Michael Phelps

Tough to judge Michael Phelps’ seventh place in 100m freestyle

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IRVINE, Calif. — Michael Phelps stood on a podium to receive a medal at the U.S. Swimming Championships, but he wasn’t draped with gold on the top step. Not the second, either. Nor third.

Seventh.

Phelps finished next to last in his first U.S. Championships final since coming out of retirement (video here), chalking up his worst result in a Nationals event in the last several years to an unusual mistake.

Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the 100m freestyle in 48.31 seconds over a decorated field with Phelps.

Ryan Lochte, who was the slowest qualifier into the eight-man final, was second in 48.69.

Phelps swam 49.17. The top four men — Adrian, Lochte, Jimmy Feigen and Conor Dwyer — made the team for the Pan Pacific Championships, the biggest meet of the summer.

The most decorated Olympian of all time blamed the slow time on an error in an area he’s usually world class — turning off walls.

“I barely touched the 50 wall,” said Phelps, indicating a poor turn halfway through the race. He was in last place at the 50m mark and the third-fastest swimmer over the final 50m.

“I thought I had the right distance to go into the wall, and when I literally took a couple kicks and I was barely past the flags, I knew there was very little chance that I was going to run anybody down.”

Phelps went 48.77 in the morning prelims, four tenths of a second faster than his final time.

How much better would Phelps have been in the final without the wall blunder?

“It would have been faster than it was this morning,” Phelps said, had he turned off the wall well. “It kind of sucks I won’t really know what I was.”

A clearer look at his form will come in Phelps’ final three events in Irvine, beginning with the 100m butterfly Friday. Assuming he hits that wall.

Phelps, 29, is at the fifth meet of his comeback after a 20-month competitive retirement following the 2012 Olympics. He has not committed yet to swimming through the 2016 Olympics.

Lochte, who turned 30 on Sunday, is in his second meet since retearing his left MCL in April.

“I am glad I pulled this out, but this is just the start,” Lochte said.

The 100m free final dragged overall. Even Adrian was slower than his morning prelim time.

The U.S. Swimming Championships are a selection meet for the biggest international meet this year, the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, from Aug. 21-24.

Once swimmers make the U.S. team for Pan Pacs in any event, including relays, they can enter extra events once they get to Gold Coast. Therefore, Phelps could still swim the 100m free at Pan Pacs, if he makes the team in another event.

Phelps had not competed in the 100m free at Nationals since the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. He has not done it at a major international meet since the 2007 World Championships.

But he has long been part of the U.S. 4x100m free relay team, winning gold at the 2008 Olympics, silver in 2012 and bronze in 2004.

Phelps and Lochte are slated to go head to head in three more events through Sunday.

In other events Wednesday, four-time Olympic champion Missy Franklin came from behind to clip Simone Manuel in the women’s 100m free. Franklin clocked 53.43, the fifth-fastest time in the world this year.

“I knew that Simone was right next to me, and she always goes out fast,” Franklin, the rising California sophomore, said on Universal Sports. “So I knew that I was going to have to come home hard.”

Manuel (53.66), Shannon Vreeland (54.14) and Abbey Weitzeil (54.38) rounded out the top four to qualify for Pan Pacs.

Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was seventh.

Female World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky cruised in the 800m free, winning in 8:18.47, eight seconds slower than her world record from June. Cierra Runge was second, 6.22 seconds behind.

Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom, who went four-five in the 1500m freestyle at the 2013 World Championships, went one-two in it Wednesday night.

Tom Shields, who was one spot from making the 2013 World Championships team, booked his first Pan Pacs berth, winning the 200m butterfly in 1:55.09.

Shields shaved more than two seconds off his personal best with the third-fastest time in the world this year. Olympic 200m backstroke champion Tyler Clary was second, all but wrapping up a Pan Pacs spot.

Cammile Adams won the women’s 200m fly in 2:07.12, the sixth-fastest time in the world this year. Adams was fifth in the event at the 2012 Olympics.

Katie McLaughlin finished second in 2:08.74 to pencil her name on the Pan Pacs roster, too.

Olympic champions join ‘Biggest Loser’ cast

Kristi Yamaguchi tells Nancy Kerrigan to ‘break a leg’ on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

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Kristi Yamaguchi told Nancy Kerrigan to “break a leg” on her “Dancing with the Stars” debut, an innocent tweet between friends that generated plenty of reaction.

“So excited for you @NancyAKerrigan ! Can’t wait to see you grace that ballroom floor, break a leg! #DWTS,” was posted on Yamaguchi’s account Monday morning.

It generated more than 6,000 likes, 3,000 retweets and 1,000 replies, many referencing the horrible attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Championships (where Kerrigan’s knee was bruised, but not broken).

The tweet conjured memories of T-shirts sold leading up to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics with the words “Harding-Kerrigan” on the front and “Norway ’94, Break a Leg!!!” on the back, reported by major media 23 years ago.

Yamaguchi and Kerrigan shared world championships and Olympic podiums in 1991 and 1992 (Yamaguchi winning both times; Kerrigan with bronze).

They remain friends. Kerrigan said she spoke with Yamaguchi, a past “Dancing with the Stars” winner, about the experience, according to TeamUSA.org.

“I said to Kristi, ‘You’ve seen me at shows, Kris, how demanding is it?’” Kerrigan said, according to the report. “She said it’s very demanding, but you have to do it. She’s like, ‘You’ve been through worse, you have to do it, it’s such a great experience.’”

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VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s first ‘Dancing with the Stars’ waltz

Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.