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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Kjetil Jansrud wins first ski race on 2018 Olympic course

Kjetil Jansrud
AP
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JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) — Kjetil Jansrud confirmed he’s the skier to beat on the downhill course for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, winning the test event by a comfortable margin Saturday.

The first downhill course in South Korea also won mostly praise from skiers and the International Ski Federation.

“If you want to be the best you have to ski anything,” Jansrud said. “This is more than an acceptable Olympic downhill. The way it’s running now it’s almost a little too fast because the jumps are so big. But that makes it exciting.”

Giving Norway its 17th World Cup win of the season, Jansrud was nearly flawless and clocked 1 minute, 41.38 seconds for a 0.20-second advantage over Dominik Paris of Italy.

Steven Nyman of the United States finished third, 0.41 behind, in perfect conditions with clear skies, cool temperatures and hard snow.

It was Jansrud’s third win of the season and first in downhill after taking the season-long title in the discipline last season.

“This is probably the first run I’ve skied this season without mistakes,” he said.

Jansrud also led both training courses on the newly developed Jeongseon course.

Paris and Nyman each posted their first podium results of the season.

“In the summer I was thinking this is a highlight of the season to come here and to really learn about the culture and learn about what we’re going to experience during the Olympics,” Nyman said.

“I want to feel comfortable and come here with the expectations and I want to do well, too, because I know the Olympics are going to be here in two years,” Nyman added. “I did well and I’m happy. I think the course really suits my skills.”

A super-G is scheduled for Sunday in the first of 28 test events for the next Winter Games.

“Today we put Korea on the map of the international sports world,” Pyeongchang organizing committee chief Cho Yang-ho said. “This is just the beginning.”

While the course is not the most challenging of tests for World Cup racers, it features four big jumps, sweeping turns and is designed for small margins.

“It’s a downhill that is really made for the Olympics,” International Ski Federation president Gian-Franco Kasper said. “It’s not Kitzbuehel or Wengen — that we don’t need for the Olympics.”

It was only the third World Cup downhill held in Asia, and the first in South Korea.

Todd Brooker of Canada won in Furano, Japan, in 1985 and Peter Mueller of Switzerland won at Furano in 1987.

More than 1,000 fans attended the race, which was preceded by an opening ceremony featuring traditional dancers with skis on their backs.

Most of the spectators had to hike 500 meters (yards) up a steep hill to the finish area, since a planned lift for fans hasn’t been installed yet.

There were also cheerleaders to keep the spectators entertained, and many skiers bowed to the crowd after their runs according to the local custom.

Peter Fill of Italy finished fourth and Beat Feuz of Switzerland was fifth.

Jansrud is fourth in the overall standings, which are led by Marcel Hirscher of Austria.

Aksel Lund Svindal, Jansrud’s teammate who will miss the rest of the season following a crash in Kitzbuehel (video here), Austria, still leads the downhill standings by 71 points ahead of Fill. Jansrud is third, 109 points behind.

VIDEO: Ted Ligety out for season after torn ACL

Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 07:  A general view of the Christ The Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado on July 7, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AP
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The world’s best known Olympic historian said Friday it will take something more destructive than the Zika virus to cancel the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Historically, the only times the Games have been cancelled is in war — World War I and World War II,” David Wallechinsky told the Associated Press. “Other than that, nothing has done it.”

Brazil is the epicenter of the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is also generating rumors that South America’s first Games may be called off instead of opening on Aug. 5.

Researchers have linked the virus to a birth defect that can leave newborns with long-lasting health and developmental problems.

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement saying that canceling the Games “is not in discussion,” and Rio organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly shot down the notion it’s even being considered.

Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the only similar case was the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, when three athletes from west Africa were banned from competing over fears they had contracted the Ebola virus and the subsequent possibility of it spreading.

“That’s the only time that disease has ever entered into it,” he said.

The 1916 Olympics were called off during World War I, and four Games — two summer and two winter — were cancelled between 1940 and 1944. Two Summer Olympics were hit by partial boycotts in 1980 and 1984.

Wallechinsky said it was too late to move the games from Rio.

“A lot of money has been put into this; the athletes, the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s pretty late to move the Games so I think they’ll go forward.”

Brazil is spending at least $10 billion to prepare for the Games. Add to that, billions spent on television rights, and maybe just as much on sponsorship, advertising across 28 sport federations, and the more than 200 nations that participate.

“There would be a lot of lawsuits,” Wallechinsky said. “It would be a dream event for lawyers.”

The Zika virus adds to other problems with South America’s first Olympics, including water pollution in Rio’s venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and open-water swimming , and deep cuts of almost 30 percent to keep a $2 billion operating budget in balance.

Only about half of the domestic tickets for the game have been sold, and organizers fear the Zika outbreak could scare off foreign tourists — particularly Americans.

Janice Forsyth, an Olympic historian at Western University in Canada, predicted the Zika threat “is going to blow over.”

“But if it really catches on, then we’ve got a global concern that’s not just about the Olympics,” she said. “But it would have to be really extraordinary for the game to be cancelled. Even with threats of terrorism, the games still don’t get cancelled.”

Forsyth said the virus might even have beneficial impact on Rio’s preparations, distracting from other problems.

“In a sad way, maybe it’s a positive diversion from what is actually going on with the games,” she said. “A twist for games that seem to be constantly struggling.”

VIDEO: Rio Olympic venues timelapse