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How Olympic gold changed (or didn’t change) Mikaela Shiffrin

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Lindsey Vonn displays her two Olympic medals in a massive trophy case. Ted Ligety keeps his two Olympic gold medals at his parents’ house. Andrew Weibrecht displays his two Olympic medals in the lobby of an inn owned by his parents.

Mikaela Shiffrin?

She stuffed her 2014 Olympic slalom gold medal in the back of a sock drawer.

“I don’t think about it every day,” Shiffrin said. “I rarely think about it unless someone brings it up.”

Shiffrin’s life forever changed in Sochi on that February evening, when at 18, she became the youngest-ever Olympic slalom champion. But she refused to let success change her.

“[It] doesn’t feel like it’s changed me at all,” Shiffrin said. “I still think the same things are exciting.”

Going to a movie theatre and getting popcorn gives her “real excitement.”

But how about the 2014 Olympics?

“I still don’t know how I feel about Sochi,” Shiffrin admitted.

NBCOlympics.com: Everything to know about Shiffrin

Shiffrin did not have a lot of time to immediately reflect after her Sochi triumph.

She was still obsessed with how she could have improved her final run when she was greeted on the snow by her mother, Eileen. Before Eileen could even finish wrapping her arms around her daughter, Shiffrin breathlessly asked, “Did I lose time in the middle there?”

Shiffrin was then quickly escorted to the media mixed zone to do round after round of interviews.

When asked how she felt, Shiffrin did not know how to respond, having not yet had a moment to process her emotions. When asked about the gold medal, her canned answer became, “it’s heavy.”

Less than three days later, she was in New York for even more television appearances. She teamed with actress Reese Witherspoon to play Catchphrase against host Jimmy Fallon and singer Usher on “The Tonight Show.” She was also a guest on “TODAY” alongside Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety.

When “TODAY” host Matt Lauer asked whether her gold-medal moment had sunk in yet, Shiffrin responded, “It’s a total blur. I’ve been doing this type of thing for five days straight. It feels like the race never even happened.”

Even after fulfilling her media obligations, Shiffrin did not have much time to celebrate. She returned to World Cup racing just 13 days after winning the Olympic slalom.

The offseason proved hectic as well, with appearances at red-carpet events including the ESPYS. She does not pretend to be glamorous, although she will dress the part if required.

“I think part of the fun about walking around in ski boots is making it look as awkward as possible,” Shiffrin said. “I really think that’s enjoyable, I don’t know why.”

Shiffrin’s star has continued to grow in the last quadrennial.

NBCOlympics.com: More on Alpine skiing

On the slopes, she won the 2017 World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

Off the slopes, Britain’s SportsPro Magazine named Shiffrin the ninth-most marketable athlete of 2017, well ahead of fellow U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn (No. 50).

But Shiffrin believes the external pressure started to have a negative impact on her performance during the 2016-17 season. She even threw up prior to several races for the first time in her career. Unusual, considering she has historically been relaxed enough to nap on the snow just moments before a competition, earning her the nickname “Sir Naps A Lot.”

“I’ve never really been the type of athlete that gets extremely nervous at the start or feels that kind of pressure and expectations from everyone else,” Shiffrin said. “And [during the 2016-17 season] I started to feel that, and it brought on quite a different form of nerves than I’ve ever dealt with.”

Shiffrin’s mom speculated that her daughter’s anxiety was caused by her frantic schedule. Shiffrin traditionally focused on the technical disciplines: slalom and giant slalom. By expanding her portfolio to also include the speed disciplines, Shiffrin made more World Cup starts than ever before, racing at least once in every discipline for the first time. Shiffrin estimates that she had half as much time to train for the technical disciplines as she had in past seasons.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch Alpine skiing streams, highlights

“We ran into a lot of challenges getting Mikaela time training,” Eileen said to NBC OlympicTalk. “She was not prepared for the races she went into, and she knew it. That’s why she was nervous.”

To overcome her anxieties, Shiffrin started consulting a sports psychologist via Skype and text messaging.

“[She] helped to remind me of what mentality has worked for me in the past,” Shiffrin said, “and how to perceive outside pressure as a separate thing from me and my performance.”

Reporters became a source of outside pressure during Shiffrin’s 2016 streak of winning seven straight World Cup slaloms, one short of the record for most consecutive victories in the discipline. They pestered her with questions about the streak, and when it ended, Shiffrin admitted that she felt relieved because she would no longer have to discuss it.

Shiffrin reminds herself that having media members want to help share her story should be more of an honor than a burden.

“I just try to keep telling myself that when I feel like people are talking about me, and I just want them to stop,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin might be reluctant to talk about herself, but knows that she has a story to tell.

“If everyone was in my head, it would be the most epic, inspirational movie ever,” Shiffrin said. “I’m constantly thinking about how my life would fit into a really inspirational Disney movie scene or something.”

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).

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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