AP names Michael Phelps its top male athlete of 2012

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After Michael Phelps swam the last race of his career on Aug. 4, he announced to the assembled media – the press conference room was so crowded it felt like all of the writers and camera operators were treading water in the same lane, elbow to elbow – that he was retiring.

He had 22 Olympic medals, more than anyone else.

He had finished the 2012 Games with six medals – four gold and two silver.

There was nothing else Phelps could do. All of his goals, he said, had been accomplished.

But Phelps was just one male Olympian who had an incredible 2012. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt put on a spectacular show at Olympic stadium and successfully defended the two individual titles he won in Beijing – the 100m and 200m dash – along with the 4x100m relay.

Outside of the Olympics, LeBron James – who was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year – won an NBA title with the Miami Heat.

But to the Associated Press, no single male athlete had a better year than Phelps. The wire service announced Thursday that Phelps was the recipient of its Male Athlete of the Year award. James finished second in the voting and Bolt was third.

“Obviously, it’s a big accomplishment,” said Phelps, who also won the award in 2008 after his eight-for-eight performance at the Beijing Olympics. “There’s so many amazing male athletes all over the world and all over our country. To be able to win this is something that just sort of tops off my career.”

Phelps spoke with the AP from his new home away from home – the golf course. With competitive swimming behind him, Phelps’ new favorite hobby is golf. He’s currently filming episodes of “The Haney Project,” a Golf Channel show in which celebrities work with golf instructor Hank Haney to improve their game. The show will air starting in February.

Aside from becoming a better golfer and winning more awards, here’s a sampling of what else Phelps has been up to since hanging up his competitive Speedo (we say “competitive” because Phelps told us last month that he still swims on his own time):

Our take (or hope): Phelps returns to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, wins two individual races (100m butterfly, 200m IM) and all three relays, and wins the AP award for a third time.

Yevgenia Medvedeva wins season opener in rout

AP
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Olympic figure skating favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, imperfect by her standards, still won her first international competition of the season by a whopping 36.74 points on Saturday.

The Russian tallied 146.72 points in her free skate at Nepela Trophy in Slovakia — lower than her median score over her two-year winning streak — and 226.72 points overall. 

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Medvedeva had a wrong edge call on her triple Lutz, stepping out of the landing. 

Judges gave her a negative grade of execution for it, snapping a streak of more than 60 straight jumps with positive grades dating to December.

No matter, the 17-year-old still had the highest free skate by 23.23 points.

It was 13.72 points shy of her world record set at the last competition of the 2016-17 season.

She distanced Japanese Rika Hongo and countrywoman Yelena Radionova, the only woman to beat Medvedeva in senior international competition in November 2015.

Medvedeva entered the free skate with a 13.51-point lead in the low-level event. That was via recording the second-highest short program tally under a 13-year-old judging system on Thursday.

Her flawed free skate still earned more points than any of her rivals racked up last season. 

All of her jumps except a double Axel were in the second half of her program to earn bonus points.

However, another Russian posted a higher free skate score last week.

That’s 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova, who was .45 better at a low-level event in Italy. 

It’s not entirely fair to compare scores from different judging panels at these early season competitions, though.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and Radionova.

Medvedeva and Zagitova could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in December and should definitely both be at the Russian Championships later that month.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. 

North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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VIDEO: Nathan Chen makes more history at season opener

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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