Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps ready to start ‘journey’ in comeback meet

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Michael Phelps said he hit 20,000 golf balls in six months and gained 30 pounds in retirement.

“There was something I missed,” Phelps said Wednesday. “I just missed being back in the water.”

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals, will swim competitively for the first time since the 2012 Olympics on Thursday.

He’s bearded and at a comeback meet in Mesa, Ariz., where he is scheduled to swim the 100m butterfly on Thursday and the 50m freestyle on Friday.

What are his expectations?

“Race,” Phelps said. “That’s really all I can ask for right now. I haven’t raced since the 400 medley relay in London. So, just being able to get back in that sort of mentality of competition. That’s one thing that I really love the most about it. When I was really competing in 2012 and throughout my career.”

Phelps no longer sponsored by Speedo

Phelps, 28, has not committed to making a run to the 2016 Rio Olympics, which would be his fifth Games. He said he always has goals and there are things he wants to achieve, but as his custom, would not reveal specifics.

“I guess I’m at least going with my mom [to Rio de Janeiro],” Phelps said. “Whether I’m in the pool or in the stands, I guess time will tell.”

Phelps said he was antsy to get in the pool Wednesday, for post-travel warm-ups at the Skyline Aquatic Center, including what he believed was his first massage since winning six medals, including four golds, at the London Olympics.

Phelps said at least six times in a 14-minute press conference that he’s been having fun since returning to training last year.

His first goal when he jumped back in at North Baltimore Aquatic Club was to get back in shape after getting up to 225 pounds in the year after the Olympics. He previously raced at 187 and was at 194 last week, he said.

Video: Lochte inspired by Phelps’ comeback

“I’m doing this because I want to,” he said. “Nobody’s forcing me. … For me, going into 2012, it was hard. There were a lot ups and downs. It was very challenging, at times, to get motivated. I literally can’t say it enough. I’m having fun.”

His longtime coach, Bob Bowman, said Phelps is happier in training now than before.

“When he first came back he was so out of shape, it’s hard to believe,” said Bowman, sitting next to Phelps.

“Sugarcoat it at least,” Phelps pleaded.

“So it took a while [until January] to get to a point where, OK, he could do this in public,” Bowman said.

Phelps said he at first held off on officially ending his retirement last year. Athletes have to re-enter a drug-testing pool and wait for a period before being able to compete again.

How to watch Michael Phelps’ return in Mesa

“I kind of put one foot in,” Phelps said. “Wasn’t really ready.”

What are the worst parts of the comeback? Two things. One, the pain of training at elevation in Colorado Springs. Two, his experience level compared to other North Baltimore swimmers.

“I really am the grandfather now of the group,” Phelps said. “That’s the worst part about it. I’m the old man.”

Phelps spent plenty of time playing golf in retirement. He’ll be leaving his clubs in the bag more often, for now.

“Golf is something that I will be able to do for the rest of my life,” Phelps said. “There still is a lot of work that needs to be done in that sport for me to be able to get to where I want to go, even after hitting 20,000 golf balls in six months. That will always still be there.”

Phelps’ comeback has been compared to that of Australian legend Ian Thorpe, who came out of a four-year retirement in 2011 and failed 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 I don’t become as successful as you all think I would be or should be, and you think it tarnishes my career, then that’s your own opinion,” Phelps said. “I’m doing this because I want to come back. I enjoy being in the pool, and I enjoy being in the sport of swimming.

“I think Bob and I can do anything that we put our minds to, and that’s what we’ve done in the past. I am looking forward to wherever this road takes me. I guess the journey will start tomorrow.”

Another Michael set to make splash in Mesa

Lolo Jones praises Ezekiel Elliott’s ‘perfect hurdle form’

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys hurdles Chris Prosinski #31 of the Chicago Bears while carrying the ball in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was running down the open field when he encountered Chicago Bears safety Chris Prosinski.

Prosinski went low and Elliott, a high school state champion in the 110m and 300m hurdles, decided to go high and hurdle the defender:

The track and field community took notice of Elliott’s hurdle.

Lolo Jones, a 100m hurdler who competed at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, gave Elliott grades of an A++ for difficulty and an A for technique on Twitter. She wrote that it “hands down would’ve been best NFL hurdle technique of the yr.” if a second Bears defender, Jonathan Anderson, hadn’t prevented Elliott from landing cleanly:

Dawn Harper-Nelson, the 2008 Olympic champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles, also had a positive review of Elliott’s efforts:

Emma Coburn, the 2016 Olympic 3000m steeplechase bronze medalist, thought Elliott’s leap resembled her event:

Elliott finished with 30 carries for 140 yards to lead the Cowboys to a 31-17 win during Sunday Night Football.

His mother, Dawn, who was a track and field athlete at the University of Missouri, posted a photo on Twitter to remind everyone where her son inherited his hurling gene from:

MORE: Marquise Goodwin scores touchdown, celebrates with long jump (video)

Rome’s city council to vote Thursday on 2024 Olympics bid

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago' gestures during a press conference, after a scheduled meeting with Rome mayor Virginia Raggi did not take place, in Rome, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has rejected the city's bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, effectively dooming the candidacy. (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP Photo)
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ROME (AP) — Rome’s city council will vote Thursday whether to support Mayor Virginia Raggi‘s rejection of the city’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The motion is expected to pass easily since Raggi’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement holds a majority on the city council.

Raggi announced her formal opposition of the candidacy in a news conference last week, citing concerns over high costs given the city is barely able to have its trash picked up.

Raggi’s rejection occurred four years after then-Premier Mario Monti stopped Rome’s plans to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics because of financial concerns.

If the motion is approved, it would leave only Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, in the running for 2024. The International Olympic Committee will decide on the host city in September 2017.

MORE: Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi rejects city’s 2024 Olympic bid