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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Yevgenia Medvedeva wins season opener in rout

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Olympic figure skating favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, imperfect by her standards, still won her first international competition of the season by a whopping 36.74 points on Saturday.

The Russian tallied 146.72 points in her free skate at Nepela Trophy in Slovakia — lower than her median score over her two-year winning streak — and 226.72 points overall. 

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Medvedeva had a wrong edge call on her triple Lutz, stepping out of the landing. 

Judges gave her a negative grade of execution for it, snapping a streak of more than 60 straight jumps with positive grades dating to December.

No matter, the 17-year-old still had the highest free skate by 23.23 points.

It was 13.72 points shy of her world record set at the last competition of the 2016-17 season.

She distanced Japanese Rika Hongo and countrywoman Yelena Radionova, the only woman to beat Medvedeva in senior international competition in November 2015.

Medvedeva entered the free skate with a 13.51-point lead in the low-level event. That was via recording the second-highest short program tally under a 13-year-old judging system on Thursday.

Her flawed free skate still earned more points than any of her rivals racked up last season. 

All of her jumps except a double Axel were in the second half of her program to earn bonus points.

However, another Russian posted a higher free skate score last week.

That’s 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova, who was .45 better at a low-level event in Italy. 

It’s not entirely fair to compare scores from different judging panels at these early season competitions, though.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and Radionova.

Medvedeva and Zagitova could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in December and should definitely both be at the Russian Championships later that month.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. 

North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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