Shoma Uno
Getty

Shoma Uno’s new coach Stephane Lambiel gives insight into skater’s renewed focus

Leave a comment

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan parted ways with his longtime coaches at the end of last season and began the current season coachless. After disastrous performances on the Grand Prix circuit, he missed qualifying for the Final for the first time in his senior career.

In December, he announced that he would be coached by Stephane Lambiel, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion, in Switzerland. Uno’s next major competition is expected to be March’s world championships.

Lambiel spoke with NBC Sports about his new pupil. This interview has been edited for clarity.

How have you found Shoma since he joined your school?

Shoma has super physical talents. He is very conscious of what he wants to do and what he needs to do. That may be one of the reasons why he thought he could work without a coach. He really takes responsibility for his skating. What he needs is just a frame to learn.

Why didn’t his plan to compete without a coach succeed?

He spent several months listening to his own consciousness without having any feedback. You may be a great painter and have plenty of new ideas, but you still need a frame to paint onto. Doing everything altogether is just too difficult.

My goal with him will be to set up a frame that will allow him to learn, repeat and do what he needs to do.

You’ve known Shoma for quite some time.

I’ve been working with him since 2012 or 2013. I met him for the first time in 2012, at the Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck. I’ve been giving a summer camp for the Japanese National Team every year since. I’ve seen him grow and develop. Later, I’ve been skating shows with him. I’ve seen his personality, his potential, his way of working. That has allowed to develop a good connection between the two of us.

Your own artistic flair has made you an expert. What do you look to bring out in Shoma’s artistic side?

Shoma radiates an incredible emotional aura as soon as he steps on the ice. He is exceptional in that respect.

I lived through Japan Nationals with him. In his eyes I found both serenity and a unique wealth. His expression radiates a very strong emotional form, a quiet force that makes audiences vibrate. It comes quite naturally to Shoma, although I’m not sure he is conscious of it. He is very musical, and has quite a natural fluidity in his movement.

[Editor’s note: Shoma Uno won his fourth Japanese national title in December]

How do you evaluate his technical prowess?

Shoma loves challenge. You can see that already when he practices. When you give him a plan for the day, he’ll always try to surpass it. Teaching to such a student is a privilege.

At the same time, he is very conscious of his own limits. After a few days surpassing himself, he’ll come tell you right away that he needs to take it easier. He knows how to push himself, but he knows also how to balance his effort. That’s unusual at his young age.

Do you plan on adding new quads to his programs?

Yes. David Wilson [who choreographs Uno’s free skate] came to Switzerland a few weeks ago to refine the details of his free program in this direction. Adding a quad changes the timing, the trajectory for the jump, his concentration. Right now, we have entered the repetition process, so that the program become automatic. Our work is progressing well towards Worlds. Shoma will always be able to switch back to the program he skated at Japan Nationals, of course. The more options he has, the better. Everything will be [decided] on the day anyway. But you can be sure that he’ll go grasp the challenge.

Which quad are you planning to add?

We’re working on the Lutz, but not quad yet. He still needs to work to find the right direction. He rotates his four turns without a problem, and he’ll land quad Lutz when he finds the right way to pass the left part of his body.

In fact, we’re working more on quad loop, to make it more regular at the moment. A loop is an edge jump, and many skaters can’t achieve quad loop, even among the very best. Contrary to many others, Shoma manages to gain speed on an edge. He already skates really fast, and he even gains speed while he is on edge, which even Nathan [Chen] can’t do. I must say that his size is also quite an advantage, as he can find his balance more easily.

How do you see him in the long run?

Shoma will bring his unique personality and his emotion. He is really strong in lyrical skating. Or even in his short program. He has such a warm energy. When you watch him skate, you can feel there is a fire within him. His technique will keep improving, and we’ll try to bring him to a level where he can express his personality.

MORE: In figure skating, a radical proposal to reshape the sport

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Iris Cummings, last living 1936 U.S. Olympian, has flown ever since Berlin

Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NBA participation in Tokyo Olympics could be limited, Adam Silver says

Kevin Durant
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!