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.

Danielle Perkins is first U.S. boxer to win world title in 3 years

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Danielle Perkins became the U.S.’ first world champion boxer in this Olympic cycle, taking the heavyweight crown in Russia on Sunday.

Perkins, a 37-year-old who played college basketball at George Mason and St. John’s, improved from bronze in 2018 to earn her first world title, blanking defending world champion Yang Xiaoli of China 5-0 in Sunday’s final.

Video of the bout is here.

Perkins was slated to fight Yang in the 2018 World semifinals but withdrew due to medical reasons, according to USA Boxing.

The heavyweight division is 81+kg, but the heaviest Olympic weight division is capped at 75kg.

The last American to earn a world title was Claressa Shields in 2016, before she repeated as Olympic champion in Rio and moved to the professional ranks.

The Olympic trials are in December in Louisiana, after which winners will fight internationally in early 2020 in bids to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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MORE: IOC strips Olympic status from boxing body AIBA

Brigid Kosgei shatters marathon world record in Chicago

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Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered a 16-year-old world record in the women’s marathon by 81 seconds, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:14:04 on Sunday.

Brit Paula Radcliffe had held the record of 2:15:25 set at the 2003 London Marathon. Kenyan Mary Keitany holds the female-only record of 2:17:01 from the 2017 London Marathon. Both Kosgei and Radcliffe, the only women to break 2:17, ran with men in their record races.

Radcliffe’s record was the longest-standing for the men’s or women’s marathon of the last 50 years.

Kosgei did it one day after Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub-two-hour marathon in a non-record-eligible event in Vienna. She won by a gaping 6 minutes, 47 seconds over Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh.

Kosgei, who won Chicago in 2018 and the London Marathon in April, came in highly favored. The 25-year-old tuned up with the fastest half-marathon ever by a woman (by 23 seconds) on Sept. 8 on a non-record-eligible course.

“2:10 is possible for a lady,” Kosgei said after Sunday’s record.

Jordan Hasay, the top U.S. woman in the field, stopped after feeling a sharp hamstring strain after two miles. Hasay, who was coached by Alberto Salazar before his ban in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency case, is one of several women in contention for the three Olympic spots at the Feb. 29 trials in Atlanta.

Kenyan Lawrence Cherono won the men’s race by one second over Ethiopian Dejene Debela in 2:05:45.

The U.S.’ top marathoner, Galen Rupp, dropped out around mile 23 after straining a calf around the sixth mile. Rupp, who was also coached by Salazar, was racing for the first time since the 2018 Chicago Marathon and Achilles surgery.

Mo Farah, the defending champion and four-time Olympic track gold medalist, finished eighth in 2:09:58. He also dropped from the leaders before the halfway point.

American Daniel Romanchuk and Swiss Manuela Schar won the wheelchair races.

Romanchuk, 21, repeated as champion. He has also won Boston London and New York City in the last year. Schar distanced decorated American Tatyana McFadden by 4:14, though McFadden did qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics with her runner-up finish (as did Romanchuk).

The fall major marathon season concludes with the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, featuring defending champions Mary Keitany and Lelisa Desisa and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

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MORE: Chicago Marathon results