Another Michael set to make splash at Mesa Grand Prix

Michael Phelps, Michael Andrew
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Michael Andrew has drawn a wave of comparisons to Michael Phelps, for breaking so many national age group records he’s lost count and for signing an endorsement deal last year at age 14, becoming the youngest professional swimmer in U.S. history.

Andrew’s common reply, respectfully, is that he doesn’t want to be the next Michael Phelps. He wants to be the first Michael Andrew.

They’ve favored different distances, plied opposite training techniques and are separated by 13 years in age. But last week they were nearly identical, one right after the other, on paper.

On April 14, USA Swimming announced Phelps’ return to competition for this week’s Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Ariz. USA Swimming later published what are called “psych sheets,” which list all swimmers entered for every event, in order of “seed time,” which essentially ranks them going into preliminary heats.

Below is the psych sheet for the 50m freestyle, one of three events Phelps entered and one of nine events Andrew entered. Phelps rarely swam the 50m freestyle before his 2012 retirement, so he is seeded fairly low, 25th. That’s one spot lower than Andrew, whose seed time is .01 of a second faster than the most decorated Olympian of all time.

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Initially, Andrew was seeded 25th and Phelps 26th, which SwimSwam.com pointed out would have meant they would swim in side-by-side lines in preliminary heats Friday afternoon. However, a swimmer seeded 21st since scratched, moving Andrew into a different heat than Phelps and depriving swim geeks and photographers of up-close comparisons.

Andrew, who turned 15 last Friday, could still see Phelps in Arizona. The meet runs from Thursday through Saturday. It would be their first meeting in several years. Andrew said he can only remember being next to Phelps once before, at a “Swim with the Stars” clinic.

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Courtesy Tina Andrew

His mom saved pictures.

For as long as Andrew can remember, the family has road tripped to his meets across the country. He currently holds more than 20 national age group records from 10 years old and up (that’s more than Phelps still owns).

His father, Peter, is a former college swimmer and Navy diver from his native South Africa. Andrew believes he recently grew taller than his dad, inching above 6 feet, 5 inches. Peter drives their black 2014 GMC Savana Presidential Edition full-size van from meet to meet.

His mother, Tina, competed as “Laser” for several years on the Great Britain version of “Gladiators.” She’s also the “momanger” for the family, arranging travel plans.

His sister, Michaela, is 12 and also swims, back after taking a break from the sport.

The family racked up several thousand in a little over three months on the van, which was purchased between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Their road map of swim meets went from their home in Lawrence, Kan., to College Station, Texas, back to Lawrence, to Tulsa, Okla., and then a Florida swing — Orlando, Clearwater, Daytona and Clearwater again over the last month.

Andrew spends much of his time sitting in the back of the van, doing home-school work or playing “Call of Duty,” “FIFA” or “Forza Motorsport” on a 26-inch TV.

Peter was prepared to get back in the driver’s seat for 36 hours and 2,500 miles to make it to Arizona this week. Tina does not drive, and Michael hasn’t started, though he is old enough for a permit. So Peter relies on his Navy training for sustenance.

“We learned to sleep for a couple minutes, and then you’re good for another six hours,” he joked. “I feel like my training’s come back to me at an old age. If I stop and take a 20-minute nap, I can keep going. I enjoy it.”

But the family thought better of it and flew to Arizona, partly to ensure they get back to Florida in time for a Caribbean cruise with Peter’s parents from South Africa.

Andrew aims to compile many more airline miles this year. His goal is to be selected for international junior events, including the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. He also plans to swim next to the likes of Phelps again at the U.S. Championships in Irvine, Calif., in August. His goals there are not necessarily to challenge the big boys, but to break more age group records.

Andrew’s preferred distances are 100-meter events, but picking a single stroke is tougher.

“If I would have to choose a favorite, it would be between my breaststroke and my butterfly … and maybe my backstroke, and my freestyle,” he said.

He soaks up the sport completely, retweeting swim news stories, posting a selfie with his competitors and choosing two non-American swimmers as his favorites.

“I’ve always kind of looked up to Katinka Hosszu,” he said of Hungary’s world champion in both individual medleys. “She’s known as the Iron Lady of swimming, how she competes all the time. I want to be known as the Iron Man or Iron Boy of swimming. My mom likes to call me the Iron Baby.”

