Michael Phelps

Charlotte Grand Prix preview, swimmers to watch

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Michael Phelps takes his comeback to Charlotte this weekend, leading a field of Olympic and world champions at another Grand Prix meet, his second competition since the London Olympics.

Phelps, the 22-time Olympic medalist, is entered in the 100m butterfly and the 200m freestyle. Both events are on Friday, which increases the chances he could drop one of the two as he is still ramping up his return.

Phelps will be without longtime friendly rival Ryan Lochte, who pulled out of the meet due to injury Tuesday.

Phelps’ events go off at the following times Friday (ET):

200m free heats — 9:16 a.m.
100m butterfly heats — 10:25 a.m.
Finals session starts at 6 p.m.

Universal Sports will have coverage of Friday and Saturday finals sessions on TV and online at 6 both nights. Entry lists for the meet, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, are available here.

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Here’s a look at five swimmers to watch:

Michael Phelps

The meet headliner will look to build off his performance at the Mesa Grand Prix from April 24-25, where he finished second to Lochte in the 100m butterfly and swam butterfly in a 50m freestyle heat.

If Phelps keeps the 200m free, it could be quite enticing to see him race against the reigning world gold and silver medalists, training partners Yannick Agnel and Conor Dwyer. Phelps won bronze in the 200m free at the 2004 Olympics, gold in 2008 and dropped the event from his 2012 Olympic program after winning it at trials.

In the 100m butterfly, it’s better to compare Phelps not to his competition, but to his time from Mesa (52.13, making him No. 6 in the world this year). The top seeds in the event are Eugene Godsoe, who won the 2013 U.S. title, and Tim Phillips, who was second in the 100-yard butterfly at Winter Nationals.

Katinka Hosszu

The Iron Lady of swimming is entered in seven events in Charlotte, after not competing in Mesa, and is the top seed in four of them, including the 200m and 400m individual medleys that she swept at the 2013 World Championships.

The Hungarian Hosszu is not the fastest woman in the world this year in either event, though. Australian Alicia Coutts is No. 1 in the 200m IM (2:08.89). Chinese Olympic champion Ye Shiwen is No. 1 in the 400m IM (4:30.84).

Hosszu will be challenged by U.S. Olympic and world medalist Elizabeth Beisel in both IMs (as well as other Americans Cammile Adams and Becca Mann in the 400m IM). Hosszu is also entered in the 200m and 400m free, 100m and 200m backstroke and 200m butterfly.

Yannick Agnel

Agnel, like Hosszu, did not swim in Mesa. Since they are Europeans, we will not see either at the biggest international meet of the season, the Pan Pacific Championships. So this will probably be the most attention Agnel will get in competition to U.S. fans this year as he builds for the European Championships in August.

In fact, plenty of interest in Agnel this year has been about how his presence as a Phelps training partner, being the best 200m freestyle swimmer in the world the last two years, will have helped the comeback American.

Agnel is entered in five events in Charlotte and is the top seed in his two key events, the 100m free and 200m free. He ranks third in the world this year in the 200m free at 1:45.63.

Allison Schmitt

The five-time 2012 Olympic medalist is the U.S. female headliner of the meet with Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky staying home. Schmitt is looking for a bounce-back year after surprisingly missing the 2013 World Championships team.

In Mesa, Schmitt won the 100m free (54.46) and was second in the 200m free (1:56.90). In Charlotte, she’s slated to go up against Hosszu in the 200m free, Olympian Jessica Hardy in the 100m free and Danish distance great Lotte Friis in the 400m free.

Nick Thoman

The 2012 Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist took nine months off after London, didn’t enter the 2013 U.S. Championships and suffered a dislocated shoulder in February.

If it’s tough to gauge what to expect from Phelps, it’s even fuzzier for Thoman, who is entered in all three backstroke events in Charlotte, where he also lives and trains. His biggest competition will come from 2012 Olympic 200m back champion Tyler Clary, 2013 World Championships 100m back silver medalist David Plummer and double 2008 Olympic backstroke bronze medalist Arkady Vyatchanin.

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Despite blade trouble, Nathan Chen leads men at Skate America

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Nathan Chen leads the men’s field at Skate America after tallying 104.12 points, a new personal best, on Friday night.

During the six-minute warm-up before the final group of skaters, Chen could be seen conferring with his coach, Rafael Arutunian, about his blade. He explained on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA broadcast that during the warm-up, Arutunian manipulated the blade to fix the edge. They plan on playing with it again so it’s better for Saturday’s free skate.

“There’s a lot of points that I could have gotten last year and I’m making sure I take care of them this year,” Chen said of his personal best, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The score is still not that close to some of the top men currently, but that’s something that I know is attainable and it’s something I’m going to work toward.”

Arutunian’s other pupil in the men’s field, Adam Rippon, is in second place behind Chen with a personal best of his own – 89.04 points. Sergei Voronov of Russia sits in third place after the short with 87.51 points.

The third American in the field, Ross Miner, popped a triple Axel and didn’t receive any credit for the element. He tallied 71.59 points and sits in eighth place heading into the free.

The free skate will determine which skaters earn a berth to the Grand Prix Final in Japan in two weeks. Chen, despite being a favorite for the Skate America title, can finish anywhere among the top four for a berth to the Final. Voronov can also finish in the top four to make it to the Final. Rippon needs to finish anywhere on the podium.

Plus, with reigning Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and his training partner Javier Fernandez (a two-time world champion himself) out of the Grand Prix Final, the podium there is wide open. Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion and the Sochi silver medalist, won’t be at the Grand Prix Final either.

MORE: Skate America TV Schedule

Earlier Friday, in the pairs field, Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford scored 75.37 to lead the field after the short program.

China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao followed for second with 73.67 points. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who represent Germany, earned 72.55 points for third place after the short program. All three teams have a chance to qualify for the exclusive Grand Prix Final should the podium stand is after Saturday’s free skate. Even with a shakeup among the top three, it is likely that they will all qualify.

The top American team was married couple Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, who scored 64.27 and are fourth after the short. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier tallied 63.04 (sixth) and Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay are eighth with 57.18 points.

MORE: Bruno Massot earns German citizenship

Massot gets German citizenship, path cleared for Pyeongchang

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Bruno Massot learned Thursday he has passed his German citizenship test, clearing the way for him and partner Aliona Savchenko to compete at the Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Massot was born in Caen, France, and qualified for the 2014 Sochi Games on the French team, but he was held out of the Olympics because partner Daria Popova did not gain French citizenship in time.

He has since partnered with Savchenko, a Sochi participant, and been working to become a German citizen. This was his third time taking the German citizenship test, and the final time he would be able to qualify for citizenship in time for the Olympics.

“It’s really different,” Massot told The Associated Press, “because I don’t have this now anymore in my head, this question like, `I will be blocked again, or not?”‘

Massot’s naturalization ceremony will take place next Wednesday. Massot and Savchenko are in Lake Placid competing at Skate America this week.

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