Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps’ potential record chases at Rio Olympics

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There are still Olympic medal records Michael Phelps has yet to break.

A Phelps medal record chase became a major storyline at the last three Olympics.

In Athens and Beijing, he entered eight events and was synonymous with U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz, who won a record seven gold medals at the Munich 1972 Olympics.

Phelps won six gold medals and two bronze medals in Athens and then surpassed Spitz with eight golds in Beijing.

In London, Phelps needed to win three medals of any color to overtake Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most career medals.

Phelps won six, taking his total to 22 medals, four more than Latynina.

But Phelps is still chasing Latynina in another regard. Latynina still holds the record for most medals won in individual events.

Latynina won 14 individual medals. Phelps is on 13 (with nine relay medals).

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Could Phelps win two individual medals in Rio?

He was the world’s fastest 100m butterfly swimmer last year and third-fastest in the 200m individual medley.

He was not among the world’s fastest swimmers in the 100m or 200m freestyles last year (granted he took a year off of training after London) and has only recently resumed swimming the 200m fly.

Phelps is also chasing two of the greatest U.S. track and field athletes of all time. Al Oerter (discus) and Carl Lewis (long jump) share the record for consecutive Olympic titles in the same individual event at four*.

Phelps has won the 100m fly and 200m IM at each of the last three Olympics.

Phelps’ competition in the 100m fly no longer includes longtime rivals Ian Crocker and Milorad Cavic, both retired. However, South African Chad le Clos, who beat Phelps for 200m fly gold in London, has the fastest 100m fly time since the 2012 Olympics.

In the 200m IM, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and Ryan Lochte were both faster than Phelps last year.

In another category, Phelps is chasing his 2004 Olympic teammate Jenny Thompson.

Thompson holds the record for most Olympic medals and gold medals in team/relay events with 10 and eight, respectively. Phelps has won nine relay medals, including seven golds.

The U.S. should be among the top nations in the 4x100m free relay in Rio (an elite group that could be more than three). The U.S. is more likely to win gold in the 4x200m free relay and 4x100m medley relay at this point, which Phelps and Co. won at each of the last three Olympics.

Of course, Phelps has to qualify to make those relay teams. The simplest way to do that would be as one of the six-fastest U.S. men in the 100m and 200m frees in 2016 and finishing first or second in the 100m fly at the Olympic trials.

*Denmark’s Paul Elvstroem won four straight individual Olympic golds in sailing, but his one-person event changed from a Firefly boat to the Finn during his streak. Thanks to Olympic historian Bill Mallon for passing that note along.

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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