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

Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson-Bergsma upset at World Championships

Brittany Bowe
AP
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Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson-Bergsma are the two fastest women’s speed skaters in the 1000m all time, but the Netherlands’ Jorien ter Mors was faster on Friday.

Shani Davis, a two-time Olympic 1000m champion, also finished fifth in the 1500m, behind Russian winner Denis Yuskov.

Ter Mors, the Olympic 1500m champion, upset the Americans in the shorter event at the World Single Distance Championships in Kolomna, Russia.

Ter Mors clocked 1:14.73 in an early pair and then nervously watched, her hands gripping her face, as Richardson-Bergsma and Bowe skated in the final two pairs.

Richardson-Bergsma, the world-record holder for eight days until Bowe snatched it Nov. 22, crossed the finish line in 1:14.94 in the penultimate pair.

Then came Bowe, winner of four of the last five World Cup 1000m races. The former Florida Atlantic University basketball player clocked 1:15.01.

Richardson-Bergsma and Bowe earned silver and bronze, respectively. In 2015, Bowe took gold and Richardson-Bergsma silver.

Full results are here.

Bowe and Richardson-Bergsma, who combined to sweep the 500m, 1000m and 1500m World titles last year, could share the podium again in the 500m on Saturday and the 1500m on Sunday.

Bowe and Richardson-Bergsma were part of a disappointing, medal-less U.S. speed skating showing at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The best individual finish between the two was seventh in Sochi.

They’ve dominated since. In the 1000m alone, the Americans combined to win 10 of the last 11 World Cup races.

On the first day of Worlds on Thursday, the Netherlands’ Sven Kramer took the 10,000m and the Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova captured the 3000m.

Kramer, 29, earned his 16th career World Single Distance Championships title, doubling the number of the No. 2 man all time, Davis. All 17 World champions in the 10,000m have been Dutch.

Sablikova, who reportedly qualified for the Rio Olympics in road cycling, earned her 11th career World Single Distance Championships title. She’s one behind retired German Anni Friesinger-Postma for the women’s record.

MORE: Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on Sochi Olympic medalists

IOC president: ‘No intention’ by any countries to pull out of Rio Olympics

Thomas Bach
AP
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LILLEHAMMER, Norway (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach said Friday that no countries intend to pull out of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro over concerns about the Zika virus.

Bach, speaking ahead of the opening ceremony of the Winter Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, said he has “full confidence” in the actions being undertaken by the Brazilian authorities and global health organizations to combat the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus.

“There is no intention by [any] national Olympic committee to pull out from the Rio Olympic Games,” Bach said. “This does not exclude that we are taking this situation very seriously.”

Brazil has been the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, which has spread across Latin America and been labeled a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.

Health authorities are investigating whether there is link between Zika infections in pregnant women and microcephaly, a rare condition in which children are born with abnormally small heads. The outbreak has raised concerns ahead of the Olympics, which are still six months away in August.

“We have full confidence in all the many actions being undertaken by the Brazilian and international authorities and health organizations,” Bach said. “We’re also very confident that the athletes and the spectators will enjoy safe conditions in Rio de Janeiro.”

Some athletes, most notably U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, have expressed fears about going to the Olympics. Solo said earlier this week that if the games were being held today, she would not go.

Bach said the IOC was working with national Olympic committees and the World Health Organization to monitor the situation. He reiterated that, because the games are taking place during the Brazilian winter, the colder conditions should mitigate the threat from mosquitoes.

“The World Health Organization has not issued a travel ban,” Bach said. “All the experts agree that the temperatures in the Brazilian winter time when the games are taking place in August … will lead to a very different situation.”

Bach’s comments echoed those of the IOC’s medical director, Dr. Richard Budgett, who told The Associated Press on Thursday that “everything that can be done is being done” to contain Zika ahead of the games, stressing that health authorities have not issued any travel restrictions for Brazil.

Bach is in Lillehammer for the second Youth Winter Olympics, where more than 1,000 athletes from 70 countries between the ages of 15 and 18 will compete in 70 medal events over 10 days.

MORE: Youth Winter Olympics broadcast schedule