Caeleb Dressel, U.S. women wrap swimming world championships with medals and records

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Caeleb Dressel didn’t match his seven-gold tally of 2017 but became the first swimmer to take eight medals in one world championship meet as the U.S. men took silver in the 4x100m medley relay, the last men’s race of the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

The U.S. women capped their late surge in the championships with individual golds for Lilly King and Simone Manuel, followed by an emphatic world-record swim in the 4x100m medley relay in which breakout star Regan Smith set the tone in the backstroke before handing off to King, Kelsi Dahlia and Manuel.

The Sunday successes added to a late rally for a U.S. team that ran away with the overall medal count as usual but suffered a series of setbacks earlier in the week, including an illness than wiped out much of Katie Ledecky‘s week as well as some puzzling performances in a handful of events that are typically U.S. strongholds.

The Americans finished with 27 medals and 14 golds, down from their haul of 38 medals and 18 golds in 2017. Australia was second in the medal standings with 19 medals and five golds.

Dressel wound up with six gold medals: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 50m butterfly, 100m butterfly, men’s 4x100m freestyle and the mixed 4×100 freestyle. He took silver in both medley relays — the men’s 4x100m and the mixed 4x100m. The 50m butterfly and the mixed 4x100m freestyle are not on the Olympic program.

In 2017, Dressel missed out on the medals in the 50m butterfly but took gold in all four relays in addition to his other three individual medals.

The U.S. women celebrate their gold medal and world record in the 4×100 medley relay. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The women’s relay opened with Smith, a high school student from Minnesota who’ll start college at Stanford after the Olympics next year. The 17-year-old swimmer broke out on the international scene earlier in the week with a world record in the 200m backstroke semifinals and followed up with a convincing win in the final. She lived up to expectations in the relay with a world-record backstroke leg of 57.57 seconds.

“There’s nothing better than diving in with a body-length lead already,” King said.

King extended the lead to nearly three seconds. Dahlia, a 100m butterfly bronze medalist in 2017 under her maiden name of Kelsi Worrell, kept the lead around the same margin while Canada passed Australia to move into second place.

The only questions left on the freestyle leg were whether Australia’s Cate Campbell could surge past Canadian star Penny Oleksiak for silver and whether Manuel could wrap up keep the U.S. women under world record pace. The answer on both counts was yes, with Manuel swimming a leg of 51.86 seconds for a final time of 3:50.40, more than a second off the record the U.S. women set in 2017.

“To start off with a world record from Regan, I think that really pumped us all up,” Manuel said.

Olivia Smoliga swam in the heats for the medley relay to earn her third medal and second gold of the meet.

Dressel did all he could in the men’s relay, pulling the U.S. team from fourth to first with the fastest butterfly time (49.28) by more than a second in his last race of a busy week.

Ryan Murphy, who was fourth in the 50m backstroke earlier in the evening, stayed close to Russian multimedalist Evgeny Rylov, and breaststroke specialist Andrew Wilson handed off in fourth place amid a tightly bunch lead group.

Dressel handed off to Nathan Adrian, a much-decorated freestyle veteran who has rebounded from treatment for testicular cancer earlier this year and anchored the winning 4x100m freestyle relay earlier this week. Adrian held off the charge from Russia, but Duncan Scott, the subject of an angry outburst from China’s Sun Yang at a medal ceremony earlier in the week, posted the second-fastest freestyle split of all time to give Great Britain the gold.

Earlier Sunday, Manuel inched past a loaded field in the 50m freestyle to win in 24.05 seconds, 0.02 seconds ahead of Swedish star Sarah Sjoestroem and 0.06 ahead of Australia’s Cate Campbell. Denmark’s Pernille Blume finished within 0.07 seconds of Manuel but missed out on the podium.

The medalists were the same, albeit with Campbell and Sjoestroem reversed, as they were in the 100m freestyle earlier in the week, when Manuel won from all the way out in Lane 1 after a slow time in the semifinals.

In the first women’s final of the evening, King won her final showdown with Russian Yuliya Efimova in the 50m breaststroke. King, who holds the world record of 29.40, finished in 29.84, barely outtouching 14-year-old Italian Benedetta Pilato, (30.00) who burst into tears as King reached over to congratulate her. Efimova was third in 30.15.

“The girls next to me really gave me a good race,” King said.

Like Manuel, King also won the 100m race in her discipline. King also won both events in the 2017 world championships and won the 100m in the 2016 Olympics but was denied a shot at a breakthrough in the 200m after being disqualified in the preliminary heats.

Jay Litherland took a surprising silver in the men’s 400m individual medley, in which top American Chase Kalisz failed to qualify two years after setting the championship record in the event. Litherland, a bronze medalist in the 4x200m freestyle relay in 2017, was 3.34 seconds behind Japanese favorite Daiya Seto heading into the freestyle leg but closed to within 0.27 seconds at the finish.

“I can’t explain it,” Litherland said. “That was a fun race.”

In the first final of the evening, South Africa’s Zane Waddell, who swims at the University of Alabama and won an NCAA title this year in the men’s 4x50m medley relay, stunned the Russian and American favorites in a tightly bunched finish in the men’s 50m backstroke.

Waddell finished in 24.43, just ahead of Evgeny Rylov (24.49) and world record-holder Kliment Kolesnikov (24.51).

Murphy (24.53, fourth) won the 100m and 200m backstroke in the 2016 Olympics but has never claimed an individual world title. He took silver and bronze in 2017 and then silver in the 200m backstroke earlier this week.

Michael Andrew (24.58, fifth) has the unusual distinction of qualifying for the final in every 50m race of the week, though he was unable to crack the podium in any final.

“What was nice about not hitting every mark was the motivation it gives me going into Tokyo,” Andrew said.

Germany’s Florian Wellbrock won the men’s 1,500m freestyle in 14:36.54. No U.S. swimmers qualified for the final.

Hungary’s “Iron Lady,” 30-year-old Katinka Hosszu completed a quadruple-double, winning the 400m individual medley title for the fourth straight time after doing the same in the 200m medley earlier in the week. U.S. swimmer Ally McHugh was sixth.

Hosszu also swept the medleys in the 2016 Olympics and won the 400m race back in 2009.

Other swimmers with large medal hauls in the championships included Australia’s Campbell (two individual medals, three from relays) and Ariarne Titmus (three individual, one relay), Russia’s Rylov (three individual, two relay) and Efimova (three individual), Great Britain’s Adam Peaty (two individual, two relay), and Canada’s Kylie Masse and Sydney Pickrem (two individual and one relay each).

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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.”

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.

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