North American alpine skiing stops cancelled
Getty Images

How coronavirus is affecting Olympic sports events

Leave a comment

Olympic sports events have been canceled, postponed and limited due to the coronavirus. NBC News has full coronavirus coverage here. A look at what major events have been affected in the Olympic sports world …

Alpine Skiing

The final two weekends of the World Cup season — this week and next — were canceled by the International Ski Federation (FIS) in the last week. Races had been scheduled in Sweden, Slovenia and Italy. “The health and welfare of the athletes and all other participants, as well as the general public are in the forefront and the priority of FIS and all stakeholders,” FIS said in its latest statement Thursday morning in announcing the final round of cancellations. “FIS is fully compliant with the instructions and decisions of the National and Regional Governments and their Health Authorities in any recommendation regarding public gathers that impact FIS competitions.”

Italian Federica Brignone and Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde led the standings for the World Cup overall titles, the biggest annual prizes in the sport. Mikaela Shiffrin, who took a break from the World Cup following her father’s Feb. 2 death, had traveled to Sweden to make her return for this week’s final races before they were canceled on Wednesday.

Baseball

The last two Olympic qualifying tournaments, set to be held in Arizona in two weeks and in Chinese Taipei in early April, have been postponed. The Arizona tournament, for North and South American teams including the U.S., does not have new dates yet. The final, global Olympic qualifying tournament in Chinese Taipei is now scheduled for June.

Basketball

The primary Olympic 3×3 basketball qualifying tournament, originally scheduled for Bengaluru, India, in two weeks, was postponed on March 5 with no make-up date announced. At the time, the international basketball federation (FIBA) said it must be rescheduled to dates before the April 24-26 universality Olympic 3×3 qualifier. The universality qualifier is strictly for nations without recent Olympic five-on-five history. The primary qualifying tournament is the U.S.’ lone pathway to qualifying men’s and women’s 3×3 teams for the event’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Curling

The world women’s curling championship, originally scheduled to start Saturday in British Columbia, was canceled Thursday. Men’s worlds, originally scheduled for March 28-April 5 in Glasgow, and mixed doubles words, originally scheduled April 18-25 in Canada, were canceled on Saturday.

Equestrian

The Kentucky Three-Day Event, originally scheduled for April 23-26 at the Kentucky Horse Park, was canceled for the first time in its 42-year history. It’s the highest-level eventing competition in the North America and one of the three events in the Grand Slam of Eventing. The World Cup Finals for jumping and dressage were also canceled.

Figure Skating

The world championships, originally scheduled for Montreal next week, were called off on Wednesday by the Quebec government. “The ISU [International Skating Union] and Skate Canada have closely monitored the provincial and federal health authorities’ position on the spread of the virus and fully respect the difficult decision made today,” the ISU said in a statement. “Like the authorities, the ISU and Skate Canada are committed to the health and safety of the athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and spectators.”

The competition could be rescheduled, but not before October. American Nathan Chen, the 2018 and 2019 World champion, said he was concerned before the decision was made. “I’m glad they are able to stay at home, to stay where they are,” he said. More on skaters’ reactions is here.

Gymnastics

An artistic gymnastics all-around World Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, set for next week, was called off. An apparatus World Cup in Doha, set for next week, was postponed until early June. World Cups are part of Olympic qualifying.

Hockey

The women’s world championship, a two-week event set to begin March 31 in Nova Scotia, was canceled last week. “Ultimately the IIHF Council feels that there has not been enough of an improvement to the coronavirus situation to allow us to safely host a 10-team international tournament within this timeframe,” IIHF president Rene Fasel said in a press release, which noted that 2021 Worlds are proposed to be in Canada. The men’s hockey world championship, set for Switzerland in May, remains on schedule.

Modern Pentathlon

The world championships, originally set to be held in Xiamen, China, in late May, were moved to Cancun, Mexico.

Olympic Torch Relay

The Olympic Flame lighting ceremony was held with limited attendance in Olympia, Greece, on Thursday to start the Olympic torch relay leading up to the Opening Ceremony on July 24.

“We are especially grateful that you made today’s ceremony possible, even under difficult circumstances,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a speech, thanking the Greek Olympic Committee president at the site of the Ancient Olympics. “This demonstrates once more our commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Nineteen weeks before the Opening Ceremony, we are strengthened in this commitment by the many authorities and sports organizations around the world who are taking so many significant measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.”

The IOC said in a statement that, given the unprecedented circumstances the world is facing, “the health and safety of the thousands of torchbearers, spectators and staff will be the first priority along the route of the Olympic Torch Relay both in Greece and Japan.”

Short Track Speed Skating

The world championships, originally scheduled for this week in Seoul, were postponed on Feb. 26 after the host ice rink was closed. The following week, the ISU ruled out rescheduling or relocating the event this season but said it was possible that it could be held later in 2020, but not before mid-October.

Soccer

The CONCACAF Olympic men’s qualifying tournament has been postponed with no makeup date yet announced. The event, which was originally scheduled for March 20-April 1 in Mexico, is the U.S.’ chance to qualify for an Olympic men’s soccer tournament for the first time since 2008 and the last continental Olympic men’s soccer qualifier.

Track and Field

The world indoor track and field championships, which were scheduled for this week in Nanjing, China, were announced as postponed on Jan. 29, rescheduling for March 2021. The Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race held every year starting in 1897, was postponed from April 20 to Sept. 14. The London Marathon, the world’s other major spring marathon, was rescheduled from April 26 to Oct. 4. The Tokyo Marathon went on the date scheduled on March 1, but restricted to elite racers. Significant early season outdoor meets in April and May — the Penn Relays, plus Diamond League meets in China and Doha, have been postponed.

Water Polo

The final, global Olympic men’s and women’s qualifying tournaments were postponed. The men’s event, originally scheduled for late March in the Netherlands, will now be May 31-June 7. The women’s tournament, originally slated for this week in Italy, is now scheduled for May 17-24. A FINA task force will re-examine the situation for both events in late April.

Wrestling

The U.S. Olympic Trials, originally scheduled for April 4-5 at Penn State, were postponed. Organizers were in discussions about rescheduling the event at the same venue. U.S. Olympic hopefuls continued competing at the Pan American Olympic qualifying tournament in Ottawa, looking to secure Olympic quota spots for the country.

Other World Cup-level events and continental Olympic qualifiers in beach volleyball, biathlon, boxing, canoe-kayak, cycling, diving, fencing, rowing, rugby, shooting, skiing and snowboarding, sport climbing, triathlon and weightlifting have been canceled or postponed.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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!