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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Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban