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IOC opens door for Russia track and field at Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Some Russian track and field athletes could be competing under their own flag at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after all.

Leaders of the International Olympic Committee and track’s world governing body appeared split Tuesday over the terms of participation of any Russian athletes cleared to compete at the Aug. 5-21 Games.

While upholding last week’s IAAF decision to ban Russia’s track team for systematic doping, Olympic leaders did not accept the federation’s position on a key issue: that a neutral flag would represent the few athletes given dispensation to apply to compete if they live outside Russia and have undergone rigorous testing.

IOC President Thomas Bach said if any Russians are deemed eligible by the IAAF, they would compete under the Russian flag.

“If there are athletes qualified, then they will compete as members of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee because only a national Olympic committee can enter athletes to the Olympic Games,” Bach said. “There are no teams of international federations there. And the Russian Olympic Committee is not suspended.”

The IAAF appeared caught off guard by Bach’s comments, insisting its position had been accepted by Olympic leaders and saying it will work with the IOC to make sure it is “respected and implemented in full.”

The sharp differences between the IOC and the IAAF emerged after a summit of Olympic leaders called by Bach to follow up on the IAAF’s decision to ban Russia and to take further steps to ensure a “level playing field” for athletes in all sports at the Rio Games.

The leaders called for drug testing of individual Russian and Kenyan athletes across all sports, warning that evidence of inadequate doping controls in those countries could lead to more teams being barred from the Rio de Janeiro Games.

The leaders also called on authorities to pursue sanctions not only against athletes, but against doctors, coaches, officials and other personnel implicated in doping. Bach also lamented “deficiencies” in global drug-testing and urged the World Anti-Doping Agency to hold a special conference next year to address the problems.

“It has to be more transparent,” Bach said. “Everybody has to understand better who is doing what and who is responsible for what and this needs a full review.”

The meeting came four days after the IAAF upheld its ban — first imposed in November — on Russian athletes for a “systematic and deeply-rooted culture of doping.”

The IOC executive board said Saturday it supported and respected the IAAF ruling. On Tuesday, the Olympic leaders agreed “to fully respect” the decision, which Russian officials condemned as unfair to “innocent athletes.” The Russians confirmed they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“We consider it unfair on the vast majority of our athletes who have never doped and have not violated any criteria,” Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov told the meeting. “They will be punished for the sins of others.”

Zhukov said in comments carried by the Tass news agency that Russia “will not boycott the Olympics, although its national Olympic committee will consider suing the IAAF.

The IAAF last week opened the door to a small group of Russian athletes who live and undergo reliable drug-testing outside the country to apply to compete as “neutral” athletes in Rio — not under the Russian flag. The IAAF said only a handful of athletes fell into that category.

But Bach ruled out the neutral flag, saying it was not for the IAAF to decide.

“We have discussed this decision with the IAAF,” he said. “This decision applies to IAAF competitions (not the Olympics).

“The Russian national federation is suspended. Therefore, the IAAF has chosen this option in order to allow competing in their competition. When it comes to Olympic Games, all athletes then are part of the team of the Russian Olympic Committee,” he said when asked by reporters for clarification.

The IAAF responded that its ruling on the flag was approved and did apply to the Olympics.

The federation said it passed a rule change “to allow Russian athletes to apply for eligibility, on an exceptional basis and subject to meeting strict criteria in international competitions, including the Olympic Games, in an individual capacity as neutral athletes, not under any country’s flag.”

“This decision has been unequivocally supported across sport and the IOC summit today unanimously agreed to fully respect the IAAF decision,” the track federation said. “The IAAF will now work with the IOC to ensure the decision is respected and implemented in full.”

In the end, the final word on the participation of Russians could come from CAS, the highest court in sports.

“This is the good right of everybody,” Bach said. “So we are expecting the results of these potential court cases.”

In a strongly worded speech to the meeting, Zhukov said Russians were turning to CAS to protect athletes with no doping record.

“Banning clean athletes from the Rio Olympic Games contradicts the values of the Olympic movement and violates the principles of the Olympic Charter,” he said. “It is also legally indefensible and devalues their competitors’ success.”

“We hope that CAS will make an objective, fair and lawful decision, in spite of the already publicly announced position of its president,” he added.

That was a shot at CAS President John Coates, who is also an IOC vice president and has spoken in favor of the IAAF ruling.

Still looming over the Russians is a WADA investigation into allegations made by Moscow’s former drug lab chief, Grigory Rodchenkov, that he was involved in a state-backed conspiracy to dope Russian athletes ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and swap tainted samples for clean ones during the Games.

WADA’s final report is due by July 15. If it uncovers further widespread, state-backed cheating in Russia, it could push for further action against Russia.

The summit expanded the scope of the doping investigations to deal with all sports in Russia and Kenya, two countries deemed noncompliant with WADA’s rules. The summit, which also cited “substantial allegations” against those countries, put the onus on each international sports federation to make sure their athletes are clean ahead of the Rio Games.

Kenya — home to many of the world’s top distance runners — has been hit by dozens of positive drug cases in recent years and has struggled to set up a credible anti-doping system. IAAF officials, however, have said Kenya should not be in danger of missing the Games, because its athletes have been subjected to extensive international testing.

MORE: Five Russian track and field stars who may miss Rio

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.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s return from destruction, death to sprinting

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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.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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