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IOC to rule Sunday on Russia’s status for Rio

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LONDON (AP) — As the clock ticks down to the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, international Olympic leaders are facing a seminal moment.

With the credibility of the fight against doping on the line and the image of the Olympic movement at stake, the IOC will hold a crucial meeting Sunday to consider whether to ban Russia entirely from the Rio Games because of systematic, state-sponsored cheating.

Short of a blanket ban, the International Olympic Committee could leave it to individual sports federations to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow Russian athletes in their events.

The doping crisis represents one of the Olympic movement’s biggest challenges since the boycott era of the 1980s, and how it plays out may well define Thomas Bach‘s IOC presidency.

The IOC’s ruling 15-member executive board will meet via teleconference to weigh the unprecedented step of excluding Russia as a whole from the games. Bach and others have spoken of a need to balance “individual justice” versus “collective punishment.”

Time is of the essence, with the games set to open in Rio on Aug. 5.

Russia’s track and field athletes have already been banned by the IAAF, the sport’s governing body, following allegations of state-directed doping – a decision that was upheld Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Calls for a complete ban on Russia have intensified since Monday when Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report accusing Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping program of its Olympic athletes.

McLaren’s investigation, based heavily on evidence from former Moscow doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, affirmed allegations of brazen manipulation of Russian urine samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but also found that state-backed doping had involved 28 summer and winter sports from 2011 to 2015.

Bach said the findings showed a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games” and declared the IOC “will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated.”

Russia also faces a possible ban from the Paralympic Games. Citing evidence in McLaren’s report of doping among Russian Paralympic athletes, the International Paralympic Committee said Friday it will decide next month whether to exclude the country from the Sept. 7-18 event in Rio.

The decision for the IOC is loaded with geopolitical ramifications.

Never has a country been kicked out of the Olympics for doping violations. And Vladimir Putin‘s Russia is a sports powerhouse, a huge country seeking to reaffirm its status on the world stage, and a major player in the Olympic movement. Many international Olympic officials and federation leaders have close ties to Russia, which has portrayed the exclusion of its track athletes and calls for a complete ban as part of a political, Western-led campaign.

Putin, citing the U.S. and Soviet-led boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games, said the Olympic movement “could once again find itself on the brink of a division.”

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote an open letter to Bach on Friday to plead against a blanket ban.

“I am worried and deeply upset by the possibility that in the case of a ban on Russian athletes competing in the Olympics, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty,” Gorbachev wrote. “For me the principle of collective punishment is unacceptable.”

Bach and other Olympic officials have repeatedly cited the difference between collective and individual punishment.

“It is obvious,” Bach said last week, “that you cannot punish a badminton player for infringement of rules or manipulation by an official or a lab director in the Winter Games.”

For many in the anti-doping community, however, the choice is simple: The extent of state-backed doping in Russia has tainted the country’s entire sports system and the only way to ensure a level playing field is to bar the whole team, even if some innocent athletes will lose out.

Former WADA president Dick Pound, a senior IOC member from Canada, accused Bach of dithering and failing to live up to his “zero tolerance” line on doping. He said the IOC will face a backlash if it decides against a full ban.

“I think it will go down very badly,” Pound told The Associated Press. “I think there will be an athletes’ revolt, a public revolt, maybe even the sponsors. You’ve got to take control of it, and show your leadership. The hesitation makes it looks worse and worse.”

If the IOC hands the authority to the sports federations, they may not have all the information they need from the McLaren report to act. Some sports, such as gymnastics, were not cited in the report and feel there is no justification to ban Russians. And the federations all have different rules.

Wrestling accounted for 28 of the 312 positive tests that were covered up by Russia between 2011 and 2015, according to McLaren’s report. Nenad Lalovic, president of wrestling’s international federation, said he asked WADA to send him specifics but had yet to receive anything.

“This is madness,” he said Saturday in a telephone interview with AP. “What can I do without any evidence? Do I have time to process these cases? Do the accused have a right to appeal? It’s a legal minefield. If I try to ban someone, they will take us to court and we will lose.”

Russia is the dominant force in the sport and would enter 17 athletes for the Rio Games, where the wrestling competition starts on Aug. 14. Lalovic, a Serb who is also an IOC member, claimed the investigation had created an atmosphere of “hysteria” and he criticized former WADA president John Fahey of Australia for calling for an outright ban.

“I’m not here to defend Russia,” Lalovic said. “They have to pay. But everyone has to take responsibility, including WADA. It’s a no-win situation. Whatever decision the IOC makes, they will look bad.”

WADA and many national anti-doping agencies and athletes’ groups have led the calls for a total Russian ban from Rio.

A coalition of 14 national anti-doping agencies sent a letter to Bach saying the IOC’s initial response did not meet his pledge of the “toughest sanctions available.” The group called on the IOC to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and set up a task force that could allow certain Russians to compete under a neutral flag if proven to be clean.

“Any Russian Olympic sport athlete who had not been subject to independent testing in recent months should not be in Rio,” Richard Ings, former head of Australia’s anti-doping agency, told the AP.

MORE: Mikhail Gorbachev writes to IOC president opposing Russia Olympic ban

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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