Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps beaten by Ryan Lochte in first final of comeback

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Michael Phelps looked pretty fast after taking 20 months off from competition, but he’ll need to work a little harder to beat longtime rival Ryan Lochte. 

Phelps took second to Lochte in his first competitive final since the London Olympics, a 100m butterfly at the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday night.

Lochte, whose best strokes are freestyle and backstroke, won in 51.93 seconds. The unretired Phelps clocked 52.13 after swimming the fastest time in the preliminary heats earlier Thursday, 52.84, one tenth faster than Lochte.

The first day of Phelps’ comeback is in the books. How does he feel?

“I’m my hardest critic, so I know what I can do there,” Phelps, a 22-time Olympic medalist, said of the 100m butterfly. “But, like I’ve been saying this whole time, I’m having fun. I really do mean that. There’s nothing like being able to come here, swimming in front of packed stands.”

He cherished racing the 11-time Olympic medalist Lochte, whom he battled after the 2008 Olympics and through the 2012 Olympics to be the world’s best swimmer.

“That’s what makes us swim faster and faster each time,” Phelps said.

NBC Olympics analyst Rowdy Gaines said Phelps appeared to have more of a game face on for the night final than he did for the morning prelim. Phelps and Lochte were side by side at night, both in white caps and dark jammer swim trunks.

“I think I was more calm tonight,” Phelps said. “I don’t know if that was a good thing or not.”

Lochte led at the 50m turn and took a peek at Phelps coming off the wall amid a setting sun outside at Skyline Aquatics Center.

“I almost started smiling,” Lochte said.

“Why, because you were ahead?” responded Phelps, standing next to Lochte in the post-race interview.

Lochte, who is coming back from aggravating a major November knee injury in February, said he felt the magnitude of the meet.

“Especially this morning, seeing all these cameras right before I’m about to race,” Lochte said. “I’m like, thanks, Michael.”

Phelps last swam a 100m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics, where he won his third straight gold in the event in 51.21. The fastest time in the world so far this year is 51.84, according to SwimVortex.com. South African Chad le Clos won the 2013 World Championship in 51.06.

Phelps retired after winning six medals at the London Olympics but re-entered the drug testing pool last year, allowing him to enter meets this year.

It was announced he signed up for the Mesa Grand Prix on April 14, and he made his first comments since entering the meet on Wednesday, saying he’s back swimming “for fun” and not yet committing to a run to the Rio Olympics.

Phelps is slated for one more event in Mesa, the 50m freestyle on Friday.

“Two races down,” Phelps said. “See what happens tomorrow.”

In other races, reigning World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky won the 400m freestyle by nearly five seconds in 4:03.84, matching the fastest time in the world this year. That came about 45 minutes after she finished fourth in the 100m free.

“I train everything,” said Ledecky, who is 17 and the reigning world champion in the 400m free. “The speed can help me for all my race, so it’s really beneficial to swim all these events here.”

Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the 100m freestyle in 48.23. Lochte was fourth in 49.68.

Five-time 2012 Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt won the women’s 100m free in 54.46. Schmitt, who surprisingly failed to make the 2013 World Championships team, edged Megan Romano (55.05), who anchored that worlds team to victories in the 4x100m free relay and medley relay in Barcelona. Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was third in 55.14, followed by Ledecky in 55.22.

Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson won the women’s 200m breaststroke in 2:25.52, followed by Americans Micah Lawrence (2:26.60) and Breeja Larson (2:28.87). Lawrence and Larson were the U.S. entries in the 200m breast at last year’s World Championships.

Michael McBroom, the 2013 world 800m free silver medalist, won the men’s 400m free in 3:50.87. Olympian Conor Dwyer was second, three seconds behind. Olympic 200m backstroke champion Tyler Clary was third.

2012 Olympian Claire Donahue won the women’s 100m butterfly in 59.05.

Colombian Jorge Murillo Valdes won the men’s 200m breast in 2:14.81.

Lolo Jones sheds weight, returns to track at Drake Relays

U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea of the United States react after completing their routine in the Pairs Free Skate on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The U.S. pairs field opened up when Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, the top American team internationally in recent seasons, pulled out of the national championships due to Scimeca’s September stomach surgery that kept them out all fall.

“Without Scimeca and Knierim, I don’t think the United States has a team that can challenge for the top six, or some moments, even the top 10 in the world,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “Scimeca and Knierim are, far and away, the best team in the United States.”

The remaining field this week is led by Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who upset Scimeca and Knierim for last year’s national title.

Kayne and O’Shea followed that up with the exact same finishes in the fall Grand Prix series as a year ago, opening up a question of whether they can repeat in Kansas City. Kayne’s knee injury hasn’t helped matters.

