Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin
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Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin come to World Championships from different places

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For two skiers so often linked, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are rarely in the same place. That will be the case again at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, these next two weeks.

Vonn, the winningest woman in World Cup history, competes at her seventh Worlds as one of the oldest medal contenders at age 32, after completing another cycle of crashes and injuries followed by a return to the top of the World Cup podium in the last year.

She will race the super-G on Tuesday, then the super combined on Friday and the downhill on Sunday.

“My goals are definitely to try to get medals, hopefully two,” Vonn said, according to the Denver Post. “In downhill and super-G, I have a good chance at getting medals, especially in downhill.”

She will figuratively pass the baton to Shiffrin for week two in St. Moritz.

In her third worlds, Shiffrin will skip the first week’s speed events and race the giant slalom on Feb. 16 and slalom Feb. 18. She could become the second woman to win three straight world slalom titles and, given she has won multiple World Cup races in both disciplines this season, the first woman in 20 years to sweep the GS and slalom at one worlds.

Though Shiffrin dabbles in downhill and super-G on the World Cup — finishing a career-high fourth in her most recent super-G — the 21-year-old who shares Vonn’s hometown of Vail, Colo., is not ready to expand her championships schedule quite yet.

“Is it about going for as many medals as you can, or is it about taking advantage of your best events and trying to have the best chance of winning a medal in those events?” Shiffrin said in a phone interview last week. “Right now, I’m going with the latter because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet. But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could.”

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Though the worlds schedule calls to focus on Vonn before Shiffrin, the results of the past year say otherwise.

Shiffrin is the world’s best female skier by virtue of leading the World Cup overall standings through 26 of 37 races this season. She has won 11 World Cup races in the last 365 days, the most of any man or woman, including her first two outright giant slalom wins plus that fourth place in a super-G. Shiffrin could become the third U.S. woman to take the overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, after Tamara McKinney and Vonn (who did it four times).

Shiffrin is rounding into the all-around skier so many imagined she would turn into by the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. Remember that in Sochi, Shiffrin had the exact same schedule she’ll have in St. Moritz — giant slalom and slalom.

About 13 hours after becoming the youngest Olympic slalom champion, Shiffrin blurted in a press conference in Sochi that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in four years’ time, sweeping all five Olympic Alpine events (no skier has ever won four).

The 18-year-old was running on two hours of sleep and immediately regretted revealing it. The dream did happen, but she didn’t want to sound arrogant.

Shiffrin doesn’t think it’s an unattainable dream — “I feel like a lot of people don’t stretch those boundaries. … I’m trying to show people what’s not impossible,” she said six months later — and neither did President Obama.

“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama directed at Shiffrin in a White House address in front of the Olympic team in March 2014. “Go for it.”

One might think that since Shiffrin is only racing giant slalom and slalom at worlds, she is not in position to try for five gold medals in PyeongChang. Shiffrin has only raced two World Cup downhills, both this season, with a best finish of 13th.

The U.S. women will get four spots in the PyeongChang downhill. Only two — Vonn and Jackie Wiles — have finished in the top five of a downhill this season. It would not take much more improvement for Shiffrin to earn an Olympic downhill start.

Shiffrin notes that the Olympic venue is an equalizer. It is not in a traditional skiing hotbed. The women’s World Cup tour gets its first visit to PyeongChang next month.

“[Next year] I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin and Vonn are both looking at goals beyond the World Championships and the Olympics. For Shiffrin, it’s that World Cup overall title. She was originally planning to skip the World Cup stop after the World Championships and head over to South Korea early to familiarize with the Olympic venue.

But now, with a considerable-but-not-comfortable 180-point lead in the standings, she will race two super combineds and a super-G in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, the week after worlds.

“Some things are starting to fall into place. I’m starting to think that it might actually be possible to win the overall,” said Shiffrin, who spent the fall and early winter stressing to media that she wasn’t focused on the title but rather perfecting her slalom and giant slalom.

She’s never made a World Cup podium in either discipline on the Crans-Montana schedule. If Shiffrin wants to start all five individual races in PyeongChang, she might prove she deserves those spots in Crans-Montana.

Then there is Vonn, whose current line is that the most important of her three remaining career goals is to break the World Cup career wins record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

The other goals, less important, are to win Olympic gold in PyeongChang after missing Sochi due to knee injuries, and to become the first woman in a men’s World Cup race some time after the 2018 Winter Games.

“Ingemar’s record is something that would be remembered more in the history of skiing than anything else,” Vonn told media in St. Moritz.

Vonn is at 77 wins, nine shy of Stenmark. She will not catch the Swede this season but will next year if she stays healthy and continues to win at her usual rate. Neither is certain given her detailed history of crashes and her age.

At the last World Cup stop, Vonn crashed in the same place in a training run and in the downhill race. Then she skied conservatively in the next day’s super-G. She says confidence going into Tuesday’s super-G in St. Moritz is not at her highest, but it won’t affect the way she races.

“The only thing that matters is the medals,” she said. “I’m either going to win, or I’m going to go [crash] out.”

Four years ago, Vonn crashed out of worlds in the super-G and would end up missing the Sochi Olympics. Four years ago, Shiffrin became the youngest world champion in 28 years, setting herself up to win at the Sochi Olympics.

Two years ago, Vonn tearfully left worlds in Vail with a single bronze medal and vowed her next goal would be to reclaim the World Cup overall title. That never happened, and after more crashes, Vonn has narrowed her focus to downhill and super-G and given up hope of contending for an overall title ever again.

Two years ago, Shiffrin repeated as world slalom champion in Vail. She has since become the overall leader.

Vonn and Shiffrin come to St. Moritz from different places. They’ve competed in the same race once in the last 11 months and are not often in the same training circles given their focuses on different events.

“I think she’s going to be a big character, a big personality on the World Cup for a long time,” Vonn said of Shiffrin.

They had one deep conversation, over hot cocoa two summers ago. From that chat, Shiffrin most remembers, respects and has learned from Vonn’s philosophy on competing against countrywomen and teammates.

“She said, yeah, we’re all friends, we have dinner, we hang out and laugh, and it’s awesome,” Shiffrin said. “But, at the end of the day, I go back to my room, I take care of my own stuff, and I do my job in order to have success.”

MORE: Vonn develops friendship with young skier battling cancer

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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