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Eyes of Spain on Javier Fernandez as he builds for last Olympic chance

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Before Javier Fernandez became a two-time world champion, he was the fourth-place finisher in Sochi, missing Spain’s first Winter Olympic medal in 22 years by a mere 1.18 points.

He remembers leaving the Iceberg Skating Palace after competition ended on Feb. 14, 2014, surrounded by the president of Spain’s figure skating federation, his parents and Spanish Olympic Committee officials.

“They were telling me how great I skated,” Fernandez recalled while cupping a hot drink and waiting to christen New York City’s Bryant Park ice rink Friday night. “I wanted to skate again. I wanted to do it again, because I knew I could even do it better.”

Fernandez, who was third after the Sochi short program, had one free skate jump invalidated because he performed one too many triple Salchows. Scoring is much more complex than one jump, but many say that zero-point Salchow cost Fernandez a bronze.

Even Fernandez.

“It was just a stupid mistake that took away my Olympic medal,” he says now. “It kind of sucks, I have to say, that you were not on the podium, but it was such a cool experience.”

Today, Fernandez might be the least likely skater to make a stupid mistake. Nobody has been more consistent the last two seasons. A pair of world championships. Two Grand Prix Final silver medals. Five straight Grand Prix series wins.

“But I don’t see being fourth at the Olympics as such a negative thing,” Fernandez continued. “And that’s something what the people don’t understand. … Fourth, it was not that bad of a position. In figure skating … we never had that before. So I also got congratulated by so many people.”

Sochi is far from Fernandez’s mind as he heads into this week’s Grand Prix Final as the only unbeaten man this fall.

As great as Fernandez has been the last two years, what’s coming in 14 months is the last opportunity to fulfill his goal of capturing an Olympic medal.

Fernandez does not plan on skating in a fourth Olympics in 2022. He expects to decide after the Pyeongchang Winter Games just how much longer he will keep competing.

It has been a remarkable ascent. Fernandez, from a nation with maybe 20 ice rinks, made his world championships debut in 2007 and finished 35th out of 42 skaters.

“I’ve been in figure skating for so long,” said Fernandez, who is 25, second-oldest of the six-man Grand Prix Final field. “I’m quite tired, a little bit. I just want to, like, do the last seasons that I have left and then go to the next thing.”

Shortly after the Sochi Olympics, Alejandro Blanco, the president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, essentially guaranteed a Spaniard would win a medal in 2018. Maybe Blanco knew then that Fernandez was the only Spanish competitor in any sport to finish better than seventh.

The support for Fernandez in Spain transcends the nation’s Winter Olympic history. After every competition — win or lose — Fernandez says the royal family sends a letter to his home in Spain. After he repeated as world champion in April, the correspondence included an invitation.

“They said they wanted to meet me in person,” Fernandez said. “I was like, really?”

So he put on a suit and visited King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid on April 22.

Fernandez would love to prove Blanco a prophet and to fill the royals with more pride. But the skater is also keeping expectations in check.

Any medal will do in Pyeongchang.

“Of course, I’m going to work and I’m going to train to be the Olympic champion,” Fernandez said. “But then at the competition, I cannot put a goal that I don’t know if I’m going to reach. Because at that competition anything can happen. So I would rather set up a medium goal that I know I can get. … If you say, I want to be Olympic champion. What if I don’t get it? You’re going to be sad the rest of your life because you didn’t reach your goal?”

MORE: Grand Prix Final broadcast schedule

Michael Phelps still has ‘no desire’ to come back

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Michael Phelps says he has “no desire” to return to competitive swimming, but he is eager to stay involved with the sport and cheer on those who follow in his enormous wake.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press while promoting a healthy pet food campaign, Phelps said he is excited about the birth of his second child and numerous opportunities away from the pool.

It was around this time four years ago when Phelps got serious about ending his first retirement, but he now seems content with his decision to step away again after the Rio Olympics.

His wife, Nicole, is about four months pregnant. The couple already has a 16-month-old son, Boomer.

“I’ve got no desire, no desire to come back,” the 32-year-old Phelps said flatly.

Phelps has attended a handful of swimming meets since the Rio Games, where the winningest athlete in Olympic history added to his already massive career haul by claiming five gold medals plus a silver. A few months ago, he conceded to the AP that he was eager to see how he would feel about a possible comeback after this year’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Turns out, it had no impact.

Phelps said watching others compete “truly didn’t kick anything off or spike any more interest in coming out of retirement again.”

He is eager to follow the development of his heir apparent, Caeleb Dressel, who emerged as the sport’s newest star by winning seven gold medals at Budapest. The 21-year-old Floridian joined Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to accomplish that feat at a major international meet.

“I’m happy Caeleb decided to go off this year instead of last year,” Phelps joked. “I’m kind of happy to see him swimming so well when I’m not there.”

With Dressel and Katie Ledecky now leading the American team, the U.S. is expected to remain the world’s dominant swimming country heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Even without Phelps.

“It’s time to kind of move on,” he said, “and watch other people come into their own.”

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MORE: Michael Phelps: I’d give Conor McGregor a head start

Dutch cyclist returns from horrific Rio crash to win world title

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Dutch road cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten came back from this dramatic Rio Olympic crash to win her first world title on Tuesday, taking the time trial in Bergen, Norway.

“This one is really beautiful without the crash in Rio, but this makes the story really, really special,” an emotional van Vleuten said. “Actually, I still cannot believe it. … This season I’m surprising myself what I can do. To be world champion in the time trial, I never thought I’d be able of this.”

Van Vleuten, 34, covered the 13-mile course in 28 minutes, 50.35 seconds, topping countrywoman Anna ven der Breggen by 12 seconds.

Australian Katrin Garfoot took bronze, 19.02 seconds ahead of Chloe Dygert, a U.S. Olympic silver medalist in track cycling. American Amber Neben, the defending champion, was 11th.

Full results are here.

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title.

Van Vleuten wasn’t out long. She raced at last October’s world championships, placing a career-high fifth in the time trial. She then won La Course in France, a two-day race, in July.

“To be an athlete is to have really ups and downs,” van Vleuten said Tuesday. “Sometimes really downs, but the downs make the ups even more beautiful, I think.”

Van Vleuten’s first celebratory act Tuesday was to climb past two barriers and into her mother’s arms.

“Last year my mum watched the Rio race on television, it was her birthday and she was with lots of my family, so it was a really hard day for her,” Van Vleuten said in a news conference, according to Cyclingnews.com. “My father died in 2008, and so it was really special to have her here and celebrate the good things of cycling together. We’ve dealt with bad things together in the past, so it’s important to be really happy and proud to celebrate and to also remember my father.”

The world championships continue Wednesday with the men’s time trial at 7 a.m. ET on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live.

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MORE: World Road Cycling Championships broadcast schedule