Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps still fueled to win going into second comeback meet

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Michael Phelps said he felt like a kid in April, when he swam in his first meet since the 2012 Olympics and uttered the word “fun” repeatedly in interviews.

Phelps, a man with 18 Olympic gold medals and 26 World Championships, won zero events at the Mesa Grand Prix last month, essentially dipping his toes back into competitive waters with a shallow one-and-a-half-event program.

Phelps’ second comeback meet is the Charlotte Grand Prix, where he swims two events, both Friday. He was questioned on Thursday if his competitive fire is still there, 21 months since he last stood atop a podium.

“I don’t want anybody to beat me,” Phelps said. “Nobody.”

In Mesa, Phelps took second to Ryan Lochte in the 100m butterfly and then swam the butterfly stroke in a 50m freestyle preliminary race, where he finished seventh and didn’t make the evening finals.

It’ll be a slightly heavier load in Charlotte. Phelps plans to swim the 100m butterfly again but this time pair it with the 200m free in the same preliminary session.

“I guess now I’m moving up to the big leagues,” said Phelps, dripping with hyperbole. He isn’t sure he will swim both finals Friday night.

Lochte isn’t swimming in Charlotte, but Phelps’ penchant for winning will be tested in the 200m free by the gold and silver medalists from last year’s World Championships. They happen to be his training partners in Baltimore — Yannick Agnel and Conor Dwyer.

“I really started feeling better freestyle-wise in workouts over the last week or so, so it will be interesting to see how this 200 goes,” Phelps said. “It will be fun to hop in and really race these guys in their best events. The biggest thing is to just to see what kind of shape I’m.”

Charlotte Grand Prix preview, schedule

Remember, Phelps showed up to last year’s World Championships as a spectator in a walking boot. He gained 30 pounds in retirement but has shed most or all of it since returning to training last year, at the approval of his longtime coach, Bob Bowman.

“The reason that I guess I sanctioned this activity, whatever it is, I don’t know what you want to call it, is because he’s doing it the right way and for the right reasons,” said Bowman, who often sits or stands next to Phelps in interviews, as he did Thursday. “When he comes in the door, he’s got a smile on his face. I don’t have to force him to do anything. So as long as it continues like that, I think we’re good, because that’s the only reason he should do it. If he loves to swim and he wants to do it, I always said Mozart should make music as long as he wants to make music. He shouldn’t have to retire just because he’s 30 or some age, but by the same token it should be good music.”

Last year, Phelps communicated his desire to return to swimming in typical 18th-century composer fashion — by text message to Bowman. He said he had interest in going to a training camp at altitude in Colorado Springs, the kind of grueling trip Phelps wasn’t exactly enamored with over his four Olympics.

That perplexed Bowman, a man with a university degree in developmental psychology and a minor in music composition.

“Since he has kicked and screamed going to Colorado for the last decade, I’m not really sure why he wanted to do that,” Bowman said. “So that’s kind of how it started.”

They had a serious talk last August, laying out the conditions, and the coach/swimmer relationship, once fraught with hassle, is now more easygoing.

“We’re not quite so … ” Bowman began, searching for an adjective. ” … urgent.”

If training isn’t perfect, Bowman doesn’t lose sleep over it like he did for 16 years during Phelps’ ascent from the rankling little brother of a 1996 Olympic hopeful to the most decorated Olympian of all time.

But at some point the pressure will rise, if Phelps wants to go to his fifth Olympics and win more gold medals in Rio (to which he hasn’t yet committed).

“We’ve got to balance that [competitive fire] with the amount of work we want to put in to swim whatever program might end up being,” Bowman said.

That line perked Phelps up, sitting next to Bowman at a table in Charlotte.

“There goes the word, ‘program,’ start it now,” Phelps said, drawing laughs, of the term Bowman has long used for Phelps’ outline of swimming six, seven and eight events at major international meets.

“We’re going to find out a little bit more about the program tomorrow, and then we’ll know more,” Bowman said.

That drew an inevitable, jocular, follow-up question.

What is the program for Rio?

“There is no program for Rio,” Bowman said. “There’s just a program for Charlotte.”

The Phelps-Bowman back-and-forth continued when Phelps said swimming now is “a lot funner than golf.”

“You guys are writing that down?” Bowman told reporters.

Phelps, a poker nut, also went all-in on golf during his retirement, playing in European celebrity events (including sinking a 51-yard putt in St. Andrews, Scotland) and learning from Hank Haney in a Golf Channel series.

“It was all downhill after that putt, right?” Bowman joked.

“I actually should have just retired from the sport after that,” Phelps said.

But he hasn’t. Phelps lamented that he still hasn’t broken 85, though he did shoot 43 for nine holes recently and worked more with Haney in Cabo earlier this month. He has goals left in the sport, just as he does in swimming.

“I’d still like to get down to a scratch golfer,” Phelps said. “I have learned, just like anything else that you do, you have to play a lot. You have to play every day.”

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WADA investigates report that 10,000 Chinese athletes doped

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BERLIN (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency is looking into allegations made by a German broadcaster that Chinese athletes benefited from systematic doping in the 1980s and 90s.

“The allegations were brought forward by former Chinese physician, Xue Yinxian, who is said to have looked after several national teams in China during the decades in question,” WADA said Monday.

Xue, who recently arrived in Germany and is seeking political asylum with her son, told broadcaster ARD that more than 10,000 athletes were affected, some as young as 11, and that anyone who was against doping was considered “a danger to the country. And anyone who endangered the country is now in prison.”

The 79-year-old Xue said she lost her job with the national gymnastics team after refusing to treat an athlete with doping substances before the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

She said she had not felt safe in her home city of Beijing since 2012, when she first made her allegations of doping. She first started working with China’s national teams in the 1970s.

“In the 1980s and ’90s, Chinese athletes on the national teams made extensive use of doping substances,” she told ARD. “Medals were showered in doping. Gold, silver and bronze. All international medals should be withdrawn.”

WADA said it will examine “whether such a system may have prevailed beyond these decades.”

The first step, WADA said, was for its “independent intelligence and investigations team to initiate an investigative process in order to collect and analyze available information in coordination with external partners.”

Xue, who continued to work at lower levels after being dismissed from the national team in 1988, said she was only approached afterward when athletes developed problems because of the substances they were given.

“One trainer came to me and said, ‘Doctor Xue, the boys’ breasts keep getting bigger,’” Xue said. “These boys were about 13 to 14 years old.”

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PyeongChang Olympic organizers downplay North Korea concern

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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — PyeongChang Olympic organizers played down concern over ongoing tensions with North Korea and also say work has been completed on all venues for the Winter Games.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang organizing committee, said the International Olympic Committee has made it very clear that the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games will go ahead as scheduled.

Speaking at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics shortly after the last rehearsal for Tuesday’s official flame-lighting ceremony, Lee said “there is no Plan B.”

Lee said South Korean officials are working closely with all relevant parties to ensure the Winter Games are safe and secure.

He said his main concern for the Olympics is the weather.

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