Simone Biles breaks gymnastics worlds medals record, gets 5 golds this week

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STUTTGART, Germany — Simone Biles‘ routine this week that no fans saw took place hours before she competed.

Her mom, Nellie, said she made up Biles’ hair in the mornings at the world championships, her first time doing so regularly at a major competition in several years. In the last Olympic cycle, her parents were allowed little contact with her at major international meets.

That policy changed in her comeback after 14 months away from training post-Rio.

“It’s a great bonding experience,” Nellie said before her daughter won her fourth and fifth gold medals to close the meet on Sunday, breaking the record for career world medals and giving her 25 total, including 19 golds. “Whatever is on my mind, I can tell her. I can get a feel for how she’s feeling.”

Nellie had little to tell Biles before what were likely the final world championships events of her career.

She doesn’t come across as stressed,” at this meet, Nellie said, noting what makes this year unique from her five previous Olympic or world competitions. “It’s how calm she is and how confident she is with her skills.”

GYM WORLDS: Finals Results

Biles, who became the first gymnast to earn five golds at a single worlds since 1958, said before the meet she’s 99 percent sure she won’t be back for 2021 or later.

Nellie sent her off into Sunday’s balance beam and floor exercise finals with one of her two go-to phrases: “Just like practice.” The other, which Nellie often tweets at Biles, is “Be the best Simone,” a nod not to get caught up in others’ expectations.

They couldn’t be higher heading toward Tokyo.

For the first time in at least 30 years, perhaps ever, the most recognizable U.S. athlete in Tokyo among sports whose biggest competition is the Olympics will be a gymnast.

After five golds here, there will be talk of Biles trying to become the second woman to earn five golds at a single Games. The other was 1988 East German swimmer Kristin OttoKatie Ledecky and Simone Manuel could also have a say here.

A little reflection: When Biles won her first four world championships medals in 2013, including all-around gold, any expectations had to be held in check. At the time, this stat was key: the previous 10 years, 10 different women had been the top U.S. all-around finisher at the season’s biggest meet. And no U.S. woman had made back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000. Could Biles possibly keep up that level of gymnastics for another three years?

One of her coaches even doubted it. Aimee Boorman, who guided Biles from age 7 through the Rio Games, tweeted on Sunday, “When @Simone_Biles won her first World’s AA title, my co-coach was worried that she had peaked too early for Rio. My response was “maybe she will become the greatest of all time”. So proud of you today (and all days) Simone!”

It’s well-documented that Biles came back stronger off that well-deserved break. She’s introduced new skills on the balance beam, floor exercise and vault, yet decided she needed neither eponymous beam nor vault skill, which carry more difficulty points, in this weekend’s event finals.

“This is probably my best worlds performance I’ve ever put out,” she said.

The motivation and drive are still there, too. In winning the beam Sunday, Biles leaped out of her chair when she saw that her score eclipsed 15 points. Biles is determined to perform a strong beam routine in Tokyo, given she grabbed the apparatus to keep from falling in the Rio Olympic final and dropped to bronze.

Biles has little to say when asked about the significance of 25 world medals. What’s more important to her than all of them, which are kept in a safe, and the daily records are the skills she’s introduced that are named after her in the Code of Points.

“When you’ve had so much success in the sport, what brings you back in the gym is something original, different stuff. It’s not just winning,” said Laurent Landi, who with wife Cecile has coached Biles since she returned to the gym in November 2017. “When they [gymnasts] get older, and when they achieve as much as she did, this is a great way to motivate her to come back in the gym.”

The family and coaches will fly back to Texas soon. Biles expects her mom to throw her usual post-worlds party. It has included a DJ and bartender in the past. Now 22, Biles can enjoy all of it. And maybe find time to put the last six years in perspective.

“Everybody has to end it some time,” she said, looking ahead. “You can’t keep going for the rest of your life. I feel like I just want gymnastics to be part of my life, not my whole, entire life.”

In Sunday’s finals, Biles was joined on the floor podium by teammate Sunisa Lee. Lee, a 16-year-old at her first worlds, took silver to follow her uneven bars bronze on Saturday. She’s been the second-best U.S. gymnast behind Biles this year, a breakout after she was third at junior nationals in 2018.

In men’s events, Sam Mikulak finished fifth on the high bar, which was won by Brazilian Arthur Nory. The U.S. men failed to earn a medal at a worlds for the first time since 2009. China failed to earn a men’s or women’s gold for the first time since 1993.

Russians Nikita Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan went one-two on vault, just as they did in Friday’s all-around. Nagornyy, the new star of men’s gymnastics to succeed Japanese Kohei Uchimura, earned his third gold of the meet.

Joe Fraser became the second British man to earn gold this week (Max Whitlock), taking a parallel bars final that lacked the usual suspects. Japanese Kazuma Kaya earned bronze, ensuring the 2020 Olympic host nation does not leave worlds without an individual medal for the first time since 2001.

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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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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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