Geraint Thomas closer to Tour de France title; Chris Froome cracks in Stage 17

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SAINT-LARY-SOULAN, France (AP) — Four-time champion Chris Froome cracked in the feared 17th stage of the Tour de France through the Pyrenees on Wednesday, solidifying Sky teammate Geraint Thomas’ hold on the yellow jersey.

Colombian climber Nairo Quintana won the short but extremely difficult mountainous stage with a solo attack up the brutal finishing climb to Col du Portet.

Quintana, a three-time podium finisher in the Tour, finished 28 seconds ahead of Irish rider Dan Martin, while Thomas crossed third, 47 seconds back.

Froome finished eighth, 1:35 behind, and dropped from second to third overall. He then crashed following the stage after police mistook him for a fan on the way down the mountain.

“Froomey said on the radio at maybe 5K or 4K to go that he wasn’t feeling super,” Thomas said. “That gave me confidence because I knew if Froomey suffered, everyone suffered.

“I didn’t want him to have a bad day like he did but it just gave me confidence knowing someone of Froomey’s stature was struggling, and I just knew I would be able to respond to the attacks.”

Tom Dumoulin moved up to second behind Thomas, the Welsh rider who is seeking his first Grand Tour victory.

“Thomas has been the strongest, and that’s the situation now,” Dumoulin said. “For me, so far it has not been possible to gain time on him.”

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Froome is attempting to match the Tour record of five victories shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. But he appeared to be close to conceding this title attempt.

“We just got to look after (Thomas) now,” Froome said. “I’ve won the last three Grand Tours and G’s ridden an absolutely faultless race this year, so he fully deserves to be in the yellow jersey, and fingers crossed he finishes it off and gets the job done in Paris.”

Froome was first put in difficulty when Primoz Roglic attacked with 2.5 kilometers to go, and then was dropped for good when Dumoulin accelerated at the 2K banner.

While Thomas followed Dumoulin, Froome quickly lost ground and had to be escorted up the rest of the way by Colombian teammate Egan Bernal, who kept turning around to check on his team leader.

Sticking his tongue out in apparent exhaustion, it was a strong signal that Froome has reached his limit after winning the last three Grand Tours — the Tour and Spanish Vuelta last year and the Giro d’Italia in May.

“What you’ve got with Chris is he’ll empty the tank,” Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “He deserves a lot of credit having gone to the Giro … He’s a great, great champion. He’s not out of it necessarily … If anybody can bounce back it’s Chris Froome — I wouldn’t rule him out.”

Froome also had to deal with the pressure of an asthma drug case over the last nine months. He was cleared of doping five days before the Tour.

It was Quintana’s second career stage victory in the Tour, having also won a leg in 2013.

“I went through some difficult moments in the first part of this Tour and lost some time,” said Quintana, who is fifth overall. “But I still felt strong and had the energy to finish the race on a high. I usually improve in the third week of the Tour and it’s going that way.”

A Formula One-like grid start introduced to the Tour for the first time had little impact on the race as Thomas and Froome waited for their Sky teammates to join them.

The 40-mile route from Bagneres-de-Luchon featured three grueling climbs and hardly a stretch of flat road.

The unprecedented finish on the Col du Portet above Saint-Lary-Soulan at an altitude of 2,215 meters (7,267 feet) marked the highest point of this year’s race.

Measuring 16 kilometers at an average gradient of nearly nine percent, organizers rated the Col du Portet as the second hardest climb in Tour history after Mont Ventoux.

With so much climbing to do right from the start, riders warmed up for up to an hour both on the road and on stationary rollers before the stage started.

Thomas started in “pole position” as the top 20 riders in the standings began ahead of lower-ranked riders in four more groups further behind.

The top riders had their numbers pasted on the road to indicate their grid positions.

Estonian rider Tanel Kangert launched an early solo breakaway and was first over the Montee de Peyragudes, the opening climb.

Peter Sagan, the three-time defending world champion and three-time stage winner in this year’s race, crashed on the descent from the Col de Val Louron, the second mountain of the day. Sagan made it to the finish with his jersey torn.

Tangert was alone in the lead until halfway up the Col du Portet, when Quintana caught him and surged ahead.

Quintana had followed along when Martin attacked from the yellow jersey group at the start of the climb.

There were no reported security issues a day after police used tear gas to disperse a farmers’ protest that had blocked the road with bales of hay.

After a less arduous Stage 18 on Thursday, there is another mountainous leg in the Pyrenees on Friday. Then there’s an individual time trial on Saturday before the three-week race ends Sunday in Paris.

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VIDEO: Tour de France riders sprayed with tear gas after protest

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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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.

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