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Excerpt: Lindsey Vonn details struggles with weight in new book

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Lindsey Vonn is synonymous with fitness, given her appearances on the covers of magazines including Health, Fitness and Shape. But that was not always the case.

Vonn struggled with her diet and gained 25 pounds in the summer after competing as a 17-year-old at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

As she got older, she learned “all the exercise in the world can’t derail the effects of unhealthy eating.” By the 2010 Winter Games, when she won her first two Olympic medals, she was eating eggs and oatmeal for breakfast instead of bagels and pancakes.

Vonn reveals what inspired her to change her diet in the following excerpt from her new health and lifestyle book, “Strong Is the New Beautiful,” which will be available beginning tomorrow:

A few years after I joined the ski team, I moved to an apartment in Park City with three of my teammates, all guys. You might expect that in a house full of Olympic-level athletes, our kitchen would look like something from the pages of a cookbook on healthy living, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead, the guys stocked the kitchen with doughnuts, pasta, pizza, soda, candy, and store-bought cakes. They ate sugary cereal for breakfast, made white-bread sandwiches for lunch, and polished off pints of ice cream at night. Hardly any of us cooked, except to boil water for spaghetti and microwave jarred meat sauce to complete the meal.

We weren’t eating this way because we were lazy, trying to be lazy, or simply unschooled in nutritional trends. Quite the opposite; we thought we were following the best diet that we could at the time to build muscle, fortify our bodies for long hours of grueling training, and improve our overall performance as skiers. Carbo-loading was a popular approach for many elite athletes, especially skiers, who require a greater degree of muscle mass to train and race.

But carbo-loading never made me feel strong, and it certainly didn’t make me add muscle or lose the fat I wanted. Instead, I felt weak and tired, my face grew puffier and puffier, and whenever I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I thought that I looked less toned, even though I was working out for hours every day. 

It took me years to figure out a way to eat that would help me look and feel good. Lindsey Vonn BookAs an elite athlete, I’m always looking for the best new way to get that extra edge—the one little push that will help lift me from world-class athlete to top of the world. So for the past fifteen years, I’ve tried different diets, trends, and fads in the effort to make my body as strong and lean as physically possible. A handful have offered some benefits, but none made the significant, sustainable changes to my body that I hope for—until I found the one approach that has nothing to do with dieting or fads and everything to do with science and the foods that have helped people get strong and lean for centuries.

When I was growing up in Minnesota, my parents both worked full time, and like most families in Middle America, we ended up eating a lot of processed foods: sugary cereal, ready-to-eat dinners, Hamburger Helper, and grilled cheeses with canned soup, supplemented by a few great meals my father would make on the weekends. But we rarely ate any veggies, and when we had to, I secretly slipped them under the table to our dog, Thunder. When I went away to ski camps, I’d often just have a pint of ice cream and call it a meal. 

I didn’t give too much thought to what I ate when I was young, especially since my habit of eating ice cream for dinner didn’t seem to be impeding my career as a junior skier. But after the 2002 Olympics, when I was seventeen, I suddenly gained twenty-five pounds in one summer. My metabolism had changed, even though I was still training several hours each day. I was both surprised and disheartened, but it was one of the first of what would be many valuable lessons I had to learn on how to get strong: All the exercise in the world can’t derail the effects of unhealthy eating.

Shortly after the Olympics, while living with my pasta-loving teammates in Park City, I began a high-carb diet, eating foods like bagels and pancakes for breakfast, starchy energy bars and sandwiches for lunch, and, on some nights, an entire box of spaghetti for dinner.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and started going to summer camps at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Chula Vista that I slowly began to discover the power of unprocessed foods. The summer camps attracted Olympic-caliber athletes from all across the country in a range of different disciplines—not just winter sports, but track and field, rowing, soccer, and triathlon. When I walked into the cafeteria for lunch the first day, I realized that I had a rare and amazing opportunity to actually see firsthand what some of the strongest, leanest, and fittest people in the country ate on a regular basis.

So I watched as if I were a researcher in an observational study—and I learned. Many triathletes and track-and-field runners weren’t lining up with me for pancakes or pasta, but were ordering eggs or oatmeal in the morning, making their own salads at lunch, and going for grilled meat and vegetables at night. 

Seeing how these athletes ate and listening to them talk about how food made them feel—light, energized, and aerodynamic—I resolved to start experimenting. I began by eating eggs and oatmeal for breakfast—two dishes not part of my regular routine—and swapping out some pasta and pizza for chicken and steak. I also started trying to eat more vegetables, which I had previously consumed only when asked (and usually then only if they were doused in butter or garlic). Without Thunder under the table, I was surprised to learn that I actually liked the taste of some.

Almost immediately, I began to see what my runner and triathlete friends had been talking about: I felt lighter, peppier, more focused—as if I could go longer and harder in workouts. The puffiness in my face began to ease, my clothes started to fit a bit better, and I thought that I might be looking more toned when I watched myself doing squats and lunges in the gym mirror.

From STRONG IS THE NEW BEAUTIFUL by Lindsey Vonn. Copyright (c) 2016 by Lindsey Vonn. Dey Street, an imprint of William Morrow Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

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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