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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Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

The Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event, adds “this means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

The Swedish capital, which hosted the 1912 Summer Olympics, has never staged the Winter Games. The cities of Ostersund, Falun and Goteborg all have mounted failed winter bids.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

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Two weeks after learning she was pregnant, Serena Williams was unsure of committing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Williams will be 38 in 2020, older than any previous Olympic singles player.

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams told Wowow TV of Japan after winning the Australian Open on Jan. 28.

Williams said Tuesday in a Ted Talk that she learned of her pregnancy two days before the Australian Open (video here). She was about two months pregnant at the time.

Williams broke the news publicly last week on Snapchat but deleted the post. A spokesperson later confirmed that Williams was pregnant and planned to return to tennis next season.

“Actually, it was an accident,” Williams said Tuesday of the Snapchat. “I was on vacation, just taking some time for myself. I have this thing where I’ve been checking my status and taking pictures every week to see how far along I’ve been going. … You know how social media is, you press the wrong button and there it was. Thirty minutes later, I missed like four calls. I’m like, that’s weird. Then I picked it up, and I was like, oh no. But it was a good moment. I was going to wait, literally, just five or six more days. That’s OK.”

The four-time Olympic champion has made no public comments since last week about the 2020 Olympics.

Williams confirmed Tuesday that she played the entire Australian Open knowing she was pregnant. She won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, beating older sister Venus in the final.

Williams said she was nervous after finding out she was pregnant two days before the tournament.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to think, but I just knew that at that moment, it was really important me to focus right there at the Australian Open,” she said. “I was definitely not sure what to do. I was like, can I play? I know it’s very dangerous, maybe, sometimes, in the first 12 weeks or so.”

Williams said she didn’t get sick during the tournament. She had heard about people getting tired, or really stressed out.

“I had to really take all that energy, put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away,” she said. “Because I really felt like I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions, anything, because, pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament, as I am every tournament that I show up, I am expected to win, and if I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”

Williams is “excited to defy the odds” and return to the WTA Tour next season. She wouldn’t be the first elite player to compete after having a baby.

In January, Williams said Venus, who is 15 months older, is “crazy” and “something special” for targeting the 2020 Olympics.

“I’m really inspired by my sister,” Williams said Tuesday. “If she’s still playing, I know I can play. There’s so many. Roger Federer, he’s a little older than me, and he’s still winning everything, so I’m like, you know, I know I can do that, too. … My story is definitely not over yet. I was talking to my coach about it, and we were talking about. This is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands, and hopefully cheering for me, not crying too much.”

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