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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U.S. bobsled, skeleton athletes ready to skip world championships

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 15:  Kyle Tress of the United States makes a run during the Men's Skeleton on Day 8 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Olympians voted to recommend boycotting February’s world championships in Sochi if the event is not relocated out of the doping-tainted nation, according to The New York Times.

U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory committee voted unanimously in recent days, according to the report. Listed members of the committee include Olympic skeleton sliders Matthew Antoine and Kyle Tress.

“There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision,” Tress said, according to the report.

At least 15 Russian medalists from the Sochi Olympics, including bobsledders and skeleton sliders, were on a state-run doping program leading into those Winter Games, according to the newspaper’s report in May. Russian doping samples were also tampered with at the Sochi Olympics, according to the report.

Those are primary reasons why bobsled and skeleton athletes in the U.S. and Europe have voiced concern about competing in Sochi in February.

Olympic champions Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton) and Steven Holcomb (bobsled) said earlier this fall that they may skip worlds, and men’s skeleton stars Martins and Tomass Dukurs might, too, according to Latvian media.

“We discussed this as a team, we’re up in the air,” Holcomb said last month. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Safety is a concern. What are the chances I go there, and all of a sudden Russian anti-doping tests me, and I [falsely] test positive? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Being outspoken, yeah I’m a little nervous about going there.”

On July 19, following rampant Russian anti-doping issues, the IOC asked all winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia, such as world championships … and to actively look for alternative organizers.”

The IOC later clarified that statement, telling federations it did not apply to events whose host cities were already chosen, according to Inside the Games. The 2017 World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships were awarded to Sochi in June 2013.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) said it will not comment until after the second part of McLaren report into Russian doping is published Friday.

The World Cup bobsled and skeleton season started last weekend in Whistler, B.C. Both Russians who won 2014 Olympic skeleton medals competed in Whistler, seven months after the New York Times reported their names were on the Sochi doping list.

Alexander Tretiakov, a 2014 Olympic champion, finished second in Whistler, one spot ahead of Antoine. Elena Nikitina, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, finished 17th out of 25 racers in Whistler.

Nikitina won bronze in Sochi by .04 over American Katie Uhlaender. Uhlaender did not race in Whistler but is on the U.S. team for World Cups this season.

“Sochi is in Russia, and it’s the place where the cheating happened,” Uhlaender said, according to The New York Times. “I’m confused at how the IOC said what it said, and we’re still holding our world championships there.”

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton broadcast schedule

*Correction: Olympic medalist bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor is listed on U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton’s athlete advisory council webpage, but she said Monday she resigned her position on the athletes advisory council in July.

World Short Course Swimming Championships broadcast schedule

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  Chad Le Clos of South Africa looks on before the second Semifinal of the Men's 200m Butterfly on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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NBC Sports will live stream every session of the world short-course swimming championships in Windsor, Ontatio, from Tuesday through Sunday.

NBCSN will air live finals coverage Thursday, Friday and Sunday, plus highlights on Saturday. Universal HD will have finals coverage Tuesday and Wednesday.

The world short course championships are held in 25-meter pools, versus 50-meter pools for the Olympics.

This year’s meet includes 10 U.S. Olympians and Rio medalists Katinka Hosszu of Hungary, Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm of Australia, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Penny Oleksiak of Canada.

The daily event schedule is here. Full results will be here.

MORE: Hosszu takes Swimmer of the Year over Ledecky

Day Time (ET) Network
Tuesday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Tuesday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Tuesday 9 p.m.* Universal HD
Wednesday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Wednesday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Wednesday 9 p.m.* Universal HD
Thursday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Thursday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Friday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Friday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 6:30 p.m. NBCSports.com/live
Saturday 9:30 p.m.* NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live
Sunday 9:30 a.m. NBCSports.com/live
Sunday 6:30 p.m. NBCSN/NBCSports.com/live

*Same-day delay coverage