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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Coaches to receive medals at World Track and Field Championships

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Coaches will receive medals at the World Track and Field Championships for the first time this summer.

London will host the 16th edition of the event in 100 days.

Coaches’ medals will be based on similar themes to athlete medals but will look different.

“The medals, gifted to successful athletes once they return from their ceremony, will be for them to hand to their coach or significant advisor in recognition of the unique and valued working relationship between athlete and coach,” the IAAF said in a press release.

Coaches do not receive Olympic medals.

The U.S. Olympic Committee established the Order of Ikkos medals starting with the 2008 Beijing Games, allowing medal-winning athletes to acknowledge one coach.

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What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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