Larry Bird, Kim Zmeskal remember Olympic bus meeting in Barcelona

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the nation’s best gymnasts compete here with the Rio Olympics in the back (or front) of their minds, an Olympic gold medalist from another sport expects to peek into the action.

The Indiana Pacers team president said he planned to emerge from his downstairs office to take in the P&G Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It would not be Larry Bird’s first encounter with gymnastics.

Bird was of course part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team — the Dream Team — in Barcelona.

There, he triggered a meeting among the basketball giants and the shortest girls on the U.S. delegation in Spain.

“We went over to [the athletes’ village to] get, I think, our credentials,” Bird said while leaning back in his office and holding a soda can on Thursday morning. “There was a lot people around, but these little girls were by our bus. I just went on the bus and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to let these kids come on here.’

“They brought them all on, and they did what they had to do and they left.”

Four of the six members of the 1992 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team came aboard, according to reports from 1992.

“They were nervous,” Bird said. “All of us had been in the league, and we’re older, but the guys were excited about them coming on there. I know that.

“I think the guys probably enjoyed that as much as anything, of everyone they met, because [the gymnasts] are so little and so perfect. They work so hard. Like we always said, they’re a lot tougher than we can ever be. They’re tough athletes. They put their body through so much. They do so much to be perfectionists. To be a gymnast, you just can’t do it an hour a day.”

Bird would know. He went to Indiana State at the same time as gymnast Kurt Thomas, a 1976 Olympian who won six medals at the 1979 World Championships. The two are reportedly friends.

One of the four U.S. gymnasts who boarded the bus that day was Kim Zmeskal, who was 16 then and is now also in Indianapolis this week as a coach.

Zmeskal clearly remembered meeting the Dream Team.

“A group of us were walking from the cafeteria back, and we had heard that the Dream Team was coming by to do the credentialing,” she said Wednesday. “We knew where the buses were parked, so we immediately ran over to go check that out. We were kind of just a part of a big mix of people. Obviously, we went over to that direction, so we figured that’s where all the action was happening. We’re just kind of standing there outside the bus, and someone had come out of the bus and said, ‘Hey, ladies on the gymnastics team, Larry Bird has asked if you guys would come in.’ We were freaking out, went up on the bus and was able to meet the whole team. It was pretty spectacular.”

Zmeskal said the experience was like meeting larger-than-life, fictional characters.

“I joke saying thank goodness we were on a bus, that they were sitting,” said Zmeskal, who was listed at 4 feet, 7 inches, and 80 pounds in 1992 articles. “I was actually two inches shorter than I am now.”

Two of Zmeskal’s gymnastics teammates, Wendy Bruce and Shannon Miller, missed the experience. Though at least Miller met Dream Team members later in the Games.

Even though the basketball players were sitting, Zmeskal’s head was level with center Patrick Ewing’s elbow, according to a St. Petersburg Times report in 1992.

“We walked over there, and Michael Jordan said, “Hi, I’m Michael,’” Zmeskal reportedly gushed then. “Like we didn’t know.”

Shannon Miller on meeting the Dream Team, more Olympic memories

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Wendy Bruce missed meeting the Dream Team because she was swimming.

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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