Michael Phelps feels in 2007 form after another world-leading time

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Shortly after Michael Phelps clocked the world’s fastest 200m individual medley since 2012 on Sunday evening, after he raised an index finger in the air and slammed an arm into the pool, he turned his attention forward.

“I already know what I can change in that race,” Phelps told NBC Sports’ Carolyn Manno poolside at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio after posting a 1:54.75 in an event he won at the last three Olympics (race video here).

In three days, Phelps clocked times in the 200m butterfly (world’s fastest since 2009), 100m butterfly (also best since 2009) and 200m individual medley that would have won the World Championships being held concurrently in Kazan, Russia.

And he wasn’t completely satisfied with it.

Phelps was swimming in San Antonio rather than Kazan due to punishment for a Sept. 30 DUI arrest, but he was not lacking for motivation despite the absence of international competition.

It’s clear, that for this past weekend at least, Phelps hasn’t looked this good since the peak of his career some six, seven or eight years ago.

“Maybe since 2008 I haven’t felt this good, like swimming races back to back to back,” Phelps told media in San Antonio on Sunday. “This is a great foundation, a place where we’ve never really been in a long time, leading up to an Olympics. It definitely wasn’t like this leading up to ’12. So it’s probably been since 2007 we’ve really been like this. 2007, I can sit and argue with you and say that’s probably the best year of my career. So I think that’s probably the last time I really had three events back to back to back like this that I can remember.”

Phelps’ improvement since his return from a six-month suspension in April has been remarkable, even for the most decorated Olympian of all time.

In May, Phelps used the words “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” to describe facets of his swimming at a meet in Charlotte, when he failed to finish first or second in any event at a meet for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

This past weekend, he improved on that May meet by 7.7 seconds in the 200m butterfly, 2.14 seconds in the 100m butterfly and 5.5 seconds in the 200m individual medley.

Longtime coach Bob Bowman clearly was training Phelps to peak in August, not May, but his time progressions this year in the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley from spring to summer were greater than in 2014.

One might think that last year, when Phelps was coming off a 20-month competitive retirement and still in his 20s, he would have greater drops in times working the cobwebs out. Not so.

“I had faith in what Bob was doing [this summer],” Phelps said. “Something happened 15 years ago where I actually believed him and said that I’m going to trust you and hopefully make an Olympic team, and it worked.”

Phelps was under Ryan Lochte‘s world-record pace in the 200m individual medley through 150 meters on Sunday. He finished .54 off of it and .48 off his own 2012 Olympic winning time.

“I didn’t feel that great on freestyle,” Phelps said of the last 50 meters. “28.2 [seconds] is a terrible finish.”

There are two questions now.

Can Phelps carry this form over to 2016? The Olympic trials are in 10 months. The Olympics are in 12 months.

“I think I’m starting to get the hang of this again,” Phelps said. “I’m kind of getting back to what I used to do and what I used to do well.”

He’s confident of keeping the pace, and he’s motivated to go faster.

“I’d like to do a [personal] best time at some point,” Phelps said. “I mean, I haven’t done a best time since ’09.”

Bowman said Phelps “greatly exceeded” the coach’s expectations in all three races in San Antonio and is “ahead of schedule.”

“He’s really not touched backstroke or freestyle in a meaningful way,” Bowman said. “The times he swam today kind of put that level of swimming [Phelps’ personal bests] in play.”

The second question: What events does Phelps plan to swim in Rio?

Keep in mind he turned 30 on June 30.

“At 30, this does take more out of me than it used to,” Phelps said of swimming on three straight days.

The Olympic schedule will be even more taxing, with preliminaries, semifinals and finals. Plus relays.

In 2012, Phelps re-added the most grueling event to his program, the 400m individual medley, in the months leading up to the London Games.

That was the first event of his 2012 Olympic program, and he struggled. Phelps was eighth in the morning prelims, barely advancing to the final, and finished fourth in that final.

Phelps said after that race he was frustrated to start off the Olympics on “a bad note.”

Phelps was positioned last year for a possible Olympic program of five or six races — the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, three relays and perhaps an individual freestyle. This year, he’s re-added the 200m butterfly.

“I’d like to see what he can do in a 200m free,” Bowman said Sunday. “Honestly, today, if you asked me he would not do that at the Olympics.”

He’s getting awfully close to the eight events he swam in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and the seven from London 2012.

“If the Olympics was two weeks long [in swimming versus eight days], I could swim a lot of events, but also, at this point, I’m 30, I need to make sure that I can recover and not give up something for another race,” Phelps said. “I have to be smart with what I pick.”

Bowman tempered expectations, saying seven events is “probably too many.”

“If he wanted to swim relays, that would be great, three of those,” Bowman said. “Then have to pick some events carefully, the individuals. … It’s kind of hard not to look at those three [100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley], right? Best in the world.”

As for Phelps swimming beyond Rio 2016, Bowman repeated the words that Phelps uttered last Wednesday.

“I don’t know.”

U.S. finishes World Swimming Championships atop medal standings

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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