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Karen Chen, Ashley Wagner duel at Skate Canada; preview

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The top two U.S. female figure skaters go head-to-head at Skate Canada, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.

U.S. champion Karen Chen and 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner open their Olympic seasons in earnest at the second of six Grand Prix events leading up to the Grand Prix Final in December.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan, U.S. Olympian Jason Brown and world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also headline the fields in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Skate Canada broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):

Friday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Short — 3 p.m.
Short Dance — 5 p.m.
Men’s Short — 8 p.m.
Pairs Short — 10 p.m.

Saturday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Free — 1 p.m.
Free Dance — 3 p.m.
Men’s Free — 7 p.m.
Pairs Free — 9 p.m.

NBCSN will air a highlights show Sunday from 11:30 p.m.-1 a.m. ET.

All coverage will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Olympic Channel coverage will also stream on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Women
The field here is deep, but let’s start with the Americans.

Karen Chen (no relation to U.S. men’s champion Nathan Chen) still needs to prove the kind of consistency associated with the three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

While the 18-year-old Chen won her first national title last season (in a huge upset) and finished a strong fourth at worlds, she has never placed better than fifth in four Grand Prix starts. And she was third at a smaller international event in Salt Lake City last month, outscored by Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at nationals.

Chen must get through much more experienced skaters to reach the podium on Saturday.

Wagner, 26, made her senior international debut at Skate Canada a full decade ago and won this event in 2015. But she has something to prove as well. Wagner’s last season was her least successful in six years. She already threw out her Olympic season free skate last month.

Instead, the favorites have to be Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, Japanese Marin Honda and Russian Anna Pogorilaya.

Osmond won Skate Canada in her Grand Prix debut in 2012 at age 16. She struggled with injuries the next three seasons, making zero top-level podiums, but re-emerged last season to take silver at worlds. If Osmond is truly the top threat to Olympic super favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, she’ll notch her biggest international win in five years on Saturday.

Honda, the 2016 World junior champion with 244,000 Instagram followers, won her senior international debut last month against a field that included three of the top four from the U.S. Championships. Japan has only two Olympic spots, so she must be on her game early this season to impress selectors.

Pogorilaya imploded at worlds — 13th place — but was arguably the world’s second-best skater last fall. The 19-year-old won both of her Grand Prix starts and was third at the Grand Prix Final. Russia is so deep that Pogorilaya is on the bubble for one of its three Olympic team spots, along with another Skate Canada entrant — Maria Sotskova.

Men
Shoma Uno 
is the clear favorite here. The world silver medalist posted the fourth-highest score of all time at a lower-level event to open the season last month. Though the diminutive 19-year-old descended to earth at the free-skate only Japan Open, he remains the only man in this field with a clear path to an Olympic medal.

Canadian Patrick Chan is far more accomplished, with three world titles and an Olympic silver medal already to his name. But he lacks the technical firepower to win a seventh Skate Canada crown if Uno is clean with all of his quadruple jumps.

Jason Brown is the class of the rest of this field. Will he land a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition for the first time? It would be a big step en route to a possible second Olympic berth come January, when he’ll be up against consistent quad men at nationals.

Pairs
Five of the top eight pairs from the last Grand Prix season are in this field, led by two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and 2017 World silver medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

Duhamel and Radford struggled last winter, with a seventh-place finish at worlds, where they were looking to become the first pair to three-peat in nearly 40 years. Problems persisted with three falls in their free skate at a low-level event last month.

Savchenko and Massot aren’t yet Olympic eligible — the French-born Massot is finishing German citizenship tests. They are the favorites this week given their success last season before and after the Ukraine-born Savchenko tore an ankle ligament — two Grand Prix wins, then silver medals at Europeans and worlds.

The other podium contenders are Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France’s best pair in more than a decade, and Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier could really use two strong skates after finishing 20th at worlds and fourth against a weak field in Salt Lake City a month ago. They’re currently an underdog for the U.S.’ one Olympic spot in pairs.

Ice Dance
Tessa Virtue 
and Scott Moir went undefeated in their return last season after two years off. They’ve also won their last six starts at Skate Canada dating to 2007.

Nobody in this field should challenge the 2010 Olympic champions who already own the highest score in the world this season set last month.

The silver medal could go to Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They were on the brink of breaking out a season ago, but Hubbell fell at nationals and Donohue crashed at worlds. Shocking in top-level ice dance.

Canadian’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are a great measuring stick for the Americans. They’ve been in the top five at worlds seven straight times but went winless last season in a step backward.

Bettering Weaver and Poje in Canada would be an important step to show that Hubbell and Donohue belong in Olympic medal talk.

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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.

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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.”

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