The photographer who captured Miracle on Ice, Dream Team, raised-fist salute, Munich

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The Miracle on Ice. Larry, Magic and Michael. The raised-fist salute. The Munich hostage crisis.

Photographer Neil Leifer documented all of those Olympic moments and more, though the 73-year-old is best-known for his shots of Muhammad Ali.

Leifer, who is putting hundreds of photos from his personal collection up for auction this weekend, reflected on some of his most memorable Olympic images:

1984: Leifer with Cuban president Fidel Castro and boxer Teófilo Stevenson. (IMAGE HERE)

Leifer: In 1984 the Olympics were in Los Angeles. Time Magazine rolled the dice on a very expensive photo shoot, traveling around the world and shooting athletes like picture postcards (Carl Lewis in front of the Statue of Liberty, a Soviet weightlifter in front of Red Square, an Egyptian discus thrower in front of the Sphinx, the Indian field hockey team in front of the Taj Mahal, etc.).

No other people were in the pictures. Except this one for Stevenson.

I went to the Cubans and said that Fidel Castro was in fact the picture postcard of Cuba. He would be the only person other than the talent that would be in any of these pictures. They went back and forth with Time, and the Cubans eventually came and said that President Castro agreed to do the shoot.

When I got to Havana, maybe it was just for political reasons because it was President Castro, they brought half the Olympic team to the stadium when I was shooting. They didn’t want to offend the basketball team, the volleyball team. They brought in most of their best athletes.

So I photographed most of the group with Castro, but what I really was there to shoot was Stevenson. The highlight was, at the end of the session, I asked Castro for my picture with him, which I do with all my subjects, and he said yes. I have a few hundred pictures of me with various subjects, but this is the best one without question.

The Cubans later would boycott the 1984 Olympics, so the photo never ran.

1992: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan (IMAGE HERE)

Leifer: For a Dream Team preview package for Newsweek. I had 20 minutes with the three of them for a pretty simple cover shoot. It was in San Diego. Michael Jordan had a tee time, so he told me when we came in that we have 20 minutes. He was absolutely wonderful for 20 minutes and, bingo, he was out the door at 21 minutes.

1992: Unified Team wrestler Aleksandr Karelin with a cooked turkey (IMAGE HERE)

Leifer: I was assigned to do something for the official program for the Barcelona Olympics. My recollection was I shot that in Pittsburgh, at a Russian family’s home.

1972: Munich Hostage Crisis (IMAGE HERE)

Leifer: I got woken up by a phone call from my assistant, whose husband was one of the producers for ABC for the Games. Something’s going on at the Olympic Village, and they thought we should get there.

Quite frankly, it sounded like nothing to me. I said, you know, I just can’t imagine it’s going to turn into anything serious. We’re working too hard, and I wasn’t there to photograph a break-in at the village. I never imagined it would become the story. Who would have imagined what happened.

I didn’t get out to the Olympic Village until all the press arrived. The village was closed, and I shot from outside. I shot pictures of the German police, who at one point were dressed in athletes’ warm-up clothes, so they looked like athletes, but they were carrying submachine guns.

I’m Jewish, and my mother lost her family in the Holocaust, so this was not a very good time. It ruined what had up to then been a wonderful Olympics. After that I just wanted to get the damn thing over with.

1980: Miracle on Ice (IMAGE HERE)

Leifer: I remember it wasn’t the final game. Maybe I’m too old about it, but I’ve never understood the big deal [with the Miracle on Ice]. Because, quite frankly, I remember a much more amateurish team beating the Russians in 1960. The Finnish team America had to beat in the [1980] final was no slouch, either. You can get very nationalistic, I was sure as hell rooting for America, and for me it was a great game and a wonderful moment in sport.

But I think what Eric Heiden did in Lake Placid, winning five gold medals, was much more impressive. I thought Eric Heiden was the story of the Games, Which is taking nothing away from what [the hockey team] did.

1976: Soviet weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev (IMAGE HERE)

Leifer: He was a wonderful character. There are people who like the camera, and he was one of them. You couldn’t take a bad picture of Alekseyev. I photographed him at home in Russia for Sports Illustrated for another piece in addition to the Games. He had a personality and an ego like Muhammad Ali.

MORE: Modern Olympics proposal letter from 1894 up for auction

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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