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Wyomia Tyus remembers 1968 Olympics in ‘Tigerbelle’ excerpt

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Wyomia Tyus may not be first person associated with the 1964 or 1968 Olympics, but she was one of the standout athletes of the decade.

Tyus, who grew up in the segregated south on a Georgia dairy farm, became the first man or woman to repeat as Olympic 100m champion. She tied Wilma Rudolph‘s world record at the 1964 Tokyo Games and lowered both the 100m and 4x100m marks at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Carl LewisGail Devers, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Usain Bolt later joined Tyus in the multiple Olympic 100m titles club, but Tyus, a standout of Ed Temple‘s Tennessee State Tigerbelles track teams, will always be the first.

Tyus, now 73, remembered her victories at the 1968 Olympics and her contribution to the human-rights cause in the following excerpt of “Tigerbelle: Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story,” copyright 2018 by Wyomia Tyus and Elizabeth Terzakis, used with permission of Edge of Sports and Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com).

“Tigerbelle” was published this week and is available for purchase here.

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When the gun went off, I was out. The best start I’ve ever had, ever in my whole career, was in that Olympics in ’68. The first thing I remember thinking was, I got a good start! I got a good start! I’m out! I’m out front! I’m out front of Barbara! And then I was like: I know she’s coming. And I knew that Poland’s Szewińska — who was Kirszenstein in the ’64 Olympics; she had gotten married — was also in the race. And I thought: She’s going to be coming. But she’s just as old as I am, and I’m faster. All this was going through my head, yet I was running strong, and I never looked back. I didn’t hear Margaret or Barbara or Szewińska — I didn’t hear any of them. Even so, I wasn’t really listening for them. If I was listening for anyone, it was Raelene Boyle, but I had psyched her out, so she was not going to beat me.

Now I was thinking, Stay relaxed, lift your knees, stay relaxed, lift your knees. Don’t forget to lean at the finish line! And then it was over. Just like that.

As soon as I crossed the line, it poured. I mean, poured— like the sky almost fell out. And I thought, Well, thank you. Because it waited for me.

Usually, as soon as you finish a race, the officials shoo you off the track so that the next race can start, but after the 100 in ’68, Howard Cosell, the sportscaster, was running a live feed, and he grabbed my arm. “Wyomia,” he said, “we want to talk to you about the 100 meters,” and then he turned to the camera and said, “We have right here Wyomia Tyus, who just won her second—” But at that point one of the officials started practically pushing me, trying to get me off the track, and Howard shouted, “Leave her alone!”

“She has to get off the track so the next event can start!” “Get your hands off of her! She’s talking to her country!”

Howard kept yelling at the officials until he finally got them away from me. At that point, I was shaking because it was cold, and I was soaking wet. “You’re cold?” he asked.

“A little bit,” I said.

He put his ABC coat around me, turned back to the camera, and said, “I just gave this fast young lady my jacket. She’s shivering!” That was his lead-in. He was just too funny: “She’s talking to her country — get away from her!” Go Howard! But he was a nice person, and I appreciated him giving me his jacket. When I got back from Mexico City, I bought a Paddington jacket — you know, for the bear, the little yellow one? — and I drew ABC on it. It was tiny, and I wanted to present it to him and say, “Look, here’s your jacket back — after the rain in Mexico City.” I never got to do it because the day I knew I was going to see him, I forgot it at home. It would have been a cute thing, but it didn’t happen.

While I was talking to Howard — and my country — the officials confirmed who had won by going over all the tapes, checking to see that nobody had run out of the lanes, that I really had crossed the line first, things like that. (I don’t think they were doing drug testing then; I don’t remember having to pee in a cup, so if they were doing testing, they weren’t testing the sprinters, or at least they didn’t test me.) A very short time later — I assume it was a short time, because it was still pouring — I was out on the victory stand.

