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16 Olympic sports events to watch in 2016 (before the Rio Games)

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The coming year will be Rio Olympics-focused, but the Opening Ceremony is still 219 days away.

In the meantime, enjoy these 16 Olympic sports events:

1. U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Jan. 21-24, St. Paul, Minn.

The head-to-head between the last two U.S. women’s champions, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, is the most anticipated competition. Wagner, 24 and a three-time winner, can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Maribel Vinson in 1937.

2. Winter X Games
Jan. 28-31, Aspen, Colo.

In snowboard halfpipe, two-time Olympic champion Shaun White is expected to compete, looking to better his fourth-place finish from last year. Chloe Kim, who became the youngest Winter X Games champion last year, could vie for the women’s title with three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark.

3. World Luge Championships
Jan. 30-31, Königssee, Germany

U.S. lugers could be in line for a banner championships if the early World Cup season is any indication. Olympians Erin HamlinSummer Britcher and Chris Mazdzer all won World Cup races this fall.

4. World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships
Feb. 11-14, Kolomna, Russia

Americans Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson have traded World Cup victories and world records this season. Richardson is the reigning World 500m champion, while Bowe defends 1000m and 1500m titles. Shani Davis took the men’s 1000m crown last season but hasn’t won a World Cup race since March 2014.

5. World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships
Feb. 12-21, Igls, Austria

Questions abound for U.S. bobsleds with no men making the podium so far this World Cup season and reigning World champion Elana Meyers Taylor dealing with long-term concussion effects. Likewise, the best U.S. skeleton World Cup finish this season is eighth.

6. U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Feb. 13, Los Angeles

The top three finishers in the men’s and women’s 26.2-mile races will make the Olympic team. Meb Keflezighi, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist and Boston and New York City Marathon winner, could become at age 40 the oldest U.S. Olympic runner ever, according to sports-reference.com.

7. Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals
March 16-20, St. Moritz, Switzerland

The last races of the season could decide crystal globes awarded to the top skiers in each discipline and the overall standings. Lindsey Vonn goes into 2016 in second place in the women’s overall, chasing Swiss Lara Gut.

8. World Women’s Hockey Championship
March 28-April 4, Kamloops, B.C.

The U.S. and Canada have met in all 16 previous finals, with Canada holding a 10-6 edge. The U.S. can capture its third straight World title, however, in Kamloops.

9. World Figure Skating Championships
March 30-April 2, Boston

Can U.S. singles skaters, with a home-ice advantage, end podium droughts? The men are in their longest drought in nearly 40 years, since Evan Lysacek took gold in 2009. The women are in their longest drought since World War I, with the last medals coming in 2006 (Kimmie MeissnerSasha Cohen).

10. U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials
April 8-10, Iowa City

One Olympic spot per weight class is up for grabs at the University of Iowa. Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs ought to be heavily favored, while another London gold medalist, Jake Varner, will have to beat World champion Kyle Snyder to make it to Rio. Also in action should be World champions Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis.

11. World Men’s Hockey Championship
May 6-22, Russia

The U.S. took bronze behind loaded Canadian and Russian teams in 2015 at a tournament that takes place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which alters rosters. The U.S. last won a World title in 1933, not counting Olympic crowns that doubled as World titles.

12. U.S. Olympic Diving Trials
June 18-26, Indianapolis

The top two per individual event and synchronized event winners could make the Rio team, provided the U.S. qualifies for berths at the FINA World Cup in February. David Boudia, who in London became the first U.S. Olympic men’s platform champion in 24 years, will be favored in both individual and synchro platform.

13. U.S. Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Trials; Women’s P&G Championships
June 23-26, St. Louis

The five-man U.S. Olympic gymnastics team will be determined after the trials, with the first- and second-place finishers in the all-around potentially clinching automatic berths. All five 2012 Olympians — Jacob DaltonJonathan HortonDanell LeyvaSam Mikulak and John Orozco — are Rio hopefuls.

14. U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials
June 26-July 3, Omaha, Neb.

The top two finishers in each final make the Olympic team. Michael PhelpsRyan LochteMissy Franklin and Katie Ledecky will have busy schedules, looking to make it to Rio in multiple individual events plus relays.

15. U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials
July 1-10, Eugene, Ore.

The top three finishers in each final make the Olympic team, provided the athletes have met Olympic qualifying times and marks. Key athletes include Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin with chances to make the Olympic team in mutliple sprints.

16. U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials
July 8-10, San Jose, Calif.

The trials all-around champion will clinch one of five Olympic team spots. The other four will be chosen shortly after the trials finish on July 10. Three-time World all-around champ Simone Biles and Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are favored to make the cut.

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Diamond League slate ends in Doha with record holders; TV, stream info

Mondo Duplantis
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The Diamond League season ends on Friday in the place where it was supposed to start — Doha.

Like many sports, track and field’s calendar was put in disarray by the coronavirus pandemic. The Doha meet, originally scheduled for April 17 to open an Olympic season, was postponed five months while other stops were canceled altogether.

Now, Doha caps an unlikely season that still produced stirring performances. NBCSN coverage starts at 12 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold also streams live for subscribers.

The headliner is Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis, a leading contender for Male Athlete of the Year. Duplantis, who twice bettered the world record in February at indoor meets, last week produced the highest outdoor clearance in history, too, breaking a 26-year-old Sergey Bubka record.

Duplantis can mimic Bubka on Friday by attempting to raise his world record another centimeter — to 6.19 meters, or more than 20 feet, 3 inches.

The deepest track event in Doha is the finale, the women’s 3000m, featuring 3000m steeplechase world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, 5000m world champion Hellen Obiri and rising 1500m runner Gudaf Tsegay.

Here are the Doha entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

11:18 a.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
11:33 — Men’s 200m
12:03 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:08 — Women’s Long Jump
12:12 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
12:21 — Men’s 1500m
12:34 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
12:43 — Women’s 800m
12:56 — Women’s 100m
1:07 — Men’s 800m
1:18 — Women’s 3000m

Here are three events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 11:18 a.m.
Duplantis looks to complete a perfect 2020 against his two primary rivals — reigning world champion and American Sam Kendricks (who went undefeated in 2017) and 2012 Olympic champion and former world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France. Kendricks was the last man to beat Duplantis, at those 2019 World Championships, and is the only man to clear a height within nine inches of Duplantis’ best this outdoor season.

Women’s 100m — 12:56 p.m.
Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah looks poised to finish the year as the world’s fastest woman after clocking 10.85 seconds in Rome last week, her fastest time outside of Jamaica in more than three years. That’s one hundredth faster than countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce‘s best time of 2020. Thompson-Herah was fifth and fourth at the last two world championships after sweeping the Rio Olympic sprints. Like in Rome, her primary challengers in Doha are Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou and 2018 U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs.

Women’s 3000m — 1:18 p.m.
A meeting of titans in a non-Olympic event. Chepkoech is the fastest steeplechaser in history by eight seconds. Obiri is the fastest Kenyan in history in the 3000m and the 5000m. Tsegay, just 23, chopped 3.26 seconds off her 1500m personal best in 2019, taking bronze at the world championships to become the second-fastest Ethiopian in history in that event. In all, the field includes five medalists from the 2019 Worlds across four different events.

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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.”

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