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

Lance Armstrong’s $100 million trial set for November

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 20:  Lance Armstrong (C) heads out with cyclists on December 20, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. The disgraced Tour de France rider is in New Zealand to film a commercial, and put out a call on social media for local riders to join him on a ride along the Auckland Waterfront.  (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong‘s $100 million legal fight with the federal government has been set for a November trial.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper on Thursday set a Nov. 6 trial start in Washington. Armstrong’s legal team had asked to postpone trial until 2018 because of a potential scheduling conflict.

The government wants Armstrong to pay back the $32 million the U.S. Postal Service paid his team for sponsorship, plus triple damages.

Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis initially filed the whistle-blower case in 2010, accusing him of violating the sponsorship contract by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The government joined the case in 2013 after Armstrong admitted cheating and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for cheating, could collect up to 25 percent of damages awarded.

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Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin set for busy weekend

Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin
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Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are slated for one of the busiest race weekends of their careers, streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting Friday morning.

Vonn and Shiffrin are each expected to race Friday, Saturday and Sunday in World Cup action in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

The schedule:

Friday — Super Combined
Super-G run: 4:30 a.m. ET
Slalom run: 8:30 a.m. ET

Saturday — Super-G
4:30 a.m. ET

Sunday — Super Combined
Super-G run: 4:30 a.m. ET
Slalom run: 7:30 a.m. ET

Plenty is at stake in the first races since the world championships.

Vonn, who earned downhill bronze at worlds, hopes to move closer to the career World Cup wins record of 86 held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark. She picked up her 77th victory last month, her only win in eight races since coming back in January from knee and upper arm fractures.

Vonn returned quickly, with little training, and said at worlds she was unable to put her hair in a ponytail due to a lack of grip in her right hand from November broken arm surgery. She duct-taped her right glove to her ski pole for her final two races at worlds.

Vonn last won a super-G on Jan. 24, 2016, and last won a combined event on Jan. 27, 2012.

Shiffrin, who took slalom gold and giant slalom silver at worlds, enters the weekend with a hefty 414-point lead on her closest challenger in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

It would take a collapse in the final 11 races over the next month for Shiffrin not to become the third U.S. woman to take the crown after Tamara McKinney and Vonn.

It looked as if Shiffrin and defending overall champion Lara Gut would battle for the title, until Gut suffered a torn ACL and meniscus damage in a world championships super combined warm-up two weeks ago, ending her season.

Shiffrin, already a multiple Olympic medal favorite, could be poised for her first World Cup podium in super-G or super combined this weekend. She was a career-best fourth in her most recent super-G at a World Cup stop last month.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion will also benefit from the fact that Friday and Sunday’s combined races feature a super-G and a slalom rather than a downhill and a slalom. Shiffrin is stronger in super-G than downhill.

After Crans-Montana, the World Cup schedule has three more stops — a downhill and super-G at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, followed by a giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif., and the four-race World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colo.

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