The rain was soaking us, and I was wiping it away from my eyes, and everybody who looks at the video thinks I was crying, but I wasn’t; I’m not a crier, and I wasn’t crying. The main thing I was feeling was relief — because I had accomplished all my goals. I had my degree. I had won my medal. I am ready for the world! I told myself. I was also thinking about how much my mother and brothers had sacrificed for me to get there and how proud they must have been at that moment. Being up on that stand was just pleasant — I felt the way you feel when everything falls into place, and your life is where you want it to be, and you know you’re at the beginning of a new life—a new phase of your life. For me, at that moment, it meant no more running. I wasn’t thinking of ever running again, after that. I was done. Then they played the national anthem, and I was good to go. I could have gone home that day.

In my mind, that would have been the perfect ending for my second Olympics — with me achieving the second of my two goals and becoming the first person to win back-to-back gold medals in the 100. But as it turned out, there were still some things I had to do—both on the track and off.

For one thing, I still had to run the relay and the 200, but those races were just not the same as the 100. That 200? I wasn’t even thinking about it. Didn’t care about it. That race was just something Mr. Temple wanted me to do. The relay meant more to me, but it was not the most important thing I had left to do, not by a long shot.

I was in the spectator area for athletes when Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Peter Norman, the Australian runner who got the silver in the men’s 200, came out to get their medals. There was a rail between us and the track, and you could look down the chute where the athletes come out. There were a lot of us there, and we were all yelling our support.

When I saw Tommie and Carlos come out, the first thing that ran through my head was: They don’t have no shoes on. I watched them walk onto the medal stand, and when “The Star-Spangled Banner” started to play, I watched them raise their fists. Oh my! I thought. The crowd was just quiet at first. Nothing. No sound. Then people started talking, a buzz rose up, people near me whispering, “Did you see what they did? Did you see what they did?”

“Yes, I did,” I said, but I was also trying to see if there was anybody up above us trying to do anything else—anything retaliatory. Because while some people were cheering, some people were booing. They were angry. You could see it in their faces. And I kept thinking, I just want to be out of here. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought: That was so powerful and It’s going to strike so many people the wrong way and I hope nobody hurts them. That was one of my first thoughts: I hope no one hurts them. I wanted to get out of the stadium before something happened. There were too many people there, and we were in front and kind of below everybody, and there were just a few of us Black athletes. And I thought, There are probably some Black people booing too. It was a scary moment.

When they came off the stand, they walked right past us, and we were giving them back slaps and high fives and saying supportive things. After that, all hell broke loose — for them. Once we got back to the Olympic Village, there was a meeting of just about everybody, and everybody was saying that Tommie and Carlos were being sent home and that their medals would be taken away.

“Take their medals away?” I said. “How can they take their medals away? What are you talking about?”

“Yes, that’s what’s going to happen,” more than one athlete responded. “That’s what happens when you do things like that.” “Oh, please,” I said, “Tommie and Carlos are not going to give up their medals.”

Still, that was what most of the athletes believed: that their medals would be taken — because that was the propaganda that was put out, just that quick. And who would do it, other than the officials? The word all around was that the Olympic Committee was going to take their medals and put them out of the Village. And that’s what came across to America too, in the papers: that they got their medals taken and they’d been put out of the Olympic Village for disgracing America.

But I was thinking, They are not taking their medals. And as it turned out, I was right, but if you were to search it online right now, you would still find sources that say they were “stripped of their medals” or “forced to return” their awards. In reality, that never happened, but the propaganda continues.

Tommie and Carlos were not at that meeting because it was true that they were banned from the Village — but in any case, they weren’t going to go there because they figured the officials wanted to put them out of not only the Village but also the country. So they went to a hotel. Still, I don’t see how anyone from the Olympic Committee could have put them out of the country; it wasn’t their country. In my mind, these were all just the rumors that were spread to cause confusion among the other athletes and keep them from doing anything else.

Nevertheless, another meeting was called to talk about what other people were going to do in light of what happened to Tommie and Carlos. The outcome of that meeting was still: You can do whatever you want. What they have done, that said everything right there. And that’s when people started getting ideas: some of the men on the relay teams wore berets, and there were black socks and black shorts and black armbands and things like that, and Ralph Boston was barefoot when he went on the stand to get his medal. I don’t know how much of it came across on the television, but many athletes continued the protest despite all the threats to Tommie and Carlos, and I was one of them.

