finally, after so much had happened in the past. That excitement carried over into my performances.”

Tennell’s goals this season, which she looks at daily with coach Denise Myers in suburban Chicago, include showing a grown-up look. Last season, Tennell’s teenage free skate was to “Cinderella.” This season, the 20-year-old chose “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I want this year’s Bradie to be very mature, very elegant, somebody who is almost unrecognizable from last year,” Tennell said in an interview with Skating magazine, for which she wore a black “New Kids on the Block” sleeveless T-shirt and plugged into a Sanyo Walkman for the cover photo shoot, an homage to her love of 1980s rock. 

Tennell used the Shakespearean tragedy to overtake Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia in her season debut at the Autumn Classic in Canada last month. The free-skate score ranks sixth in the world going into the Grand Prix series, trailing three Russians and two Japanese.

The challenge for Tennell and every top U.S. woman the last several years has been breaking into the top echelon of skaters from Russia and Japan.

“When she blew onto the scene, obviously, technically, she’s fantastic and so consistent [with jumps], which I think really sets her apart,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “The effort [at Autumn Classic], the choices of music, her movement, choreography, intention behind each movement is, in my opinion, dramatically improved from last year. Is it at the same level as Yevgenia or [Olympic champion] Alina Zagitova? No. So I still think this is going to be a time of transformation for her over the next few seasons. But she’s off to a really, really strong start.”

Tennell also added the triple Lutz-triple loop combination, done only by Zagitova last season among the senior women.

Myers, who has coached Tennell since age 9, insists they don’t compare scores or even talk about placements.

“I don’t give that any thought,” said Tennell, whose pre-competition focus is on the likes of AC/DC, Journey and Foreigner on her 100-plus-song playlist. “I don’t focus on other people, who they are or what they’ve done.”

Then Tennell may not be dwelling on the fact that she could become the youngest U.S. woman to win Skate America since Kimmie Meissner in 2007. Neither Zagitova nor Medvedeva is in this week’s field in Everett, Wash. Neither is world champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, who is taking the season off.

The top threats are Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto, who went one-two ahead of Tennell at 2017 Skate America. Tennell’s total score from Autumn Classic (206.41) beat those from Miyahara and Sakamoto in their late-summer events.

“You can tell that [Tennell] didn’t win the national title, go to the Olympics and is relaxing, easing into the next Olympic cycle,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said. “She’s out for blood.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Gracie Gold details ‘mental health crisis,’ return to skating

Watch ‘1968’ and ‘Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos’

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NBCSN airs “1968,” the NBC Olympics documentary on the Mexico City Games narrated by Serena Williams, followed by a 15-minute excerpt of “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos” on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

Both full programs can also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

“1968,” which premiered during the PyeongChang Winter Games, tells the stories not only of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists on the medal podium, but also of the intersections of sports and politics leading up to and during the Mexico City Olympics.

“Bring the Fire” focuses on Smith, Carlos and the podium gesture, featuring a conversation between NBC Sports track and field analyst Ato Boldon and Carlos.

STREAM LINK: “1968”
STREAM LINK: “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos”

Then on Oct. 31, NBCSN premieres a two-hour special, “1968: The Legacy of the Mexico City Games,” at 8:30 p.m. ET. That show will include “1968,” along with a roundtable discussion about the legacy of the Mexico City Games.

Mike Tirico hosts a panel including Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics with a hijab), tennis player James Blake and Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis.

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