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

Aleec Harris victorious in 110m hurdles; Allyson Felix scratches 200m at USAs

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Aleec Harris stated that his goal for the weekend was to win a USA flag to give to his wife and son, who were watching his races from the stands.

He won the men’s 110m hurdles with a time of 13.24 seconds, despite a significant headwind of 1.7 meters per second at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event who had a kidney transplant two years ago, acknowledged the winds were “no joke.” He clocked 13.31, followed by Devon Allen in third with a time of 13.34. All three will race at the world championships later this summer in London.

In the women’s 200m, Deajah Stevens won with a convincing time of 22.30; Kimberlyn Duncan followed with 22.59 and Tori Bowie in third at 22.60.

Allyson Felix scratched the women’s 200m, choosing instead to focus on defending her world title in the 400m.

Ameer Webb edged Christian Coleman by 0.01 seconds in the men’s 200m, though both men will represent the U.S. at the world championships in London later this summer.

Evan Jager, the Olympic silver medalist, won the 3000m Steeplechase in a time of 8:16.88, marking his sixth national title.

In the men’s shot put, Olympic champ Ryan Crouser set a meet record of 74 feet, 3 ¾ inches – the longest throw in the world in almost 14 years. He’s aiming for the world record. 2016 silver medalist Joe Kovach finished second with a throw of 73-4.

Clayton Murphy, 800m bronze medalist in Rio, scratched the 800m after sustaining two sore hamstrings Saturday and will not be at the world championships. Donavan Brazier won in 1:44.14.

MORE: Matthew Centrowitz, after ‘rock bottom,’ glad with runner-up at USAs

Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and U.S. women’s hockey team to appear in ESPN’s Body Issue

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Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and members of the U.S. women’s hockey team are just some of the Olympians and 2018 Olympic hopefuls featured in ESPN The Magazine’s annual body issue, on newsstands July 7. In all, 23 athletes will be featured in this year’s edition.

U.S. hockey players Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Meghan Duggan, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Alex Rigsby will join U.S. soccer player Julie Ertz and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Danish tennis pro and two-time Olympian Caroline Wozniacki is also featured, among a number of NBA, MLB, and NFL players.

Novlene Williams-Mills, from Jamaica, will be the first breast cancer survivor to appear in the magazine. The four-time Olympian owns three silver medals and one bronze from the 4x400m relays.

The 2016 edition featured 19 athletes, 11 of whom were Olympians.

Photos, interviews, and videos will begin to roll out this week in anticipation of the release.

MORE: South Korea president calls for North Korea at PyeongChang Olympics