The next day, I ran the 4×100 relay. Even though I had achieved my goal of winning the 100 and felt satisfied, I had to think of my teammates — Barbara Ferrell, Margaret Bailes, and Mildred Netter. I knew we had the best team; the only thing we had to make sure of was that we didn’t make any mistakes, like dropping the baton or running out of the passing zone. Barbara had gotten second in the 100, and even though Margaret was only seventeen, she ran well in the 100, placing fifth, and had really been setting the world on fire in the run-up to the Games. The relay was probably most significant for Mildred: the 4×100 was her first race in the Olympics; she didn’t run anything else, so it was her only chance to get a medal.

Barbara ran the first leg; she had a good start and was out in front when she passed to Margaret, who ran really well and handed the lead over to Mildred. Mildred had a good race — such a beautiful curve! — but I misjudged her speed coming up and was a little slow taking off. None of us were used to passing to each other, and even though we had practiced, three of us had to train for the 100 and the 200, so we didn’t have that much time for the 4×100—unlike the Europeans, who kept their relay teams the same so they got to work together all year. Despite all that, Mildred and I still had a good pass, and with such a solid lead, the fact that she ran up on me didn’t matter. Mildred ran after me almost all the way through the curve, yelling, “Go, Tyus! Go, Tyus! Go!” So I did, and we not only won but set both an Olympic and a world record with a time of 42.8 seconds.

As part of my contribution to the protest for human rights, I had worn black running shorts for the relay, rather than the regular white running shorts that were issued to us—although I’m not sure anyone noticed. But after we won and had been given our medals, we went into the pressroom, and they asked us what we thought about what Tommie and Carlos had done. “What is there to think?” I said. “They made a statement.

We all know that we’re fighting for human rights. That’s what they stood for on the victory stand — human rights for everyone, everywhere. And to support that and to support them, I’m dedicating my medal to them. I believe in what they did.”

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MORE: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar details passing on 1968 Olympics in new book

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Peter Snell, 3-time Olympic track champion, dies

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Three-time Olympic champion and world mile record-holder Peter Snell has died in Dallas. He was aged 80.

Snell, who is regarded as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all-time, won the 800m at the 1960 Rome Olympics aged 21, and the 800m-1500m double at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

He was the first man since 1920 to win the 800m and 1500m at the same Olympics. No male athlete has done so since.

Snell also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals in the 880 yards and mile at Perth in 1962.

He twice held the mile world record and also held world records in the 800m, 880 yards, 1000m, and the 4xmile relay.

Snell’s death was confirmed by family friend and New Zealand sports historian Ron Palenski, who heads New Zealand’s Sport Hall of Fame.

“It is very sad news, a grievous loss for New Zealand,” Palenski said. “In terms of track and field, he is probably the greatest athlete New Zealand has had.”

Snell was coached by Arthur Lydiard, an innovator who was regarded as one of the world’s finest coaches of middle and long distance athletes. Lydiard also coached Murray Halberg to win the 5000m at Rome in 1960.

Snell’s wife, Miki, said he died suddenly at his home in Dallas around noon on Thursday. He had been suffering from a heart ailment and had required a pacemaker for several years.

Snell’s athletics career was relatively short. He retired in 1965 to pursue educational opportunities in the United States.

Snell graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in human performance from the University of California, Davis, and later with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Washington State University.

He became a research fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1981, later becoming director of the university’s Human Performance Center.

Snell was knighted by New Zealand in 2009. A statue in his honor stands at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, near his birthplace of Opunake, where he broke the mile world record for the first time in 1962.

Grand Prix Final results show women’s figure skating revolution progressing quickly

Grand Prix Final podium
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The revolution in women’s figure skating is being televised.

That’s a turn of phrase on an admittedly dated reference (Google it). The point is we all have been able to witness, from TV broadcasts or live streams, a season with the most radical change in the sport since child prodigy Sonja Henie, then age 11, began doing jumps in her programs nearly a century ago.