He’s also developed a pre-race ritual on the starting block, slapping his chest. He picked that up after meeting Brazil’s Cesar Cielo, the exuberant world record holder in the 50m and 100m freestyles.

Peter said his best Olympic event going forward is the 100m butterfly, which Phelps has won at the last three Games.

Andrew was profiled by The Associated Press in 2012, signed his first endorsement deal with P2Life, a nutritional supplement manufacturer, in 2013 and recently added Mutual of Omaha to his portfolio. He’s been approached by several large swimsuit companies, his mom said, but he can’t get into R-rated movies alone for another two years.

He’s been home schooled since the fifth grade, though he did take one high school class last fall (art) in order to kick for the junior varsity football team. The story is reminiscent of Tim Tebow, whom the Andrews look to as a role model.

Andrew hopes to finish high school early, before the Rio Olympics.

“We’re always thinking about Rio,” he said.

Andrew must continue shaving seconds off his best times to make the competitive U.S. team in two years, but it’s very possible. He’ll be 17 at the 2016 Olympic Trials. The U.S. Olympic Team included 15-year-old swimmers at the last three Olympics, but all of them were women. The last time a man as young as Andrew will be made the Olympics was in 2000, when Phelps was 15 and Aaron Peirsol was 17.

“I’d love to look in my crystal ball and tell you that he’s on the same path as the other Michael, but there will never be another Michael Phelps,” NBC Olympics swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said.

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Michael Andrew, 15, could become the youngest U.S. male swimmer to make an Olympic Team since Michael Phelps in 2000.

Gaines also pointed out that the track record for exceptional pre- and early-teen U.S. male swimmers developing into Olympic champions is not great, but also that Andrew’s incomparable times over the last two years, genes and unique quality-over-quantity training regimen put him into a different category.

“He’s definitely a man in a boy’s body,” Gaines said of Andrew, who is near Phelps’ height, perhaps taller. “He’s got a different makeup. It’s a different philosophy. Who knows?”

The concerns are there. Scrutiny. Expectations. Burnout. The family recognizes them and embraces the challenges ahead together.

“We’ve expressed to sponsors, you’re not just sponsoring Michael. We’re a unit,” Peter said. “[Michael] is really secure in who he is and what he’s up to. I don’t have any reservations about what we’re doing. We keep a very balanced life. We do it all as a family, and we make everything fun.

“We don’t force our kids to do anything. I don’t think you’ll ever be successful if you were forced to do something. These are his choices. It’s my choice, as his dad, to help him to be the very best that he possibly can be.”

The road has been rocky at times. Once, they were held up overnight driving from Colorado to California by a jackknifed truck. They arrived at the meet 30 minutes before Andrew’s first scheduled swim. He broke a backstroke record having slept in the back of the van.

“Let me tell you the worst experience,” his mother said, remembering a trip to College Station in February when she forgot to book a hotel, and they contemplated sleeping in the van. “We got a room in a dive of a place. It was so scary. You could not put your feet down on the carpet, because it sticks to the carpet.”

Andrew broke national age group records on back-to-back-to-back days.

“So the joke is we need to stay in fleabag motels going forward,” she said.

On a more serious note, Andrew developed a spontaneous pneumothorax in his lungs a year and a half ago, a needle-sized hole with air escaping between his chest and ribs. He consulted doctors, had X-Rays, and it healed by itself. Doctors focused on his growth plates and told him he could grow to 6-8 or taller.

“I think I can will myself to 6-10 if I wanted to,” he joked.

Andrew will have to squeeze plenty of strength out of that body (and size 14 feet) in Mesa the next three days. He’s entered in the 50m free, 100m free, 200m free, 100m fly, 100m breast, 200m breast, 100m back, 200m back and 200m individual medley, though he could scratch out of events.

The focus in Mesa will be on Phelps and his potential road to Rio. The next two years could see the other Michael become quite a storyline, too.

“I’m dreaming right now,” Andrew said, “but it’s definitely a dream that can come true.”

How, when to watch Michael Phelps’ return

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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