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.

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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

Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz won his fifth U.S. 1500m title, while Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight ended at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, emerged from a bunched pack in the final 200 meters to win in 3:43.37.

The 28-year-old returned to the top after being beaten by Olympic teammate Robby Andrews last year. Centrowitz struggled with injuries and illness in 2017, including an emergency-room visit with a viral infection. At 2017 Worlds, a listless Centrowitz was last in his first-round heat and said he was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season.

Centrowitz crossed the Drake Stadium finish line Saturday afternoon, a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaic Yorks, and held his hand to his ear to mimic a phone call. He said he was sending a message for somebody, whom he would not name, to call him.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.”

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

An American record fell Saturday. Deanna Price took the women’s hammer record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter throw, the best in the world this year.

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Saturday, Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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U.S. Open changes seeding policy for pregnancies

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Serena Williams will learn Wednesday if she is seeded at Wimbledon, while a top U.S. Open official is already reportedly saying its seeds will be revised if a return from pregnancy comes into play, though not naming Williams specifically.

The U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year in September, would “revise the seedings if pregnancy is a factor in the current rankings of a player,” USTA president and chairwoman Katrina Adams said, according to The New York Times.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was not given one of 32 seeds at the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam since coming back from having daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jron Sept. 1.

Her ranking had fallen to No. 453 due to maternity leave. She could enter the major tournament due to the WTA’s protected ranking rule, but it was up to Grand Slam organizers whether to give her a seed.

Williams reached the semifinals of her last eight U.S. Opens, missing the New York event in 2010 and 2017. She has won it six times. Her current ranking is No. 183.

If Williams neither makes a deep Wimbledon run nor plays plenty of summer hard-court matches, it’s likely the U.S. Open will have to decide whether to give her a seed. It sounds like organizers are prepared to.

“It’s the right thing to do for these mothers that are coming back,” Adams said, according to the report, adding that players should not be “penalized” for starting a family.

Williams reached the fourth round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant (but before the world learned). She withdrew before a round of 16 showdown with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury and has not played in a tournament since.

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