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

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships

Los Angeles 2024 Opening Ceremony plan includes multiple venues

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The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid plans to use both the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a to-be-built NFL stadium for its Opening Ceremony.

The ceremony would start with a portion of the torch relay at the Coliseum, with the flame making its way to the NFL stadium for the rest of the Opening Ceremony, including the cauldron lighting.

The Coliseum “will be filled with 70,000 spectators for a Hollywood-produced program of live entertainment, top musical performances and a live viewing and virtual-reality experience of all ceremony events at the L.A. [NFL] stadium at Hollywood Park,” according to an LA 2024 press release.

The Closing Ceremony will be similar, but in reverse, with the Coliseum hosting the formal portion and the NFL stadium opening for a live viewing experience.

The Coliseum hosted the ceremonies in 1932 and 1984, the previous two times Los Angeles hosted the Olympics.

Opening Ceremonies generally have one venue, though a cauldron has been lit outside the venue, such as at Vancouver 2010 and Rio 2016.

Los Angeles is bidding against Budapest and Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 host city on Sept. 13.

MORE: 2024 Olympic bidding news