Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps gets serious in return to U.S. Championships

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IRVINE, Calif. — This week’s U.S. Swimming Championships will include nearly 1,000 competitors, as young as 13, but one stands out above the rest.

Michael Phelps will dive in the Woollett Aquatics Center pool on Wednesday for his first Nationals since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin put the atmosphere in perspective Tuesday morning.

“Where else do you have the opportunity to have high school basketball players play in a game with LeBron James?” she said.

It’s the fifth meet of Phelps’ comeback after a 20-month competitive retirement following the London Olympics. It’s the most important of the handful so far with spots at stake for the year’s biggest international meet two weeks later, the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.

Times from the U.S. Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships will determine who makes the team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, the biggest meet between now and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Here, Phelps is entered in the 100m freestyle Wednesday, 100m butterfly Friday, 100m backstroke Saturday and 200m individual medley Sunday.

Universal Sports will have coverage from 9-11 p.m. ET on Wednesday. NBC picks up weekend coverage from 4-6 on Saturday and Sunday.

Phelps will make the Pan Pacific Championships team if he finishes in the top two of any one of those four events. He would likely also make the Pan Pacs team if he finishes third in a single event. Once a swimmer makes the Pan Pacs team in one event, he or she can enter additional events at the meet in Australia.

That takes a bit of the pressure off, but Phelps is still treating the meet with respect. He said he enters a meet shaved for the first time since the London Games, where he won six medals to bring his career tally to a record 22.

On Tuesday, Phelps, tanned and dressed in a neon green Under Armour tanktop as if he had just strolled in from Newport Beach, paraphrased the lines he’s stressed throughout the comeback.

He has unfinished business — which he won’t divulge — and is training different now at 29 than during his dominant days. Fewer yards under the eyes of longtime coach Bob Bowman in Baltimore and healthier eating to shed those retirement pounds.

Phelps said he just finished a six-month stretch avoiding red meat, just to see what it would do to his body. He’s been pleased with the progress of his return, particularly since high-altitude training in Colorado Springs in May and June.

At his last meet, Phelps beat longtime rival Ryan Lochte in three head-to-heads in Athens, Ga., in July. Granted, Lochte had not competed in three months due to injury.

“After this week we’ll have a good picture of if he’s ahead, behind,” Bowman said of Phelps, the 10th-oldest swimmer in Irvine.

Tuesday was significant for two other reasons. Phelps announced he signed a new swimsuit deal through the 2020 Tokyo Games, and the date marked two years to go until the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

One couldn’t imagine Phelps diving in for a sixth Olympics at age 35 in six years. Even for No. 5 in Rio, he and Bowman wouldn’t commit.

“We’ll see how it goes this week, and then maybe if there’s anything after that, we’ll see how that goes,” Bowman said.

Two years to Rio Olympics: Swimming storylines

World Cup champ lands first quad cork 1800 (video)

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Switzerland’s Andri Ragettli landed what’s being touted as the first ski quad cork 1800 in a video published recently.

Ragettli, 18, is one of the leading slopestyle skiers in the world. He won the World Cup season title in 2015-16 and placed second this year, in addition to fifth- and sixth-place finishes at the last two Winter X Games.

Previously, Ragettli became the first slopestyle skier to land back-to-back triples in a full competition at the 2016 Winter X Games, according to ESPN.com.

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MORE: McMorris’ brother details life-threatening crash

Mark McMorris’ brother details snowboarder’s life-threatening crash

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Mark McMorris‘ life was in danger after the snowboarder crashed into an area of trees riding in the backcountry in British Columbia on Saturday, according to Postmedia News, quoting older brother Craig.

Craig was there when McMorris, the Sochi slopestyle bronze medalist, suffered a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung.

McMorris was found conscious, but he was struggling to breathe with blood in his mouth, according to Canadian media.

“You can die from that, from bleeding out,” Craig said, according to Postmedia News. “But it was so hard for him to breathe, so that was my biggest concern with time. I communicated that to the search and rescue, and that’s why they got there as fast as they possibly could. Mark knew it was super bad. I knew it was super bad. But you just have to think positive, and that’s why he is still here.

More details of the rescue, via Postmedia News:

Craig McMorris and a handful of friends on site peeled off their jackets to create a nest for the injured Olympian. The couldn’t move him for fear of a spinal cord injury, and hypothermia was a real danger while waiting about 90 minutes for search and rescue personnel to arrive. Every minute counted due to the ruptured spleen.

“I’ve been involved in backcountry rescues before,” Craig said, according to the Canadian Press. “This was by far the gnarliest and most severe.”

An airlift to a hospital, two surgeries and two days later, McMorris was looking more upbeat in his hospital bed on both brothers’ Instagram pages Monday.

He has been named to Canada’s Olympic team for PyeongChang, and Craig believes he will be there to compete. Before the accident, McMorris was considered a gold-medal threat in slopestyle and the new event of big air.

“It’s been 48 hours, and he’s gone from being the most broken human to talking and communicating,” Craig said, according to Postmedia News. “In his mind, he’s going to the Olympics. In my mind, he’s going to the Olympics. There’s no reason why he can’t.”

McMorris has come back from injury before, but not this severe.

He won bronze in the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle event in Sochi, competing 12 days after breaking a rib.

He has already come back in this Olympic cycle from breaking his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles on Feb. 21, 2016.

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MORE: McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 golds in PyeongChang

Kids tough as nails. All good news from here on out. So much love

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