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.

RELATED: Phelps still fueled to win, in swimming and golf

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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Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 gold medals in PyeongChang

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08: Mark McMorris of Canada waits for his score after his second run during the Snowboard Men's Slopestyle Final during day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Mark McMorris remembers the day in July 2011 when he found out he could one day be an Olympian.

The Saskatchewan native was at a Canadian steakhouse watching TSN. A report said slopestyle snowboarding had been added to the Olympics for the next Winter Games in Sochi in three years.

Holy s***,” McMorris, in a phone interview last week, remembered thinking to himself. “I have a really good chance at going because I won this event so many times.”

McMorris was only 17 years old then, but he had already won a World Cup slopestyle contest in January 2010, a month after turning 16. Plus, he took silver at his Aspen Winter X Games debut in January 2011.

McMorris won the X Games in 2012 and 2013, then broke a rib at the 2014 X Games, 12 days before his Olympic debut. He still made it to Sochi, but the overwhelming favorite tag was gone. McMorris took bronze behind surprise American Sage Kotsenburg.

Since then, two days greatly impacted McMorris’ snowboarding. He will never forget one of them. He doesn’t remember the other.

On June 8, 2015, the International Olympic Committee added snowboard big air for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. McMorris, who had won big air at X Games five months earlier, instantly became a favorite for two medals in South Korea. Perhaps two gold medals.

Unlike slopestyle, McMorris doesn’t remember how he heard about big air’s Olympic inclusion. He believes his medal chances in PyeongChang are equal in both events.

“Some people might say slope, because I win more slope contests,” said McMorris, who starred in a reality TV show with big brother Craig, “McMorris & McMorris,” and has his own video game. “But I also win the big air contests when I land. Usually, I go all in rather than get second or third. I try my harder stuff.”

McMorris swept big air and slopestyle at the 2015 X Games and nearly did it again in 2016, edged by countryman Max Parrot in big air by two points. Parrot also beat McMorris in slopestyle at the Laax Open in Switzerland last week. He is clearly the biggest rival heading to PyeongChang.

McMorris plans to compete in both big air and slopestyle at Aspen this week, and could win both. This is remarkable given what happened Feb. 21, 2016.

McMorris broke his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles (video here). His rehab has been extensively documented by Canadian media.

McMorris returned to competition in November and quickly returned to winning. He captured a big air test event at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

“For sure, I was nervous and stressed, but I put so much time into my rehabilitation and made sure I was super strong,” McMorris said of trying high-risk tricks again, like the frontside triple cork 1440 he attempted at Air and Style. “You can work as hard as you can to feel like you were at one point. I did that, and it ended up working out super well.”

McMorris said he falls every day in training, testing his surgically repaired right leg with a titanium rod the length of his femur.

“Not concern, but for sure I feel my leg somedays,” he said. “Big impact [fall], I’ll feel it in my groin. I’ll get some metallic feeling in the back of my knee, sort of where the femur meets the knee. I deal with my leg most days when I wake up. It just takes me a little bit longer to warm up. It still works pretty good.”

McMorris is credited as the first rider to land a backside triple cork 1440 in 2011. He’s working on more difficult tricks.

“Trying to perfect the switch backside triple cork 1620, which is kind of a new one in our industry,” he said. “I’ve never been able to do it in a slopestyle run. I’ve done it one time in a big air event at X Games last year. I’d love to do that in slopestyle, trying to link three triple corks together, which would set me up to be in a pretty good place.”

At this time four years ago, a McMorris-Shaun White rivalry was being hyped for the first Olympic slopestyle event. White had won his last X Games slopestyle start in 2009 and started training the event again for a Sochi slopestyle-halfpipe double.

McMorris dominated the 2013 Winter X Games with the two highest scores, while White was fifth. White ended up dropping out of slopestyle on the eve of the Winter Olympics, drawing criticism from Canadian riders, but notably not McMorris.

The McMorris-White relationship took a twist last February when McMorris suffered his broken femur at White’s Air and Style event. McMorris said he got hurt because of an uneven landing area, according to CBC.

In July, a video of White and McMorris skateboarding together in New York City was published on White’s social media accounts. McMorris said last week he might compete in Air and Style next month, though he didn’t want to answer White-related questions.

White said earlier this month he has dropped slopestyle altogether. It’s unknown if or when Kotsenburg will return to competition. He wasn’t invited to X Games.

McMorris can’t speak to the Americans, but he can say he’s feeling more confident going into the Olympic year than four years ago.

“Because I’ve been through the ringer once of the Olympics,” he said. “I know what’s coming. I know what I need to do, and I understand what it takes to perform under pressure. Hopefully, this time, I don’t have a broken rib. I’m pretty aware what the level’s going to be like in a year’s time. But you never know, it’s a judged sport as well.”

VIDEO: NBC’s lookahead to PyeongChang

European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

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NBC Sports will air live coverage of the European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, this week.

The competition includes reigning world champions Javier Fernandez of Spain, Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

NBCSN will provide live coverage that will also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Andrea Joyce and 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley will call the action on NBCSN, while 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Ben Agosto will join the team for ice dance coverage.

Skaters are preparing for the world championships in Helsinki in two months.

MORE: U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Wednesday Noon Women’s Short NBCSN
Wednesday 2 p.m. Pairs Short (LIVE) NBCSN
Thursday Noon Short Dance NBCSN
Thursday 2 p.m. Pairs Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Friday Noon Men’s Short NBCSN
Friday 2 p.m. Women’s Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 9 a.m. Free Dance (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 6 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN
Saturday, Feb. 4 3 p.m. Women’s/Men’s Free NBC