Michael Phelps

Can Michael Phelps excel in comeback?

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Michael Phelps is slated to return to competition next week for the first time in nearly two years will, of course, be at least slightly different from the Phelps who won six medals at his last meet, the 2012 Olympics.

He turns 29 on June 30. Phelps has been training, lightly by his standards, for much of the last year, but who knows what his form will be when he dives in at the Mesa Grand Prix in Arizona next weekend.

Or how long it will take the 22-time Olympic medalist to reach a satisfactory level to continue competing with an eye on the Rio Olympics in 2016. Those would be his fifth Games, the same number as Dara Torres, whom Phelps called “mom” at his first Olympics in 2000. He was 15. She was 33.

“We have discussed a long-term plan in general terms, but until he swims in a meet we’re not going to know,” Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday. “Will he be eighth? Second? Sixteenth?

“I think he certainly won’t be embarrassed swimming in [Mesa], and I think he will be competitive.  The difference is he is doing half the training he used to.”

Doubters can bring up Ian Thorpe, the man whom Phelps usurped as the world’s greatest swimmer a decade ago. The Australian emerged from a four-year retirement in 2011 and flopped, failing to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

Thorpe, like Phelps, was 28 when he came back, but he had barely competed since the 2004 Olympics. This is a vastly different scenario.

“If [Phelps] decides to go for Rio, he will definitely win more medals,” NBC Olympics swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said on “TODAY” on Tuesday. “There’s no question in my mind. He will win a lot more medals.”

Phelps is expected to swim short distances, at least at the outset, in this go-round — the 50m and 100m freestyles and the 100m butterfly, perhaps, in Mesa. The 200m free could also be in play later if speculating about the Olympics, given it’s a relay distance.

The prospect of adding to his record Olympic medal count is twofold. The U.S. has won a medal in every men’s relay since the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games. Generally, the top six in the 100m free and the 200m free at the U.S. Olympic Trials make those respective relays.

Individually, it’s tougher. The U.S. has been improving in the sprint freestyle events, and shorter distances are trickier to predict.

Nathan Adrian, 25, is the reigning Olympic champion and world bronze medalist in the 100m free. Jimmy Feigen, 24, won 100m free silver at the 2013 World Championships. Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin are also contenders, though both are older than Phelps. Internationally, France, Brazil and Australia pose threats.

Phelps won three straight Olympic titles in the 100m butterfly, an event with a less crowded field of Americans. Ryan Lochte was the only U.S. man to make the 100m fly final at the 2013 World Championships, but he has little history of swimming it at major meets.

The 100m fly king in Phelps’ absence has been South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who is merely 22. Le Clos won the 2013 world title in a national record 51.06, bettering Phelps’ 51.21 from the 2012 Olympics.

In Phelps’ corner is a Frenchman. Olympic 200m freestyle champion Yannick Agnel has been training in Baltimore and under Bowman since last year.

“So Michael knows exactly what is the benchmark nowadays in swimming,” Dutch legend Pieter Van den Hoogenband told The New York Times. “If he is not good enough during the training sessions with Yannick, he knows OK, ‘Now, my time is over, and I have to step aside and make way for the next generation.’ But if he can train with Yannick and he is still at the same level, he’ll be able with his mentality and talent to win even the Olympic gold.”

Photos: How Michael Phelps spent his retirement

World record smashed at Paris Diamond League

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AP
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PARIS (AP) — Olympic champion Ruth Jebet broke the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase world record by six seconds at the Diamond League meeting in Paris on Saturday

Meanwhile, Kendra Harrison won the 100 hurdles without beating her own record.

The 19-year-old Jebet, born in Kenya and running for Bahrain, clocked 8 minutes, 52.78 seconds at Stade de France.

The previous record was 8:58.81 by Gulnara Samitova-Galkina of Russia at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“I tried many times to beat the world record,” Jebet said. “I was not expecting such a big difference with the record.”

Jebet’s performance was so dominant that she beat Diamond League rival Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya by nearly 10 seconds, and Emma Coburn of the U.S. by almost 20.

Harrison won the 100 hurdles in 12.44 seconds, followed by American countrywoman Dawn Harper-Nelson (12.65).

“I felt all right even though I kicked a few hurdles, which made me a bit upset,” Harrison said. “The start wasn’t that great. Now I have a few days off, so I’m really looking forward to Zurich [on Thursday].”

Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers won the 200 in 22.13, and American Natasha Hastings won the 400 in 50.06.

Ben Youssef Meite of the Ivory Coast won the 100 in 9.96 seconds, followed by South African Akani Simbine and Dutchman Churandy Martina.

Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 meters, pulled out after feeling a twinge when warming up.

“I didn’t feel well,” Lemaitre said. “There’s no point tempting the devil and getting injured.”

Kenyan Nicholas Bett won the men’s 400 hurdles, beating American Kerron Clement, while Kenyan Alfred Kipketer won the 800 meters.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Kenyan Yomif Kejelcha won the men’s 3,000 in 7:28.19, the fastest time this year.

Olympic silver medalist Renaud Lavillenie of France won the pole vault with an effort of 5.93 meters, Czech Jakub Vadlejch won the javelin, and American Chris Carter won the triple jump in 16.92 meters, with Cuban Alexis Copello second in 16.90.

Tom Walsh of New Zealand just beat Ryan Crouser of the U.S., the Olympic champion, by one centimeter in the shot put.

Britain’s Laura Muir set the leading time this year to win the 1,500 in 3:55.22.

“I couldn’t believe the time, especially since I didn’t do one track session since Rio,” Muir said. “I knew I had to dig in and hold on during the third lap.”

Serbian Ivana Spanovic won the long jump, Spaniard Ruth Beitia won the high jump, and Croatian Sandra Perkovic clinched the discus.

David Ortiz weighed down by Aly Raisman’s medals (video)

David Ortiz, Aly Raisman
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David Ortiz called his good friend Aly Raisman on Thursday night. Raisman had one request for their scheduled meeting for Friday.

“I told him that he had to hold my medals while I threw out the first pitch,” Raisman said on NESN. “I told him he better not forget, but he remembered.”

Ortiz made it a highlight, wearing Raisman’s three Rio medals and plodding as if they were weighing him down before the Royals-Red Sox game at Fenway Park on Friday night.

It was reminiscent of Bryce Harper serving as a medal rack for Katie Ledecky on Wednesday night.

Ortiz and Raisman have come to know each other in the last four years, after Raisman’s first Olympic appearance in London. Raisman, a native of Needham, Massachusetts, has attended a gala and golf tournament benefitting Ortiz’s children’s charity.

She previously threw a first pitch at Fenway following the 2012 London Games. It didn’t faze Raisman that her pitch Friday bounced before reaching home plate.

“My pitch was horrible, but that’s OK,” Raisman said on NESN. “I’m good at gymnastics, so it doesn’t matter.”

Raisman will rejoin her Final Five teammates for a USA Gymnastics tour of 36 cities that begins Sept. 15. Whether she returns to competitive gymnastics is unknown.

MORE: Gymnastics royalty reacts to Biles and Raisman’s Olympic heroics