Enter Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed all of last season due to Denney’s knee surgery. They were looking strong until their most recent lower-level event in December, where they were fourth and finished behind another American pair, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc.

Regardless of the two pairs that advance from the U.S. championships to the world championships in two months, it’s clear the U.S. is still lacking consistency in its weakest of the four disciplines.

None of the contending pairs after Kayne and O’Shea and Denney and Frazier have spent two full season together.

“Breakups, makeups, partner changes, coaching changes,” Weir said. “There’s a very high divorce rate within the pairs community of the United States compared to the rest of the world, where teams stick it out through thick and thin. As soon as the going gets tough for the U.S. pairs, they break up.”

Thursday
Pairs short program — 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday
Pairs free skate; free dance — 3-6 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
Ages: 23/25
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
2016 U.S. champions
13th at 2016 World Championships

Kayne and O’Shea fell to the No. 2 U.S. pair at last year’s worlds, behind Scimeca and Knierim, who were ninth. In the fall, they had the third-best total score among U.S. pairs, nearly 20 points behind Denney and Frazier.

Johnny Weir’s Take: They haven’t had the most successful international season. They are coming in as defending national champions, which is a huge amount of pressure.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
Ages: 21/24
Hometown: Canton, Mich.
2015 U.S. silver medalists
2014, 2016 Skate America silver medalists

Denney and Frazier came back after a full season off and repeated their best senior international result, a second place at Skate America in October. Their total was a full 16 points better than the next-best U.S pair this season. Denney and Frazier were 2013 World junior champions but hope to better their only senior worlds finish, 12th in 2015.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Obviously, in American pairs, we haven’t been the strongest in the world. But if you’re going to look at who’s holding us up right now, it’s Denney and Frazier.

Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran
Ages: 26/26
Hometown: Montreal
2016 U.S. bronze medalists
Castelli: 2013, 2014 U.S. champion with Simon Shnapir

Castelli, a 2014 Olympian and team event bronze medalist with Shnapir, paired with Tran two years ago, but their first full season wasn’t until 2015-16. They finished sixth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and earned bronze last year, just missing the two-pair world championships team.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Last year, I was so excited when they were such a new pair. So much to learn and getting to know each other. Marissa, looking back at her Olympic experience, I think she’s such a firecracker. I think she’s meant to be a competitive, winning pairs skater. You hope that this matchup can be right.

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay
Ages: 33/27
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
Stellato: 2000 World junior silver medalist (singles)
Bartholomay: 12th at 2014 Olympics with Felicia Zhang

It’s not often in pairs where the woman is six years older than the man, but this team is truly unique. Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist but ended her singles career as a teen due to injuries. After more than a decade away from competition, she joined the 2014 Olympian Bartholomay before this season. The duo has the fifth-highest score this season of the pairs in the U.S. Championships field.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Deanna was one of my favorite skaters when I was little. We traveled together on the Junior Grand Prix, and I always loved watching her. Having seen a couple of small video clips of them, I’m excited to see how they develop and how they perform underneath the bright lights. She has a very wonderful, experienced partner.

Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc
Ages: 21/26
Hometown: Euless, Texas
Cain: 2011 U.S. junior champion with Joshua Reagan

Cain and LeDuc may be the hottest team going into nationals. They outscored Denney and Frazier at a lower-level event last month with their best score in three lower-level events this season.

MORE: Olympic pairs champions skip 2016-17 season

Jamaica bobsled team crowdfunds for new coach

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14:  Winston Watts of Jamaica pilots a run during a Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh training session on day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Jamaica bobsled team is asking for $60,000 to hire a coach through a crowdfunding campaign.

The Jamaicans hope to qualify men’s and women’s bobsled teams for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will mark the 30-year anniversary of their Olympic debut in Calgary, which inspired the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings.”

“We have the talent, the discipline and the determination, needed to contend in the 2018 Winter Olympics,” was written on the crowdfunding page. “With a coach on staff we believe we can not only contend for a medal, but also bring a medal home, and commemorate this outstanding achievement.”

The Jamaicans can attempt next season to qualify for the Olympics. It will not be easy. Jamaica has zero World Cup results this season, a best finish on the lower-level North American Cup of seventh and was briefly stranded in Canada.

Jamaica bobsled returned to the Olympics in Sochi, for the first time in 12 years, and was the last of 29 finishers in the two-man race.

That driver, Winston Watt, turned 49 years old in December and is no longer competing with the Jamaican program.

The new Jamaican program athletes include Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, a 2014 U.S. Olympic driver, and Michael Blair, a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in 1998.

The Jamaicans recently had a coach, hiring U.S. Olympian and coach Todd Hays in July 2014.

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton season broadcast schedule