What we watched other child prodigies do at last week’s Grand Prix Final boggled the minds of even those who saw it coming, because no one imagined it coming this soon and to this degree.

This essentially Russian revolution, which has taken maximum advantage of the scoring system and youthful body types to overthrow longtime technical norms of women’s skating, has split the discipline into haves and have-nots.

There are those who have the high-scoring quadruple jumps or multiple triple Axels to seize all the medals. And those who do not have those big jumps and, as of now, no chance to regain the podiums from which they have been summarily ousted.

Given what already had happened this season, it was not surprising that Russian first-year seniors Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova swept the medals in the senior Final. Each had qualified by winning two of the six events in the Grand Prix series.

What is surprising is how far and fast the Troika – as NBC commentator and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir artfully nicknamed them, in a reference to a traditional Russian three-horse sled – has pushed the envelope and how far and fast they have left everyone else behind.

And imagine what the gap could be if women were allowed to do quads in the short program, which likely will be proposed at next year’s International Skating Union congress.

A year ago, it was shocking when the Troika, then all juniors internationally, swept the medals at the senior Russian Championships. Now it will be shocking if they don’t do it again at this year’s Russian Championships, which take place Dec. 24-29.

No women were regularly doing quads until last season. Consider what the Troika has done just this autumn:

*Kostornaia, 16, did not attempt a triple Axel in international competition before this season. Now she is doing one in the short program and two in the free, and all three were very well executed as she took gold at the Grand Prix Final.

*Shcherbakova, 15, began her international season the way she had finished last year at junior worlds, with one quad Lutz in the free skate; at the Grand Prix Final, she did two quad Lutzes (one clean, one under-rotated) and attempted her first quad flip (fall) in finishing second.

*Trusova, 15, began this season after having landed quad Lutz, quad Salchow and quad toe loop as a junior, but she was not attempting more than two in a program. In her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, she did four quads (three clean). At the Grand Prix Final, she added an excellent quad flip for five free skate quads, one of which she doubled and three of which were clean. She also attempted (and under-rotated) a triple Axel for the first time in the short program.

Even with the mistakes, the quads still racked up enough points for Shcherbakova that she beat a flawless Kostornaia in the free skate. And they gave Trusova a 20.71-point overall margin over fourth finisher Rika Kihira, 17, of Japan, who already had mastered triple Axels but has dropped so far from contention against the Troika that Kihira tried (and fell on) her first quad in competition.

And you have to feel a little sorry for reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia, at the technical cutting edge of her sport less than two years ago, now utterly overmatched – and still just 17 years old.

Zagitova’s free skate, an error-filled mess, dropped her from second after a fine short (less than six points behind Kostornaia) to sixth overall, more than 42 points behind Kostornaia and nearly 28 behind the third-place Trusova.

Even had she skated cleanly, having a long program with no quads or triple Axels meant the base value of Zagitova’s elements was more than 30 points less than Trusova’s, more than 20 less than Shcherbakova’s and about five less than Kostornaia’s. Zagitova would have needed otherworldly Grades of Execution marks and program component scores to compete for a medal.

Zagitova acknowledged the futility of her current situation by telling a Russian TV station Friday she was effectively putting her competitive career on hold by withdrawing from the Russian Championships and not asking to be considered for selection for either the European or world championships.

According to a Eurosport summary of the interview, Zagitova said she needed to find new motivation to continue competing. The story quoted her as saying she intended to do shows and keep training under her longtime coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who also coaches the Troika.

Zagitova also said she intended to learn new elements and ways to go into jumps.

“I need to find the desire to want to go into a competition,” she said, according to a translation. “The athletes who have gone down that road will understand me.”

Those who decry how much the quads have thrown the sport’s athletic-artistic balance out of whack found some satisfaction in Kostornaia’s having won with a performance and interpretive quality rare for a skater of her age.

