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.”

Katie Ledecky makes college choice

Aleec Harris victorious in 110m hurdles; Allyson Felix scratches 200m at USAs

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Aleec Harris stated that his goal for the weekend was to win a USA flag to give to his wife and son, who were watching his races from the stands.

He won the men’s 110m hurdles with a time of 13.24 seconds, despite a significant headwind of 1.7 meters per second at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event who had a kidney transplant two years ago, acknowledged the winds were “no joke.” He clocked 13.31, followed by Devon Allen in third with a time of 13.34. All three will race at the world championships later this summer in London.

In the women’s 200m, Deajah Stevens won with a convincing time of 22.30; Kimberlyn Duncan followed with 22.59 and Tori Bowie in third at 22.60.

Allyson Felix scratched the women’s 200m, choosing instead to focus on defending her world title in the 400m.

Ameer Webb edged Christian Coleman by 0.01 seconds in the men’s 200m, though both men will represent the U.S. at the world championships in London later this summer.

Evan Jager, the Olympic silver medalist, won the 3000m Steeplechase in a time of 8:16.88, marking his sixth national title.

In the men’s shot put, Olympic champ Ryan Crouser set a meet record of 74 feet, 3 ¾ inches – the longest throw in the world in almost 14 years. He’s aiming for the world record. 2016 silver medalist Joe Kovach finished second with a throw of 73-4.

Clayton Murphy, 800m bronze medalist in Rio, scratched the 800m after sustaining two sore hamstrings Saturday and will not be at the world championships. Donavan Brazier won in 1:44.14.

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Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and U.S. women’s hockey team to appear in ESPN’s Body Issue

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Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and members of the U.S. women’s hockey team are just some of the Olympians and 2018 Olympic hopefuls featured in ESPN The Magazine’s annual body issue, on newsstands July 7. In all, 23 athletes will be featured in this year’s edition.

U.S. hockey players Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Meghan Duggan, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Alex Rigsby will join U.S. soccer player Julie Ertz and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Danish tennis pro and two-time Olympian Caroline Wozniacki is also featured, among a number of NBA, MLB, and NFL players.

Novlene Williams-Mills, from Jamaica, will be the first breast cancer survivor to appear in the magazine. The four-time Olympian owns three silver medals and one bronze from the 4x400m relays.

The 2016 edition featured 19 athletes, 11 of whom were Olympians.

Photos, interviews, and videos will begin to roll out this week in anticipation of the release.

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