Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps takes on vocal leader role in Australia

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Hello, my name is Michael Phelps.

The most decorated Olympian of all time is taking a different dryland approach for his first international swimming competition since the London Olympics at the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, this week.

“I’m trying to make it more of a point to talk to everybody [swimmers on the U.S. team],” Phelps told reporters at a training camp in Brisbane. “People I don’t know, I’m trying to introduce myself.”

Phelps, 29, said the weirdest part of being with the U.S. team of 60 swimmers at the year’s biggest meet is all the new faces. He doesn’t recognize some of them.

“I’m asking some of the guys who this person is, who that person is,” Phelps said. “It’s great to see the team change and see a lot of younger kids here that are super excited.”

Phelps, known for playing copious games of spades on these types of trips, said he usually keeps to himself. Not this time. One of his longest-tenured teammates has noticed.

“You see, actually, a big change in him, not only as a swimmer, as a human being,” Ryan Lochte told reporters in Brisbane. “He’s taking his time outside the pool to help the other kids, teaching them things that he learned growing up as a swimmer.”

And the feedback from the younger swimmers?

“They really don’t ask many questions,” Phelps said.

Phelps actually isn’t the oldest man on the U.S. team, nor the second-oldest. Lochte is 30, and the elder statesman is Anthony Ervin, 33, who swam at the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Phelps made his Olympic debut at Sydney 2000 as a 15-year-old.

“I still remember walking out in 2000,” for the 200m butterfly, Phelps said. “I literally think the floor was shaking. I was a little in shock.”

Phelps is slated for five events at Pan Pacs, which begin Thursday (NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30). Two weeks ago, he failed to win any of his events at the U.S. Championships for the first time since 2000.

But all that was needed was to make the team for Pan Pacs, which he easily did. He can wrap up a spot on the 2015 World Championships team in Gold Coast.

“I did the job I needed to do at Nationals,” said Phelps, who has not yet committed to trying to make the 2016 Olympic team. “It’s all really a stepping stone because the biggest thing about this summer is getting on a team to hopefully propel me for next year and then move forward from there. Step one is complete, making this team.”

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Ryan Lochte ‘wipes away the past’ in Power Bar video

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For the second time in as many months, Ryan Lochte stars in a jocular ad making a veiled reference to his Rio Olympic gas-station incident.

The swimmer wipes away “the past” on a foggy bathroom mirror and throws a blond wig out of a sunroof in a one-minute Power Bar video published Tuesday.

The company’s tag line in the video is “Clean Start.”

“For example, I am going to recommit myself to water sports,” Lochte says in the spot.

The ad follows a December video for Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops, where Lochte starred in a spot with a closing banner that read, “Pine Bros.: In this Season of Forgiveness.”

Lochte had previously lost sponsorship deals, including with Speedo, after his Rio Olympic gas-station incident for which he was suspended through June by USA Swimming, plus for the world championships in July.

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U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

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The stage is set for Nathan Chen in Kansas City this week.

The 17-year-old is arguably the biggest favorite of any senior discipline at the U.S. Championships, looking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966.

Chen, who boasts six quadruple jumps between his two programs, broke out at the Grand Prix Final in December by taking a silver medal. That propelled him to the top of U.S. men’s skating.

He outscored the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in the best U.S. men’s international performance since Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold in 2010.

Chen’s chances for gold this week were boosted by the withdrawal of 2016 U.S. champion and training partner Adam Rippon due to a broken foot. And by 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown‘s recent right leg injury.

Brown is still in the field, though, as is 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron. Chen, Brown and Aaron are vying for two spots on the team for the world championships in two months in Helsinki.

“Those are the very clear top three,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “It’ll take a disaster or a performance of a lifetime for anybody else to get into that top three.”

Friday
Men’s short program — 8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
Sunday
Men’s free skate — 4-6 p.m., NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Nathan Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Salt Lake City
2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalist
2016 U.S. bronze medalist
Two-time U.S. junior and novice champion

Chen came back strong this season following the first major injury of his career suffered at least year’s nationals exhibition. Hip surgery kept Chen from making his world championships debut in 2016, but he’s now poised to lead the U.S. men into Helsinki, trying to earn three Olympic berths. First, Chen goes for his first senior national title.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Nathan is the star of the show this year. The type of talent he has doesn’t come along every day. He possibly could be on the Olympic podium next year with the technical skating he’s giving us. Artistically, his component scores, if you look at him from last nationals to this nationals, he’s a different skater. He may not be [Olympic champion Yuzuru] Hanyu yet, but he has all the makings of a great, artistic male skater. I think he’s already giving us enough, to be honest.

Jason Brown
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2015 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2015 World Championships

Don’t forget that Brown was one spot off the podium at the 2015 Worlds. It’s been mostly a nightmare since for the 2014 Olympic sensation. Brown missed the 2016 U.S. Championships with a back strain and revealed last week that he was off the ice for the last two weeks of December with a stress fracture in his right fibula. Brown is the only man in this week’s field who has been within 40 points of Chen’s best total score this season.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Now that Adam Rippon is out, the artistic challenger, if he can land a quad, is Jason Brown. He’s won the national title before. He knows what it takes and what that kind of pressure feels like. That is an advantage he has over Nathan Chen. If he lands the quad and creates that artistic moment, he is very favored in the U.S. by the judging panel. He will need a quad toe loop if he’s going to hold off Nathan Chen.

Max Aaron
Age: 24
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2013 U.S. champion
2015 Skate America champion

Aaron may be the best pure athlete in the field. He has finished in the top four at nationals each of the last four years, but it’ll probably take top two this week to earn a world championships spot. He’ll likely have to beat the injured Brown.

Johnny Weir’s Take: He has great skating skills. He’s a wonderful athlete. But I don’t think his free program especially is strong enough choreographically to challenge either Nathan Chen or Jason Brown.

Grant Hochstein
Age: 26
Hometown: Artesia, Calif.
Fourth at 2016 U.S. Championships
10th at 2016 World Championships

Hochstein was placed on the 2016 World Championships team after Chen withdrew due to that hip injury. He finished a respectable 10th in his worlds debut but dropped to 11th in each of his fall Grand Prix starts. Hochstein ranks seventh this season among men in the U.S. Championships field.

Tim Dolensky
Age: 24
Hometown: Kennesaw, Ga.
Seventh at 2016 U.S. Championships

Dolensky had his best U.S. Championships finish last season and ranks behind only Chen, Brown, Rippon and Aaron among U.S. skaters’ top scores this season.

Vincent Zhou
Age: 16
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2013 U.S. junior champion
Fifth at 2016 World Junior Championships

Zhou would be a bigger threat if he hadn’t pulled out of his last event in December with a leg injury. Still, he has the jumping firepower, when he lands them, to contend for the podium when healthy.

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