Yet Kostornaia also accumulated some 21 free skate points for her triple Axels, about 13 more points than fifth-place finisher Bradie Tennell of the U.S. got for two clean double Axels. Even if Tennell had not made some relatively small mistakes, there was no way she could make up that difference.

And remember that if Trusova had cleanly landed the quad she doubled and the quad that resulted in a fall, she could have overcome not only her short program mistake but also the margin Kostornaia built in program components with clearly superior skating skills and artistry.

Tennell, 21, the top U.S. woman at the 2018 Olympics (ninth) and the last two World Championships (sixth and seventh), this season has displayed the best overall level of skating in her career. But a lack of quads and triple Axels has dropped her exponentially further behind the leaders.

Yet Tennell presses on.

“She may never catch them, but we keep pushing forward, trying to improve on both components and technical,” said Denise Myers, who coaches Tennell. “She is not settling for where she is now.”

About a month ago, I began to wonder if changing the factoring of the five Program Component Scores (PCS) so that they were the same for women as for men would level a playing field that has tilted so dramatically toward the jumpers.

Since the International Judging System was introduced in 2004, factors of .8 (short program) and 1.6 (long) have been applied to the raw total of each woman’s component score. They are 1.0 and 2.0 for men.

The logic behind the difference was until last season, a men’s free skate was 30 seconds longer with one more element. (Why it also applied to the short program is unclear, since the number of elements and time have been the same.)

“The idea of possible new factors for the program components for men was evaluated in the past season, because for the top skaters the technical score in the last years had considerably increased,” Italy’s Fabio Bianchetti, chair of the ISU technical committee for singles and pairs, said in an email.

“At the moment, for the majority of the [men], the [PCS] is still corresponding to about 50 percent of the total score. In some cases, the relation might not be exact, but a rule must consider all the skaters and not only the top five.

“Now we are dealing with the same situation for the ladies. This is something totally new, and we will study the problem during the season. But again, we cannot look at a couple of skaters only.”

In a recent interview with Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports, Weir seconded the idea of giving the women’s PCS scores the same weight as the men’s.

“It would give them a little better chance,” Samuel Auxier, an international judge and former U.S. Figure Skating, said in a text message last month.

So much has changed on the jump front since then that it turns out using the men’s PCS factors would have had almost no impact on the women’s results at the Grand Prix Final.

With some computational help from skatingscores.com, I recalculated the PCS scores from the Final with the 1.0 and 2.0 factors, added them to the TES scores and found just one difference: Kostornaia would have moved from second to first in the free skate. The overall and short program finish order would have been the same.

Actual Grand Prix Final scores
One of these (factor .8 / 1.6) shows the actual scores. Skatingscores.com
A re-imagined scoring of the Grand Prix Final
The Refactored scores show what they would be with factors of 1.0 and 2.0. Skatingscores.com

So, the 20% adjustment of PCS factor gender equality is not enough to put women without the most difficult jumps into medal contention.

And as Bianchetti pointed out, making that change or a more substantial one in the women’s factoring must take into consideration not only a few exceptional new talents.

“I truly do not believe that anyone seriously thought a lady would deliver four quads so quickly and especially at such a young age,” Ted Barton of Canada, who was involved in the creation of IJS, said in a text message last month. “Alysa Liu is a good American example of what the present is and future might be.”

(And, yes, there is an elephant in the room: whether the young talents are getting exaggerated PCS scores from judges smitten by their jumping. That’s a question for another day – or lifetime.)

Yet there is every indication the Troika are only the leading edge of a blizzard of jumping phenoms, not only from Russia. After all, Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist Liu, 14, last season became the youngest singles champion in U.S. history with three triple Axels, and she has added a quad Lutz this season.

“The factoring and [other] calculations were developed on what was being done at that point,” Barton said. “Now that skaters have shown new possibilities, the technical committees will look to see what adjustments can and should be made. Interesting times, indeed.”

For now, though, we are seeing in real time the unsettling effect revolutions can have.

And it seems surreal.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: What’s next for Nathan Chen after third consecutive Grand Prix Final win?

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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