Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps beaten by Olympic champion at Santa Clara

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Michael Phelps finished second to Olympic champion Yannick Agnel in the 200m freestyle at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, the third meet of his comeback, on Saturday.

Phelps, who took 20 months away from competition after the London Olympics, clocked 1 minute, 48.20 seconds in the 200m free. France’s Agnel, his training partner at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, won in 1:46.99 (video here).

“I got left like I was standing still the last 50 [meters] by this guy,” Phelps said on Universal Sports, gesturing to the 6-foot-8 Agnel standing next to him. “That wasn’t really the funnest last 50 ever. It felt good to get my first 200 under my belt, in a final at least.”

Phelps continued to improve his 200m free in his third time racing the event this year, and first final. He swam 1:51.69 in Charlotte, N.C., in May and 1:49.61 in the preliminary heats earlier Saturday.

Phelps beat training partner Conor Dwyer for second place by .16, which was notable given Dwyer won silver behind Agnel in the 200m free at the 2013 World Championships.

Rising California sophomore Missy Franklin won the 200m freestyle and finished third in the 200m backstroke 22 minutes later.

Frankin, who became the first woman to win six golds at a single World Championships last year, finished in 1:56.96 in the 200m free (video here), beating a field that included Olympic champion Allison Schmitt. Schmitt and World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky have both gone faster than 1:56.96 this year.

Franklin came back to finish third behind Elizabeth Beisel and Liz Pelton in the 200m back. Beisel won in 2:09.11, followed by Pelton in 2:09.73 and Franklin in 2:09.86. Franklin is the Olympic and World champion in the 200m back and the world record holder.

Phelps and Franklin are expected to swim the 200m individual medley on the final day of the meet Sunday. Franklin is also entered in the 100m backstroke.

U.S. swimmers are gearing up for the summer’s two biggest meets in August, the U.S. Championships in Irvine, Calif., and the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.

In other events Saturday, Beisel blew out the 400m IM field by 6.26 seconds, posting 4:33.52. Beisel, who has won 400m IM medals at four straight major international meets, improved to No. 4 in the world this year.

World silver medalist Chase Kalisz cruised to win the men’s 400m IM by 5.78 seconds in 4:11.71. That’s the fifth fastest time in the world this year.

“I actually wanted to be a little bit faster,” said Kalisz, who came to Santa Clara from altitude training with Phelps and other North Baltimore Aquatic Club in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Three-time Russian Olympian Arkady Vyatchanin beat U.S. Olympic champion Tyler Clary in the 200m back, 1:55.5 to 1:58.41.

Brazil’s Bruno Fratus captured the men’s 50m free in 22.03, which was a comfy .55 better than second place Anthony Ervin, the 2000 co-Olympic champion. Fratus finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic 50m free and is Brazil’s second best sprinter behind Cesar Cielo.

Cheyenne Coffman took the women’s 50m free in 25.12.

Missy Franklin can’t help but notice Katie Ledecky, Rio

Javier Fernandez rebounds to lead Grand Prix France

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez was back at his best, landing two quadruple jumps to top the Grand Prix France short program on Friday.

Fernandez, who was sixth at his opening Grand Prix two weeks ago with a reported stomach bug, tallied 107.86 points in Grenoble. It’s the second-best score of his career.

The 2015 and 2016 World champion goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 13.94-point lead over Shoma Uno of Japan. Uno fell on his opening quad flip attempt.

Uno went into France as the clear favorite, the only man to break 300 total points this season. He did it at both of his competitions this fall.

Earlier Friday, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond led a group of favorites who topped the short programs for the women, pairs and ice dance. All of the free skates are Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Both U.S. men fell Friday, not helping their cases for the three-man Olympic team.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, fell on his opening jump combination. He failed to build on his personal-best free skate from his last competition, where he landed three quads to claim bronze at Cup of China.

U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou crashed on both quadruple jump attempts, two weeks after falling three times between two programs at his Grand Prix debut.

Zhou, 17 and the world junior champion, has the jumps to easily make the three-man U.S. Olympic team. But those big mistakes allow the likes of Jason Brown and Adam Rippon to pass him.

“To say the least, my performance was dismal,” was posted on Zhou’s Instagram. “It was not a representation of how I train or who I am. Smiling and waving while my heart is breaking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have been following my Olympic dream for as long as I can remember, fighting, being set back, conquering obstacles, and experiencing the ups and downs of striving to better myself every single day. I am capable of so much more. I am a fighter. I fully believe that I can and will draw on my spirit, inner strength, and faith to my words to perform much better in the future.”

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Internationaux de France
Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 107.86
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 93.92
3. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 91.51
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 78.64
10. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 66.12

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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