Michael Phelps

Can Michael Phelps excel in comeback?

Leave a comment

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

Justin Gatlin, alter ego trailed by film crew for documentary

Justin Gatlin
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Justin Gatlin swears he’s not as bad as he’s made out to be.

He calls his alter ego “J Gat.” And that’s someone you don’t want to mess with.

Before a race, the mild-mannered American sprinter says he transforms himself into the feisty guy named “J Gat,” a nickname he’s given to a version of himself that wants to take over the world from archrival Usain Bolt. Their rivalry heading into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics has sometimes been portrayed as “Good vs. Evil” given Gatlin’s doping history.

“I don’t accept myself being the bad guy,” Gatlin said. “I’m a winner. I’m a competitor. I’m a brave person. I’m a good person. I know this about myself and I have to act like that.”

“J Gat” to the rescue. He runs with fury and looks “mean and intimidating” when caught on camera after races.

That’s not the real Justin Gatlin.

“Justin has only gotten as far as starting line. After the gun goes off, it’s never Justin. It’s always as ‘J Gat,'” Gatlin said. “I’m a whole different person away from track.”

To illustrate that, Gatlin is making a documentary. The 34-year-old will have a film crew trailing him around at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore., to record his every move.

One caveat: Stay out of the way of “J Gat.” You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. (Case in point: gesturing toward a heckler who was bothering his mother in the stands during the awards ceremony at Worlds last summer).

“A lot of athletes get consumed by the Hollywood lights,” said Gatlin, who will face a 100m field at Pre that includes Americans Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, along with Asafa Powell of Jamaica. “I’m like, ‘We can make this story, but I have to still do my job. We have to coexist together. I can’t give you my undivided attention and go off and start losing races.'”

There’s no working title yet for the film or date when it will air. And no subject is out of bounds, including his doping past. The 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, was reinstated from his ban on July 24, 2010, and returned to capture bronze at the London Games two years later.

He’s been one of Bolt’s biggest threats ever since.

“The theme of (the movie) is basically my journey,” Gatlin said.

Gatlin recently showed the roughly 90-second trailer to his 6-year-old son, whose first words were: “Play it again, dad.”

“That was the cutest thing ever,” Gatlin said. “He’s like, ‘I have to be faster than a cheetah to keep up with you, dad.’ That makes me proud.”

The trailer shows flashes of Gatlin stretching, lifting weights and sprinting. In one scene, he said: “If I could do this forever, I would. I love the pain I get from training. I know that it’s a pain of growth. Inside, I’m infinity.”

Gatlin said he’ll race at least through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics so his son could be there.

“I’d like to give that to him as a gift,” Gatlin said. “Even if I don’t win in 2020, just to be able to be on the team.”

Gatlin’s times in the 100 have been slower this season, running 9.94 seconds so far compared with 9.74 this time a year ago.

All by design.

He’s treating the early season races more like rounds so he can work on his form. Gatlin believes he has the speed to keep up with Bolt, but needs to execute his style of race.

That didn’t happen in Beijing at the World Championships last summer. Gatlin was a slight favorite in the 100m given that Bolt wasn’t exactly race sharp. Gatlin was neck-and-neck with the Jamaican, but over-strided with about 15 meters left. Gatlin went into his lean too early, paving the way for Bolt to capture gold yet again.

“It’s all a process,” Gatlin said. “Sometimes, processes are rewarding and sometimes processes are painful.”

Before a 100m showdown with Bolt can occur in Rio de Janeiro, Gatlin has to make Team USA at the Olympic Trials in July. It’s not an easy task with sprinters such as Gay, Rodgers, Trayvon Bromell and Gatlin contending for three spots. Gatlin also will try to earn a place in the 200m.

To assist him, he will summon “J Gat.”

“Very rarely will you find an athlete that calls me Justin,” Gatlin said. “It’s always ‘J Gat.’ Justin has never run a race.”

MORE: Five events to watch at Pre Classic; broadcast schedule

Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas headline Secret Classic; Maggie Nichols out

Maggie Nichols
Getty Images
Leave a comment

World all-around champion Simone Biles and Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas are expected to compete at the Secret U.S. Classic on June 4, while World Championships teammate Maggie Nichols remains out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery several weeks ago.

USA Gymnastics announced the field Thursday for the tune-up meet for the P&G Championships later in June and U.S. Olympic Trials in July.

Nichols is the only member of the seven-woman World Championships team who isn’t scheduled to compete at the Secret Classic in Hartford, Conn.

She is expected to be ready for the P&G Championships in St. Louis from June 23-26, an official from her gym and USA Gymnastics said Thursday.

In early April, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Nichols was expected to be out four to six weeks, putting her in line to be ready in late May. Participation in the Secret Classic is not mandatory to be eligible for the Olympic team.

Nichols suffered the injury, a meniscus tear, on an Amanar vault landing in training, according to multiple reports.

The five-woman U.S. Olympic team will be named after the trials from July 8-10. The all-around champion at trials will clinch one of those five berths.

Nichols, an 18-year-old from Little Canada, Minn., is a favorite to make the Olympic team if healthy.

She was the only U.S. gymnast who competed in all four events in the World Championships team final Oct. 27. She earned a floor exercise bronze medal five days later.

Nichols opened her Olympic year by finishing second in the AT&T American Cup all-around behind Gabby Douglas on March 5.

Nichols was on the roster to compete at the Pacific Rim Championships from April 8-10 but was removed before the meet due to a slight knee injury, USA Gymnastics said.

She previously dislocated her left kneecap in summer 2014.

The men’s P&G Championships will also be held in Hartford, Conn., next week, with every major U.S. Olympic hopeful in the expected field. That includes London Olympians Danell LeyvaJohn OrozcoSam Mikulak and Jacob Dalton.

MORE: Gabby Douglas, mom had concerns before agreeing to TV series