Michael Phelps, Michael Andrew

Another Michael set to make splash at Mesa Grand Prix

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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

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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